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Signature songs from Tony Bennett, Bill Haley & His Comets, The Temptations, Kenny Rogers, Arlo Guthrie and Chic and iconic albums from Fleetwood Mac, Run-DMC and Groucho Marx have been selected by the National Recording Registry to be preserved, it was announced Wednesday.
The Library of Congress’ Registry each year honors 25 “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” recordings, and among the aural treasures making the cut this time around are the soundtrack of The Sound of Music (1965); The Ink Spots’ “If I Didn’t Care,” one of the biggest-selling songs of all time, from 1939; Kenny Loggins’ 1984 colossal hit “Footloose”; and Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine’s sweeping 1987 single “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You.”
The recordings in the Registry now number 500, and it seems hard to believe that Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” from 1962; Haley’s 1954 rock ‘n’ roll standard “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock”; The Temptations’ lovely 1964 chart-topper “My Girl”; Rogers’ trademark 1978 hit “The Gambler”; Guthrie’s 1967 anti-war classic “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree“; and Chic’s 1978 disco sensation “Le Freak” had been missing until now.
“I’m totally overwhelmed by ‘My Girl’ receiving such an honor,” Smokey Robinson, who co-wrote and co-produced the Motown staple with fellow Miracle Ronald White, said in a statement. “As a songwriter, it has become my international anthem. People in countries where English is not the primary language know and sing ‘My Girl’ when I perform it.”
Bennett noted that he sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in October 1962 on the first Tonight Show that Johnny Carson hosted. (Other guests that night: Rudy Vallee, Mel Brooks and Joan Crawford.)
Rogers said that contrary to its title, “[‘The Gambler’] was not written about gambling, it was written with a very personal look at life. To say I’m proud is an understatement. It speaks very highly for Don Schlitz’s writing ability.”
“I actually wrote it in my head,” Schlitz said. “To have anyone listen to any of your songs and appreciate any of them is miraculous, is great. To have Kenny Rogers sing one of your songs is way over the moon.”
Albums chosen include 1946’s Folk Songs of the Hills from Merle Travis; Harry Belafonte’s Calypso from 1956; the Carnegie Hall-set comedy recording An Evening With Groucho from 1972; Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours from 1977; and Run-DMC’s Raising Hell from 1986.
“The thing that I remember most about Raising Hell is that it was so much great energy that it was made very easily,” Run-DMC’s Joseph Simmons (aka Rev. Run) said. “To think that something that just came out of my mouth and out of my creativity is being put on this level of honor just blows my mind.”
The oldest and newest pieces on the list are from the world of classical music — the 1911 recording of “Dream Melody Intermezzo: Naughty Marietta” by Victor Herbert and his Orchestra and 1996’s Yo-Yo Ma Premieres: Concertos for Violoncello and Orchestra.
Nominations were gathered through online submissions from the public and the National Recording Preservation Board, which is comprised of leaders in the fields of music, recorded sound and preservation. The Library is accepting nominations for the next registry additions here.
“This annual celebration of recorded sound reminds us of our varied and remarkable American experience,” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said. “The unique trinity of historic, cultural and aesthetic significance reflected in the National Recording Registry each year is an opportunity for reflection on landmark moments, diverse cultures and shared memories — all reflected in our recorded soundscape.”
Here’s a chronological list of the selected recordings, with descriptions provided by the Library of Congress:
“Dream Melody Intermezzo: Naughty Marietta,” Victor Herbert and his Orchestra (1911)
This is one of several iterations of the immortal song “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life” heard throughout Herbert’s most successful operetta, Naughty Marietta. This recording is the intermezzo version of “Sweet Mystery,” which is heard near the beginning of Act II as a transitional piece during which time the locale moves from the marionette theater to the Juenesse Doree Club’s ballroom. As “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life,” the work has lived on as a free-standing song, heard to both dramatic and comic effect. In this Edison cylinder recording, listeners are transported to the fall of 1910. The arrangement calls for a sprightly, annunciatory introduction by brass and pizzicato strings. The new cylinder recording process made it possible to capture nuances of the orchestra not possible with disc recording technology of the time.
