Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” the Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go,” John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” are among the latest batch of recordings to be inducted into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry.
This year’s 25 additions to the library, which were named by acting Librarian of Congress David S. Mao, span the years 1911-1986 and were selected for their “cultural, artistic and/or historical significance to American society and the nation’s aural legacy.” Each year 25 recordings are added to the registry, which now totals 450.
The 2015 registry selections also include rock band Santana’s 1970 album “Abraxas,” John Coltrane’s 1964 album “A Love Supreme,” Secretary of State George Marshall’s 1947 Marshall Plan speech and fourth-quarter coverage of legendary basketball player Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962.
“This collection of blues, jazz, rock, country and classical recordings, interspersed with important recordings of sporting events, speeches, radio shows and comedy, helps safeguard the record of what we’ve done and who we are,” said Mao.
Here are detailed descriptions of this year’s National Recording Registry selections:
“Let Me Call You Sweetheart”—Columbia Quartette (The Peerless Quartet) (1911)
There are songs in the nation’s repertoire that are perennials; their tunefulness and lyric qualities seem to have always been part of American life. One such song is “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” a product of Tin Pan Alley, composed and written by Leo Friedman and Beth Slater Whitson. With an uncomplicated rhyming scheme and predictable melodic contour, this song has endured for more than a century with its unabashed expression of love. The Columbia Quartette was more commonly known as the Peerless Quartet, led by tenor Henry Burr. His distinctive nasal voice gave the Peerless an easily identifiable tone. The blend and balance of the harmonized quartet is rich, providing us with an authentic taste of the music of the 1910s.
“Wild Cat Blues”—Clarence Williams’ Blue Five (1923)
Clarence Williams’ version of “Wild Cat Blues” is among the earliest jazz recordings to have widespread influence on musicians. Pianist, composer, vocalist and entrepreneur, Clarence Williams led hundreds of recording sessions during the 1920s, featuring some of New York’s finest black talent. He was a primary figure in Okeh Records’ “race series,” the first label to target the African-American audience. He also was the first African-American to fully explore and exploit the potential of the phonograph record in conjunction with the publishing business. “Wild Cat Blues,” composed by Thomas “Fats” Waller, was one of the first jazz recordings to feature a virtuoso instrumentalist, in this case Sidney Bechet on the soprano sax. This is Bechet’s first record and one that influenced scores of budding jazz musicians.
“Statesboro Blues”—Blind Willie McTell (1928)
This haunting blues recording is a performance for the ages. McTell’s voice is compelling; thin, with a confidential quality, as though he is telling a secret. He is a captivating storyteller. His voice is accompanied brilliantly by his 12-string guitar, which darts and dodges among the vocal phrases, creating many layers of rhythm. The guitar is also somewhat out-of-tune, which combines with the reverberant room to lend an eerie effect. McTell is also very free with his meter, in the manner of old-time country performers, adding to or subtracting from the standard number of measures in an easy, flowing manner. His confidence and quiet bravado come across with unforgettable intensity.
“Bonaparte’s Retreat”—W.H. Stepp (1937)
Stepp’s “Bonaparte’s Retreat” is among the 1937 recordings Library of Congress folk historians Alan and Elizabeth Lomax made during their musicological tour of the state of Kentucky. In the 1930s it was a common dance tune, but the fiddler they recorded that day, William Hamilton Stepp, played an unusual variation. Musicologists agree that Stepp’s rollicking reel became the basis for a famed piece of American classical music, the “Hoe-Down” section of the ballet “Rodeo” by composer Aaron Copland, who had access to the Stepp version both in recorded form and notated in Alan Lomax’s 1941 book “Our Singing Country.” Copland was commissioned by choreographer Agnes De Mille to score the ballet in 1942. Copland later made “Hoe-Down” part of his frequently performed symphonic suite “Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo,” first performed in 1943 by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. Rock fans might know the 1972 version of “Hoe-Down,” by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, on the album “Trilogy.” Copland’s “Hoe-Down” also made it onto national TV in the early ‘90s in a series of TV commercials for beef. So Stepp’s fiddling has made it to the concert stage, the pop charts, and millions of American homes.
