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“Cathy’s Clown,” from The Everly Brothers, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s antiwar anthem “Fortunate Son” and Heart Like a Wheel, from newly minted Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Linda Ronstadt, have been inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.
Albums by U2 (The Joshua Tree), Isaac Hayes (Theme From Shaft) and Art Blakey (A Night at Birdland) and music from Celia Cruz, Bing Crosby, Elmore James, Buck Owens, The Louvin Brothers, Louis Jordan and Jeff Buckley also can be found among the latest batch of 25 “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” recordings to be preserved, it was announced today.
The selections bring the number of recordings in the registry to 400, a fraction of the Library’s vast recorded sound collection of more than 3.5 million items.
Every year, the Librarian of Congress, with advice from the Library’s National Recording Preservation Board, selects 25 recordings that are at least 10 years old; the best existing versions of each are housed in the Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Va.
“These recordings represent an important part of America’s culture and history,” Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said. “As technology continually changes and formats become obsolete, we must ensure that our nation’s aural legacy is protected. The National Recording Registry is at the core of this effort.”
The inductees are not limited to music. Also on the list this year is a 1962 comedy album spoofing President John F. Kennedy and his family, pulled from distribution following his assassination; Lyndon B. Johnson’s huge collection of presidential conversations; rare interviews with baseball pioneers; and field recordings documenting the culture and traditions of a Native American tribe.
Nominations were gathered through online submissions from the public and the NRPB. The Library is accepting nominations for the next registry at the NRPB website.
Here are the latest 25 inducted works (listed in chronological order), with descriptions supplied by the Library of Congress:
“The Laughing Song” (single) — George Washington Johnson (c. 1896)
Born near Wheatland, Va., Johnson made his living as a street singer during the 1870s in New York City. In 1890, he became the first African-American to make commercial records. “The Laughing Song” was Johnson’s most famous and long-lived number. This familiar-sounding and uncomplicated tune was sung by him in a down-home, gruff baritone and completed with his infectious laughter — all remarkably free of the caricature and forced dialect that marked most black-themed material of the period. “Laughing Song” was tremendously successful, with versions released in the U.S. and Europe. With its ragtime-imbued accompaniment, its stature is inestimable — here is perhaps the most popular recording of the 1890s and probably the first “hit” sung by an African-American.
“They Didn’t Believe Me” (single) — Harry Macdonough and Alice Green (1915)
Elegant, charming and unexpected, Jerome Kern’s “They Didn’t Believe Me,” with lyrics by Herbert Reynolds, was a late arrival — or interpolation — into the musical The Girl From Utah. Its appearance marked a turning point in American theater music and popular song. Its melody has been described as “natural as walking,” free from the formal-sounding, stilted phrases and form that typified most show music of the period. The song quickly became an enormous hit and accelerated Kern’s career. This recording by Macdonough and Green (nee Olive Kline) is the first known recording of the song and represents well its forward-looking informality.
“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” (singles) — Bing Crosby; Rudy Vallee (both 1932)
Composed by Jay Gorney and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” was the show-stopping number of the 1932, Depression-era musical American Revue. The minor-key melody, according to Gorney, was inspired by a Yiddish lullaby. The song’s lyrics underscored the irony of the Depression-era American working class people who had once built railroads and fought wars only to find themselves now waiting in bread lines. With its bittersweet melody and bold, unsentimental lyrics, this arresting anthem to America’s “forgotten man” became a major hit. Recordings by Crosby and Vallee — both issued the same year — were best-sellers and emphasized the song’s strengths in different ways. Crosby’s nuanced baritone played to the song’s drama; his use of rubato during the verse was especially effective. On the other hand, Vallee’s light tenor is more emotionally removed and allows the song to stand more on its own merits.
Franz Boas and George Herzog Recordings of Kwakwaka’wakw Chief Dan Cranmer (1938)
Boas is considered the father of American anthropology and is the founder of both the American Anthropology Association and the American Folklore Society. In 1938, he and his former student, ethnomusicology pioneer Herzog, recorded 22 aluminum discs of the Kwakwaka’wakw (sometimes spelled “Kwakiutl”) chief Cranmer. Cranmer had been jailed in Canada in the 1920s for carrying on his people’s potlatch traditions, which were still being suppressed in the ’30s. Cranmer’s recordings for Boas and Herzog documented the tribe’s native language and the songs, speeches, games, feasts and ceremonies of the potlatch. Today, only about 5,500 Kwakwaka’wakw tribespeople remain in British Columbia, with only about 250 of them still fluent in the tribe’s original language.