Standing Rock Preservation Recordings, George Herzog and Members of the Yanktoni Tribe (1928)
The voices of several of the Sioux’s Yanktoni-Dakota band, recorded at the Standing Rock Reservation, preserve a snapshot of a culture in a moment of great transition. Comprised of nearly 200 fragile wax cylinders, Herzog’s work documented both old songs, remembered from before the band was relocated to Standing Rock, and modern songs that try to harmonize that past with the life they have found in their new home. Today, Herzog’s scholarship complements and contextualizes these field recordings and contributes to their value as a resource. This collection tells the extraordinary story of collaboration and indigenous scholarship, archiving and advocacy.
“Lamento Borincano,” Canario y Su Grupo (1930)
Written about the plight of the Puerto Rican farmer during the Great Depression, this is well known in Puerto Rico and throughout Latin America to this day and has been recorded dozens of times, including versions by contemporary singers such as Marc Anthony and Placido Domingo. The song’s success launched the careers of three major Puerto Rican artists: songwriter Rafael Hernandez, bandleader Canario (Manuel Jimenez) and singer Davilita (Pedro Ortiz Davila), who was just 18 when he recorded the song. The term “Borincano” derives from the indigenous name for Puerto Rico — Borinquen. The song tells of a proud mountain farmer who rides into the cities of Puerto Rico to sell his wares but finds them empty and abandoned and returns home wondering, “What will become of Borinquen … what will become of my children and my home?”
“Sitting on Top of the World,” Mississippi Sheiks (1930)
Guitarist Lonnie Chatmon and violinist Walter Vinson styled themselves as the Mississippi Sheiks when they were recorded in February 1930 by an OKeh Records field recording team in Shreveport, Louisiana. At the time, “sheik” was slang for a suave lover, inspired by Rudolph Valentino’s success in the films The Sheik (1921) and The Son of the Sheik (1926). They had recorded before with other players, and the name might not have stuck but for the success of a song from the session entitled “Sitting on Top of the World.” Though the guitar and violin pairing was not unique in blues at the time, the song was structured differently than most other commercial blues records, and the melody, as well as the ironic, defiant refrain of the title, stayed with listeners from the first hearing. The song, composed by Vinson, quickly became part of the Southern and Southwestern musical vernacular, with distinctive versions recorded by artists including Charlie Patton, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Bill Monroe, Ray Charles and Howlin‘ Wolf.
The Complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Artur Schnabel (1932-35)
Ludwig van Beethoven’s 32 sonatas for piano alone are legendary in the history of classical music. The German conductor and pianist Hans von Bulow called them music’s “New Testament,” while the scholar Charles Rosen referred to them as “a bridge between the worlds of the salon and the concert hall.” It was Schnabel who first committed the entire 32 sonatas to disc. The Austrian pianist was already a towering intellectual and artistic figure in 1932 when the His Master’s Voice label launched the Beethoven Sonata Society, through which subscribers could purchase Schnabel’s discs as they became available. Today, there are countless complete collections of these works by others, but it is Schnabel who remains the pre-eminent Beethoven pianist on record.
“If I Didn’t Care,” The Ink Spots (1939)
In 1939, when songwriter Jack Lawrence brought his new song to Bill Kenny and the other three members of The Ink Spots, the group was at first reluctant to record it. Yet they did, and soon after, it became one of the best-selling singles in history, eventually moving 19 million copies worldwide. The song’s lovely opening guitar riff, flawless countertenor singing and arresting mid-song spoken-word passage created a recording that is charming, haunting, evocative, and both timely and timeless more than 75 years after its release. “If I Didn’t Care” has since been covered by everyone from Connie Francis to Bryan Ferry, while the original has become a go-to standard for use in movies, TV shows and even video games.
Proceedings of the United Nations Conference on International Organization (April 25, 1945 to June 26, 1945)
As World War II ground through its final months, thousands of people from around the world gathered in San Francisco to draft the charter that would create the United Nations. NBC Radio broadcast coverage of the U.N. Conference on International Organization, and it survives in the form of 146 lacquer disc recordings. It serves as testament to the energy surrounding the momentous endeavor toward a new experiment in global cooperation while enhancing our understanding of that time in history.