“Vic and Sade”—Episode: “Decoration Day” (June 4, 1937)
Created by Paul Rhymer, “Vic and Sade” was a long-running daytime serial, but not a melodrama. First broadcast in 1932 as a 15-minute weekday show on NBC, “Vic and Sade” did not follow the usual structure of a serial drama. Instead, each episode was complete in itself. All of the action–Vic and Sade’s friends and acquaintances, and even the town itself—were created entirely through Rhymer’s imaginative dialogue. This representative broadcast—in which Vic laments the decline in “Decoration Day” recognition—is one of the earliest surviving examples of this highly praised program. Although it is estimated that Rhymer wrote more than 3,500 scripts for the show, only a few hundred original recordings have survived to present day.
Mahler Symphony No. 9—Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Bruno Walter (1938)
Bruno Walter was Gustav Mahler’s assistant conductor and protégé. So close was their relationship that the composer dedicated his Symphony No. 9 to Walter, who would conduct its premier performance, with the Vienna Philharmonic, in 1912, just two years before the opening guns of World War I. Walter also conducted this first complete recording, on Jan. 16, 1938, again with the Philharmonic—but this time only two months before Germany invaded Austria in the runup to World War II. Critics disagree about the quality of this performance. Many praise its intensity. Tony Duggan described the orchestra as playing like “the world was on the verge of going smash,” which it was. Others, viewing the same intensity from a different perspective, feel that the music, at times, flies out of control. Walter himself expressed concerns. But no recording of the ninth has as much historical significance; it seems to anticipate the coming Anschluss. Shortly after the recording was made, 13 Jewish members of the Vienna Philharmonic were fired; some would later die in Jewish ghettos or concentration camps. The valedictory Symphony No. 9 is one of the most important works in Mahler’s oeuvre. Its composition signaled the end of a musical era; this recording, the end of a historical one.
“Carousel of American Music”—George M. Cohan, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Arthur Freed, Shelton Brooks, Hoagy Carmichael, others (Sept. 24, 1940)
These recordings, captured live at the Golden Gate International Exposition, document a once-in-a-lifetime concert that gathered the top American songwriters of the day to perform their own compositions. Staged to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the composers’ rights organization, ASCAP, the all-day event featured a concert by the San Francisco Symphony followed by the performances. Included: Albert Von Tilzer (singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”); Ann Ronnell (“Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf”); Arthur Freed (“Singin’ in the Rain”); Shelton Brooks (“Some of These Days”); James V. Monaco (“You Made Me Love You”); Bert Kalmar (“Three Little Words”); Walter Donaldson (“My Blue Heaven”); Leo Robin (“Love in Bloom”); Johnny Mercer (“Jeepers Creepers”); Hoagy Carmichael (“Stardust”); George M. Cohan (“Over There”); and Irving Berlin (“God Bless America”), among others. Believed lost, these recordings on 78-rpm discs turned up for sale half a century later on an opera recording trading site. They were released as a four-CD set in 2011.
The “Marshall Plan” Speech—George C. Marshall (June 5, 1947)
In the spring of 1947, more than two years after VE Day, much of Europe was still in ruins. Piecemeal aid programs had limited success. Secretary of State George Marshall and President Harry S. Truman began work on a comprehensive recovery program for Europe. Marshall was to receive an honorary degree from Harvard University, his alma mater, during commencement ceremonies on June 5. He had not originally planned remarks, but changed his mind, speaking before 15,000 in Harvard Yard including writer T.S. Eliot, journalist W. Hodding Carter and Marshall’s Army colleague General Omar N. Bradley. It described Europe’s bleak landscape of destruction, broken economies and slow starvation. Marshall declared, “Any government that is willing to assist in the task of recovery will find full cooperation, I am sure, on the part of the United States Government. Any government which maneuvers to block the recovery of other countries cannot expect help from us. Furthermore, governments, political parties or groups which seek to perpetuate human misery in order to profit therefrom politically or otherwise will encounter the opposition of the United States.”