“Were You There” (single) — Roland Hayes (1940)
Lyric tenor Hayes was the child of former slaves, and from an early age he sang spirituals in church. As a young man, he studied European concert vocal techniques and refined his approach to spirituals as a member of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. In recitals, he regularly performed a mixture of spiritual and classical repertoire, eventually garnering considerable fame. Hayes recorded extensively, but his 1940 unaccompanied rendition of the spiritual “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)” may be his finest moment on record and remains hauntingly moving more than 70 years later.
The Goldbergs: “Sammy Goes Into the Army” (July 9, 1942)
This pioneering, classic radio program was created, written, produced by and starred Gertrude Berg in the role of Molly Goldberg. It was one of network radio’s longest-running programs (1929-46), first on NBC and later on CBS. The program was subsequently produced for television. The Goldbergs — mother Molly, husband Jake, children Sammy and Rosie — concerned a Jewish immigrant family’s struggle in adapting to the perplexities of American life while also charting their upward progression, which mirrored that of many American families. Along the way, Molly’s malapropisms became famous along with her “yoo-hoo” greeting, gentle meddling and common sense. This episode deals with the shared sacrifices all Americans were making during World War II and was broadcast live from the middle of New York’s Grand Central Station. As her son, Sammy, boards a train for the Army, Molly comforts another anxious mother with wartime wisdom and touching humanity.
“Caldonia” (single) — Louis Jordan (1945)
Vocalist and alto saxophonist Jordan left the Chick Webb Orchestra in 1938 and started his own small group devoted to the jump-blues style. By the mid-1940s, he had achieved unparalleled crossover success. Jordan and His Tympany Five scored national hits in the “race,” country and pop markets with their infectious, driving performances of Jordan’s sharp, witty songs and were an important influence on early rock ’n’ roll. “Caldonia,” one of Jordan’s biggest hits, is a swinging, up-tempo dance tune that might best be remembered for its comedic, shouted punch line, “Caldonia! Caldonia! What makes your big head so hard?”
“Dust My Broom” (single) — Elmore James (1951)
Several versions of “Dust My Broom” had been released by 1951 when James made this landmark 78-rpm recording for Lillian McMurry’s Jackson, Miss.-based Trumpet label. Though the song wasn’t new, his sound was. James replaced the acoustic, solo blues of Robert Johnson with an electric blues band. James is known to have tinkered with his guitar pickups, and fans still argue about how he achieved his signature sound. Whatever combination of guitar and pickup was used in his slide-guitar opening, James created the most recognizable guitar riff in the history of the blues. The influence of “Dust My Broom” has been widespread and long-lasting. Many blues and rock artists have since covered “Dust My Broom” in the James arrangement, including Hound Dog Taylor, J.B. Hutto and the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac, featuring slide guitar by Jeremy Spencer. James later recorded “Dust My Broom” for other labels, often under different titles including “Dust My Blues” or “I Believe,” but his signature treatment of the song began with this 1951 Trumpet version.
A Night at Birdland (Vols. 1 and 2) (albums) — Art Blakey (1954)
Blakey, through his energetic drumming and inspiring leadership, helped solidify bebop and hard bop’s mid-1950s takeover of the jazz mainstream. A Night at Birdland documents the inspired, high-energy live performances of Blakey and this early incarnation of the Jazz Messengers, which included co-leader Horace Silver, Clifford Brown and Lou Donaldson. The momentum that drives these performances comes from Blakey — his flawless timing and energy on the drums, which pushes Brown and Donaldson to soar to new improvisational heights on their solos. Meanwhile, Silver’s bluesy approach to piano revolutionized small-group jazz playing. Altogether, the ensemble became the architects of a new, modern musical language, one that is fully captured on this recording.
“When I Stop Dreaming” (single) — The Louvin Brothers (1955)
Ira and Charlie Louvin were almost defiantly out-of-step with the country-music world of the mid-‘50s. Ira’s high, lonesome leads and Charlie’s high-tenor descants were the sounds of an earlier era, but they were well-served by modern recording techniques, which captured every nuance of their harmonies. “When I Stop Dreaming,” an almost fatalistic song of lost love that they wrote, was their commercial breakthrough and the first of a series of classic recordings they made during the next eight years until the termination of their musical partnership in 1963.