Folk Songs of the Hills, Merle Travis (1946)
It’s ironic that Travis’ most enduring recording is Folk Songs of the Hills because Travis insisted that, “You don’t write a folk song … They come up out of the ground, the hills. That’s why they’re called folks songs.” Nevertheless, after being signed to a record contract in 1946, Travis was asked to come up with an album of folk songs to take advantage of the post-World War II folk revival. Travis bristled at the assignment and came up with “Sixteen Tons,” which to him was a sarcastic response because “You just can’t load 16 tons of No. 9 coal. No man can do that.” Despite his personal reservations, Capitol Records released a four-disc, 78 rpm album set in 1947 containing four traditional songs and four original songs, all sung by Travis accompanied by his guitar. An early concept album, Folk Songs of the Hills achieved only modest sales but has seldom been out of print and spawned a No. 1 hit in Tennessee Ernie Ford’s 1955 version of “Sixteen Tons.” The most enduring song, though, might be “Dark as a Dungeon,” which country music singer-songwriter Marty Stuart praised as a song “as deep as any in the American Songbook.” Besides his songwriting, Travis was an exceptional guitarist who influenced such country music legends as Chet Atkins and Scotty Moore.
“How I Got Over,” Clara Ward and the Ward Singers (1950)
Ward wrote this song in gratitude for and as a promise to overcome the challenges and struggles she met in her life. The song has served as a song of praise and a call to action ever since. According to her sister, Willa, she wrote it after the singers were menaced with racial epithets while on their way to a performance at an Alabama church. This experience led Clara to contemplate hardship and survival, and she published her reworking of a gospel standard as “How I Got Over.” The Ward Singers were one of the earliest female gospel performing groups to bring their distinctive sound outside the church and into pop culture. Mahalia Jackson performed the song at the 1963 March on Washington, and it has remained vital as a standard in the gospel genre and via the work of many artists, including The Blind Boys of Alabama and Aretha Franklin.
“(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock,” Bill Haley & His Comets (1954)
Critics and journalists could describe this rollicking hit as the definitive anthem of rock ‘n’ roll decades after its release, but its early history is riddled with uncertainty. The recording session was rushed and beset by technical difficulties that were overcome through the quick thinking of veteran producer Milt Gabler. Upon its release, the record performed fairly well, but it took the song’s inclusion in Blackboard Jungle (1955), a popular film centered on teen culture, for its popularity to explode with young audiences. Despite its early difficulties, the song has survived because it is absolutely compelling. The start/stop intro — “One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock, rock” — masterfully sets up the final line of the stanza in which the entire group hammers down single, quick chords on the emphasized syllables: “ROCK” “aROUND” “the CLOCK” “toNIGHT.” Haley’s energetic vocal, the simple yet effective saxophone break, the speedy and brief guitar lead and even the final, intentionally irregular drum riff sustain interest to the end.
Calypso, Harry Belafonte (1956)
The child of a Jamaican mother and a Martinican father, Belafonte had tried singing conventional pop songs in New York in the 1940s but was drawn to the city’s small but vibrant folk scene of the time. There, he encountered Josh White, Pete Seeger and Lead Belly and developed a folk-influenced repertoire that included West Indian songs. In fall 1955, he performed several Caribbean songs in a televised musical production number, including “Day-O,” a Jamaican folk song he adapted with his friend, writer Bill Attaway, and Irving Burgie, another New York singer with West Indian roots. The positive audience response convinced Belafonte that a full album of such songs was viable. Calypso, featuring “Day-O” and more song contributions by Burgie, was released in May 1956 on the heels of Belafonte’s second album, which had been the nation’s best-selling LP in April. Calypso proved to be a far bigger hit, exceeding all expectations. The title was evocative; only a few of the songs on the album were actually in the calypso song form of Trinidad, which Belafonte acknowledged. The album was rather a masterfully presented celebration and exploration of Caribbean song. Initially, it sold mainly to the older audience that purchased albums. However, when “Day-O” and “Jamaica Farewell” were released as singles, Belafonte became popular with the teenage audience as well, a unique achievement at the time and perhaps the reason that Calypso remains a much-beloved album.