“Cathy’s Clown” (single) — The Everly Brothers (1960)
In 1960, Don and Phil Everly moved to Warner Bros. and wanted their first release for their new label to be a hit. It would become their biggest success. “Cathy’s Clown” was written by the brothers, its lyric inspired by a high-school girlfriend of Don’s and its sound by Ferde Grofe’s “Grand Canyon Suite.” Engineer Bill Porter, working in the legendary RCA Studio B in Nashville, used a tape loop on the drums to give the impression of two drummers. Porter got the song’s distinctive vocal sound by having the Everlys sing into one microphone, then feeding that single sound through a massive plate reverb unit. To get the sound he wanted, Porter later admitted, he tightened the reverb springs to the point of breakage. The Beatles, who had been so influenced by the Everlys’ harmonizing that they once considered calling themselves “The Foreverly Brothers,” cited “Cathy’s Clown” as an inspiration for “Please Please Me.”
Texas Sharecropper and Songster (album) — Mance Lipscomb (1960)
Lipscomb was born in 1895 in Navasota, Texas. His father was a former slave who took up the fiddle after the Civil War, his mother, a half-Choctaw gospel singer. Lipscomb played guitar and wrote songs beginning in his teens but never recorded until this 1960 session, which was done in his kitchen. The resulting album was the first LP released by Arhoolie Records. A proud man, Lipscomb disliked the term “sharecropper,” preferring to think of himself simply as a farmer, and the word was later dropped from the title of CD reissues. Although he was influenced by such artists as Blind Willie Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lipscomb didn’t consider himself a blues musician and preferred the term “songster,” which better conveyed his wide-ranging repertoire of more than 300 songs. After the success of this album, Lipscomb became a regular on the folk-festival circuit. On this album, Lipscomb plays fingerstyle guitar, except when he uses a jackknife to play slide guitar on Jefferson’s “Jack O’ Diamonds.”
The First Family (album) (1962)
Written by Bob Brooker and Earle Doud and performed by comic impressionist Vaughn Meader and a small cast, The First Family (recorded in October 1962) presented a series of comedy skits about President Kennedy and his family. The album broke new ground in political humor and was, at one time, the industry’s fastest and best-selling comedy album. The recording was a gentle parody that poked fun at the presidential family, their famous football games and Jackie Kennedy’s White House redecoration project. Previously, hit comedy albums tended to be recordings of live stand-up performances. Following the success of The First Family, many producers began to create studio albums of comedy sketches. Unfortunately, the album’s legacy and ongoing success — and Meader’s career — were cut short by the president’s assassination in November of the following year. Following the assassination, all copies of the disc were withdrawn. It was reissued on CD in 1999.
Lawrence Ritter’s Interviews With Baseball Pioneers of the Late 19th and Early 20th Century (1962-66)
It was Ritter’s great love and reverence for baseball that prompted him to travel for five years and more than 75,000 miles interviewing ballplayers from the early years of the game. His 1966 book, The Glory of Their Time: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It, was based on interviews Ritter conducted with such greats as Smoky Joe Wood, Chief Meyers, Sam Crawford, Rube Marquard, Babe Herman and Bill Wambsganss. These 26 oral histories offer a rare glimpse into the early days of baseball and the men who played the game. Ritter, a professor of economics and finance at New York University, had an “open-ended” interview style, giving players a comfortable space to recollect about their careers. A true fan, he split all the royalties from his book with the players and their survivors for 20 years after its publication.
Presidential Recordings of Lyndon B. Johnson (Nov. 22, 1963-Jan. 10, 1969)
While every president from Franklin Roosevelt to Richard Nixon has recorded some of his conversations, Johnson’s were the only ones to comprehensively cover his complete term of office. A master dealmaker, Johnson left little on paper to document his political prowess, but his recorded conversations over the telephone — his favored instrument of communication — allow listeners today to witness him cajole and cogitate in real time. The 9,400 telephone conversations and 77 cabinet-room meetings captured here for posterity comprise nearly 850 hours, documenting both major and minor policy initiatives. The tapes cover Johnson’s efforts for civi rights legislation, his maneuvers for Vietnam military action and his efforts to initiate the War on Poverty. Johnson’s recordings, as Professor Guian A. McKee has written, uniquely present “a record of the president’s words and thought, direct, unmediated and unfiltered, at least by anyone other than himself.”