“I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” Tony Bennett (1962)
It takes a truly remarkable song and vocal performance to become the hallmark tune in a career as legendary as Bennett’s, but “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” is exactly that. Written by George Cory with lyrics by Douglass Cross, it was originally released as the “B” side of another Bennett record by his label, Columbia. Soon after, DJs across the country became far more infatuated with it than the song on the other side of the disc, and soon listeners were in love with it too. “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” would be covered by dozens of other artists, but Bennett’s version remains the definitive rendition. His recording would later be adopted as one of the official themes for The City by the Bay.
King Biscuit Time (radio), Sonny Boy Williamson II and others (1965)
Blues harmonica master Williamson (aka Rice Miller, 1912-65) achieved his first wide popularity in 1941 as a regular performer on the daily daytime radio show King Biscuit Time, sponsored by the flour brand of the same name, in West Helena, Arkansas. From early on, he was billed as “Sonny Boy Williamson,” the name used by popular blues recording artist John Lee Williamson (1914-48), a star of the Chicago blues scene. Their styles were different, but the name stuck, and though he did not record commercially until 1951, the second Sonny Boy reached a large audience, becoming a best-selling blues artist himself when he relocated to Chicago. In the early 1960s, he found a young, large and even worshipful blues audience in Europe and toured there extensively, working with young musicians from groups like The Animals and The Yardbirds. When he returned to Arkansas in early 1965, he reportedly told friends that he expected to die soon, but he kept performing and made a return appearance on King Biscuit Time. On May 25, 1965, he failed to show up for his broadcast and was found dead in his room. King Biscuit Time is still heard daily on KFFA. Sunshine Sonny Payne, the host of this lone surviving broadcast featuring Williamson, died in February at age 92, having continued as host until shortly before his death.
“My Girl,” The Temptations (1964)
“Were it not for The Temptations, I never would have written ‘My Girl,'” declared Robinson. According to him, “My Girl” wasn’t written about a specific girl, but it was written for a specific guy, David Ruffin. Robinson felt Temptations tenor Ruffin could be a star if he had the right song to show off his talent. Both he and The Temptations (Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams and Otis Williams) believed “My Girl” was that song and began working out the arrangements and rehearsing it while on the road. The recording took place in Studio A of Hitsville U.S.A., Motown’s Detroit headquarters, and featured the legendary group of session musicians known as the Funk Brothers. One of the most remarkable outcomes of “My Girl” is that James Jamerson’s barely there opening bass line has become so iconic that the song is instantly recognizable from just those three notes. Guitarist Robert White quickly adds an ascending guitar riff, a pentatonic scale. From there, the sound builds, layer by layer: finger snaps, drums, Ruffin’s lead vocal, other members of the Funk Brothers, vocal harmonies by the other Temptations and, finally, strings by members of the Detroit Symphony. “My Girl” was at the top of the charts for only one week but remained on jukeboxes for years.
The Sound of Music (soundtrack), various (1965)
It was the era of The Beatles, and big-screen Hollywood musicals already were on the wane, yet The Sound of Music became one of the biggest box-office hits in the history of movie-making. Named to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 2001, the film is a beloved, multigenerational cornerstone of American life. The movie’s accompanying soundtrack, featuring the lush orchestrations of Irwin Kostal, the musical supervision by Saul Chaplin and cast performances led by Oscar winner Julie Andrews, all contribute to this remarkable achievement. Selections include such timeless sing-alongs as “Do-Re-Mi” and “My Favorite Things,” to the rousing title tune and, of course, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”
“Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” Arlo Guthrie (1967)
A “massacree” is a Southern colloquialism for “an event so wildly and improbably and baroquely messed up that the results are almost impossible to believe.” In this song, Guthrie (the son of the celebrated Woody Guthrie) immortalized his own true-life massacree. Years earlier, as a youth, he helped a friend take out trash on Thanksgiving Day, forgetting that the dump would be closed that day. Subsequently, Guthrie and his friend were arrested for littering, which eventually led to his rejection by the draft board to serve in Vietnam. A monologue set to music — and epic in length at 18 minutes — Guthrie’s song is both a neo-comedy and an anti-war statement. In the past 10 years or so, the song (either by listening to it or by playing and singing it themselves) has become a Thanksgiving tradition for families and gatherings.