Carnegie Hall Concert With Buck Owens and His Buckaroos (album) — Buck Owens and His Buckaroos (1966)
By the mid-1960s, Owens was known for a number of hits and as the progenitor of the Bakersfield sound, named for the California town he had called home since 1951. This new sound sought to move country music away from the lush arrangements characteristic of most Nashville artists and to return it to traditional bands (without orchestration) playing honky-tonk and proto-rock ’n’ roll. Allaying Owens’ initial fear that New Yorkers would dislike his music, the band sold out both of its 1966 Carnegie Hall shows. The program featured rollicking versions of “Act Naturally” and “Love’s Gonna Live Here Again,” each enhanced by guitarist Don Rich’s crisp percussive licks and drummer Willie Cantu’s show-stopping raucousness. The tearjerkers, “In the Palm of Your Hand” and “Cryin’ Time,” allowed steel player Tom Brumley to add soulful accents, while Owens’ vocals edged dangerously close to melodrama. Both audiences offered standing ovations, and a later critic astutely observed that they had witnessed “an inspired man render[ing] the greatest performance of his life.
“Fortunate Son” (single) — Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969)
Released in 1969 during the height of the Vietnam War, “Fortunate Son” wasn’t a protest against the war itself but against the system that determined who would fight it. Creedence’s John Fogerty got the title from the term “favorite son,” a phrase often used at political conventions. “I wrote the music for the song that I was calling ‘Fortunate Son’ without actually knowing what the lyrics were,” Fogerty said. “I rehearsed the band for a few weeks and, at some point, realized I was ready to write the words. I went into my bedroom. … and wrote the whole song in 20 minutes.” Since then, the wars may have changed but the resonance of “Fortunate Son” has not, as evidenced by a version Fogerty recorded with Foo Fighters in 2013, a full 40 years after the original. In a Rolling Stone 40th anniversary review, critic Barry Walters gave Fogerty credit for writing “… a protest song that makes you wanna dance.”
Theme From Shaft (album) — Isaac Hayes (1971)
After several years behind the scenes as a writer and producer at Stax Records in Memphis, Tenn., Hayes broke through as a solo artist with a series of albums that featured his lengthy, multilayered compositions and distinctive speaking and singing styles. In 1971, after the Hollywood recording sessions for his soundtrack to Shaft — a groundbreaking film about an African-American private detective caught between the mob and the cops — Hayes returned to Memphis and created this double album. He enhanced and expanded his earlier work as he saw fit and created a listening experience as innovative and exciting as the movie itself, leading off with an unforgettable opening theme highlighted by Charles Pitts’ wah-wah guitar and Hayes’ sexy banter with a female chorus.
Only Visiting This Planet (album) — Larry Norman (1972)
This is the key work in the early history of Christian rock. Norman was a veteran of the American rock scene of the 1960s — as well as a street-corner evangelist — and his songs were musically assured and socially aware. Many earlier efforts in this genre concentrated on joyful affirmations of faith, but Norman also commented on the world as he saw it from his position as a passionate, idiosyncratic outsider to mainstream churches. Planet was recorded at George Martin’s AIR studio in London with a group of top studio musicians that included John Wetton of King Crimson (and later Asia) on bass. The album set new production standards for Christian music. For some, Norman and his work are still controversial, but his influence remains strong.
Celia & Johnny (album) — Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco (1974)
Cuba’s Cruz was a dominant artist in the Afro-Cuban scene of the 1950s, when she sang with the great Sonora Matancera band. She came to America in 1962 and did well initially, but by the early 1970s, her career entered a slump as Latin styles nurtured in the U.S. became dominant. For this album, rather than re-create the large orchestras that Cruz usually fronted, Pacheco – a New York-based bandleader and co-founder of the Fania Records label — assembled a small group that included pianist Papo Lucca, tres player Charlie Martinez and several percussionists, including himself. This proved to be the perfect setting for Cruz to reach a newer and younger audience while remaining true to her roots. And she responded with some of the most inspired singing of her career, especially in the album’s many improvised passages. The album’s opening rumba, “Quimbara,” was a huge dance-floor hit, and Cruz soon was acclaimed as the Queen of Salsa.