New Sounds in Electronic Music, Steve Reich, Richard Maxfield, Pauline Oliveros (1967)
This avant-garde release was the first in composer and producer David Behrman’s adventurous “Music of Our Time” series for CBS’ budget label Odyssey. While each of the three compositions is unique, all employed tape machines as an expressive instrument, and each composer was as interested in the process of making the sounds as in the sounds themselves. Maxfield’s “Night Music” employs the tape machine’s bias tone and an oscilloscope as the main sound sources. Neither of these sounds is typically heard: Bias is an inaudible signal that improves the tape’s fidelity, whereas an oscilloscope is an audio-measurement device normally encountered on a work bench. Maxfield uses these sources to create a series of complex sounds intended to mimic the nighttime vocalizations of birds and insects. The sound source for minimalist composer Reich’s “Come Out” is, almost entirely, the phrase “come out to show them,” heard both on the left and right of the stereo field and timed so the two repetitions slowly fall in and out of sync. In “I of IV,” Oliveros used 12 tone generators, an eight-second tape delay and reverb to create a dense, reverberant recording that was entirely improvised; individual sound will rise to the surface and fade only to repeat later and disappear altogether. As with her later compositions that emphasized what Oliveros called “deep listening,” close attention to “I of IV” reveals a wealth of detail. Maxfield died in 1969, but Reich and Oliveros continued to develop the ideas evident here to create celebrated bodies of work.
An Evening With Groucho, Groucho Marx (1972)
On May 6, 1972, Marx, then 81, took the stage at Carnegie Hall and dazzled an audience young enough to be his children and grandchildren for more than an hour with songs, stories and insults. Though he was still well remembered by fans of the Marx Brothers and his TV quiz show You Bet Your Life, he had recently become an unlikely countercultural hero and was determined to make the most of it. Introduced by Dick Cavett and ably accompanied by Marvin Hamlisch on piano, Groucho began with a violin-smashing tribute to Jack Benny and concluded with a sing-along of “Lydia the Tattooed Lady.” In between, he recounted his long and varied life in vaudeville, theater, films, radio and television. An Evening With Groucho was released six months later and remains a unique and hilarious document of one of the 20th century’s greatest entertainers.
Rumours, Fleetwood Mac (1977)
Stevie Nicks said, “Devastation leads to writing good things.” It’s little wonder, then, that this Fleetwood Mac album is so highly regarded, having been forged by the crumbling relationships of every member of the group. In 1974, the then-remaining members — drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie and his wife, vocalist and keyboard player Christine McVie — found themselves without a male vocalist or guitarist. A chance meeting at a recording studio led to guitarist and vocalist Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist Nicks, who were romantically involved, joining the group. The new Anglo-American lineup soon struck gold with their eponymous 1975 album. They should have been on top of the world, but as they began working on the follow-up Rumours, relationships became so strained that, except as musically necessary, they would barely speak to one another while playing songs about one another. However, because the group had a sense that the songs were so strong, they not only endured, they prevailed. As engineer and co-producer Richard Dashut put it, they wanted to “make sure that every song was worth its weight in gold.”
“The Gambler,” Kenny Rogers (1978)
Schlitz was a young night-shift computer operator at Vanderbilt University in 1976, writing songs and shopping them around on Music Row in Nashville on the side, when he came up with “The Gambler,” a haunting story about a mysterious card player and a metaphor for navigating life’s ever-changing stakes. Recorded and released by Bobby Bare to little attention in spring 1978, the song was later recorded by Johnny Cash, whose career was at a low point because of his struggles with drugs. Rogers, however, hit the jackpot with the song, the centerpiece of the accompanying album. As a former pop star with the group First Edition who had come into his own as a solo country artist, Rogers was well-positioned to bring the song to fame. Placing high on both the country and pop charts that year, “The Gambler” spawned a telefilm featuring Rogers and even a duet between him and one of the Muppets in 1979.