“Copland Conducts Copland: Appalachian Spring” — Aaron Copland (1974)
In 1942, with funding from the Coolidge Foundation, Martha Graham commissioned Copland to write a score for a ballet that told a story set in 19th century rural Pennsylvania. Because of space limitations at the intended venture — the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress — Copland had to score the work for a chamber orchestra of only 13 instruments. Throughout the composition process, he thought of the work as “Ballet for Martha.” Shortly before its 1944 premiere, Graham, inspired by a Hart Crane poem, renamed it “Appalachian Spring.” In 1945, Copland reconfigured the ballet into an orchestral suite (of which numerous recordings have been made) that has been hailed for its rich symphonic vision of early America. However, this 1974 release, with the Brooklyn native conducting the Columbia Chamber Orchestra, was the first commercial recording of the original version. It is memorable for restoring the intimacy and charm of the 13-player score as well as for the vibrant and haunting textures that Copland and the smaller ensemble achieved.
Heart Like a Wheel (album) — Linda Ronstadt (1974)
In the 1970s, a decade that saw the ascendance of singer-songwriters, Ronstadt was a bit of an anomaly. Primarily an interpreter, she was blessed with excellent taste in song selection and the talent to put her own stamp on each of her covers. Ronstadt’s fifth solo album continued her tradition of eclecticism and contained covers of songs by Hank Williams, Paul Anka and Little Feat’s Lowell George. Heart also shows a keen ear for new material, such as the achingly beautiful title track by Anna McGarrigle. What made this album different from Ronstadt’s previous efforts was the additions of producer Peter Asher, who had been crucial to the career of James Taylor, and Andrew Gold, who arranged the music and played several instruments on the album sessions.
Ronstadt told the Library of Congress that the title track on the album “became an iconic song for me. That was the first chance I got to record a little bit more complex, emotionally, pieces instead of just trying to sing rock ’n’ roll. I never thought of myself as a rock ’n’ roll singer. I sang rock ’n’ roll because I liked to eat.”
Sweeney Todd (album) — Original Cast Recording (1979)
In reviewing this cast album, critic John Rockwell characterized Stephen Sondheim’s work as “complex mosaics, built up of bits and pieces of tunes.” The recording, Rockwell suggested, allows a listener a better chance to more fully appreciate such construction than a spectator in the theater, where elements of the production vie with music for attention. A moral tale presented in the form of a horror story — a wronged barber partners with an amoral businesswoman to make meat pies out of clients — the show ultimately dramatizes the value of human life. Thomas Z. Shepard, the record’s producer, stated that he conceived of this work “to a large degree, as re-creating an old-time radio program. … You should be able to close your eyes and get a fairly satisfying dramatic experience.” Known for the meticulousness with which he oversaw recordings of his shows, Sondheim contributed greatly during Sweeney’s recording session. Upon listening to the final product, he was moved to tears.
The Joshua Tree (album) — U2 (1987)
Brian Eno, co-producer and creative guru for this album, has stated that Joshua Tree erupted from the creative tension existing in the music of the time — between the “revolutionary form of passionate agitprop art” enacted by punk groups like The Clash and the robotic electronic pop of bands like Kraftwerk. Joshua Tree’s passion and engagement were from punk; its overt electronic sounds were from synth pop, but with the latter genre’s careful calculation replaced here by “the sound of machinery being pushed to its limits.” In this case, the specific machinery being tortured is The Edge’s amplifier on “Bullet the Blue Sky.” It is driven by slide guitar and excessive gain in order to emit controlled feedback that manages aptly to serve the song’s melody and anti-colonial lyrics. Elsewhere, most notably on the songs “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “With or Without You,” the guitarist perfects the chiming delayed guitar sound that syncs the rhythm section and complements Bono’s impassioned vocals. This combination would henceforth form the band’s signature sound, and the album on which it gelled remains an enduring classic.
“Hallelujah” (single) — Jeff Buckley (1994)
This is the rare song that has graduated from being a well-known standard to attaining the status of a cultural phenomenon. Leonard Cohen developed the song over a long period, writing numerous verses but never creating a fixed version, and Buckley drew his initial inspiration from a version that John Cale formulated for a Cohen tribute album. Buckley rehearsed it for years in live performances before engaging in a painstaking recording session that required rerecordings, alternate takes and overdubs to fully satisfy him. The arrangement is a spare one, including just a reverb-drenched Telecaster and Buckley’s closely-mic’d voice. The intimacy of the recording, coupled with Buckley’s quietly dexterous skill at holding and bending notes, has enhanced the song’s deep meaning in both public and private commemorations of grief, piety and celebration. Buckley’s version fueled the dispersion of the song widely, and it has been looped beneath news coverage of 9/11, on film soundtracks and in television dramas as well as for weddings, funerals, disaster benefits and religious services.
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