“Le Freak,” Chic (1978)
One of the most influential disco acts of the 1970s, the five-member band Chic had a unique sound propelled by the innovative, funky guitar work of guitarist Nile Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards. Rodgers and Edwards were also the writers of this, the group’s biggest hit — an infectious, danceable confection that lyrically celebrated the then-moment (with its mention of “54”) as well as the past (with its mention of the Savoy) while rhythmically keeping everyone on the dance floor in motion. Chic’s work has gone on to influence a host of other acts, including Madonna, Mtume, The Pointer Sisters, The Sugarhill Gang, Evelyn “Champagne” King, Teena Marie, Shalamar, Soul II Soul and Justin Timberlake. Despite the supposed “death” of disco, Chic’s “Le Freak” has become a staple of wedding receptions, movie soundtracks and nightclubs.
“Footloose,” Kenny Loggins (1984)
Inspired remarkably by real-life events, the movie Footloose (1984) was one of the biggest film hits of the decade and the career breakthrough for its leading man, Kevin Bacon. The title tune, performed by Loggins, remains deeply emblematic of the 1980s — fun, invigorating and, in its way, a little rebellious. Co-written by Loggins and the film’s screenwriter, Dean Pitchford, the song would prove to be the biggest hit of Loggins’ long career (dating to his work with Jim Messina from the early 1970s) and the biggest hit from the film’s multiplatinum soundtrack. Since its debut and initial 16 weeks on the Billboard charts, the song has served as the centerpiece for both the 1998 Broadway musical and the 2011 big-screen remake.
Raising Hell, Run-DMC (1986)
Simmons, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell, or Run-DMC, introduced hip-hop to mainstream audiences on this, their third album. DMC has observed that the lyric from “My Adidas,” which affirms that “we took the beat from the street and put it on TV,” describes what the album achieved as a whole. The album’s mass appeal can partially be explained by their collaboration with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith on a remake of the rock band’s 1975 hit “Walk This Way.” Co-producer and guitarist Rick Rubin added power chords and guitar riffs on the title track, lending the album a rock flavor in keeping with DMC’s mission to “take rock to the left.” While this element of rock with a twist brought many new fans, songs like “Peter Piper” stayed true to the band’s earlier stripped-down minimalism in which only beats, lyrics and samples were required.
“Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine (1987)
From the moment of her debut on the U.S. charts — fronting the Miami Sound Machine with its 1985 earworm “Conga” — Estefan has been recognized as not only the banner-carrier for Latin rhythms within American music but also for her superlative vocal abilities. She is equally adept in either slow, contemplative ballads or, as in this selection, with high-octane, dance-oriented party anthems. “Rhythm,” the first single from Estefan and the Machine’s 1987 album Let It Loose, was co-written by Estefan and Sound Machine drummer Enrique “Kiki” Garcia. His pounding backbeat, along with the song’s lively congas and Estefan’s spirited vocals, have turned “Rhythm” into a modern classic and one that repeatedly proves the promise made in its title.
“When we wrote ‘Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,’ we set out to create a fusion of rhythms that reflected the musical cultures of our native Cuba and our adopted country, the United States,” Estefan said in a statement. “So it is an accolade of particular significance to us that it be honored as an important part of the creative legacy of this great country with its induction into the National Recording Registry.”
Yo-Yo Ma Premieres: Concertos for Violoncello and Orchestra, Various (1996)
This contains cello concertos by two generations of award-winning American composers: Richard Danielpour, Leon Kirchner and Christopher Rouse. They are all premiered by Ma in this recording. The album won two Grammy Awards in 1997 — best classical album and best instrumental soloist performance with an orchestra. Ma, considered the world’s best living cellist, has won 18 Grammy Awards and made more than 100 recordings.
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