“Destination Freedom”—Episodes “A Garage in Gainesville” and “Execution Awaited” (Sept. 25 and Oct. 2, 1949)
From June 1948 to August 1950, Chicago radio station WMAQ broadcast “Destination Freedom,” a remarkable program dedicated to presenting not only the accomplishments of black Americans, but also the obstacles they overcame and the prejudice they endured. All 97 original episodes were written by Richard Durham, who had been an editor at the “Chicago Defender” newspaper. Unusual for the time, black actors were given most of the show’s lead roles, not just comedic or subservient ones. Most episodes are fictionalized profiles of notable black Americans such as Harriet Tubman or Jackie Robinson. This two-part “Prejudice Series” is different—both entirely fictional episodes are searing indictments of racial prejudice in America. In “Execution Awaited,” Durham uses the literary device of personification by making Race Prejudice a character put on trial for his crimes. The second installment, “A Garage in Gainesville,” is told through a character called Joe, an ordinary Southern white man who wants to open a garage with Buddy, a talented black auto mechanic. As the story unfolds, Joe learns the tragic consequences of the racial prejudice to which he’s turned a blind eye all his life. Unvarnished racial epithets give the dialogue realism.
Original Soundtrack from “A Streetcar Named Desire”—Alex North, composer (1951)
In the early 1950s, director Elia Kazan persuaded Alex North to compose a score for the film version of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” then sent North to New Orleans to “sop up the atmosphere.” North saw “Streetcar” as “an opportunity to make music talk … in the American idiom of jazz.” While he is credited as being the first to integrate jazz into a major motion picture score, that’s not the extent of his innovation. Instead of using music merely to support the action in a scene, North used it to express a character’s emotions, even if those emotions were in conflict with the action. Furthermore, “Streetcar” is not exclusively a jazz score, as some sections are more traditionally orchestral. Released originally as a 10-inch LP and a box set of 7-inch 45s, the issued recordings feature a suite consisting of 10 sections drawn from the musical cues of the film.
“Cry Me A River”—Julie London. (1955)
“It’s only a thimbleful of a voice,” said Julie London of her singing. “But it is a kind of over-smoked voice and it automatically sounds intimate.” London had her biggest hit with her debut single, “Cry Me a River,” written by Arthur Hamilton. But she may never have had the chance to record it if not for the word “plebeian.” Hamilton had used it as part of a clever internal rhyme, “Told me love was too plebeian/Told me you were through with me, and ….” Originally written in 1953 for the film “Pete Kelly’s Blues,” it was dropped during production, reportedly because director Jack Webb insisted that Hamilton change “plebeian” and Hamilton refused. Early in 1955, London began dating jazz musician Bobby Troup. He encouraged her to sing and record. She turned to Hamilton, who had been her senior prom date, for material and he offered her “Cry Me a River,” the song rejected by her former husband Webb. Troup, who would later marry London, produced the session and wisely had her accompanied by only a guitar and a bass.
“Mack the Knife” (singles)—Louis Armstrong (1956); Bobby Darin (1959)
“Mack the Knife” began its long life in Kurt Weill and Bertholt Brecht’s “The Threepenny Opera” in Berlin in 1928. The song opens and closes the play, sung by a ragged organ grinder to herald the play’s gangster anti-hero, Mackie Messer. The play was little-known in the U.S. until 1954 when Marc Blitzstein’s English-language adaptation became an off-Broadway sensation, though he was forced to censor the most violent parts of “Mack the Knife” for the original-cast recording. Columbia Records producer George Avakian invited Lotte Lenya, Weill’s former wife and the “Pirate Jenny” of both the original cast and the New York revival, to a Louis Armstrong recording session to hear him record this version with his quintet, complete with a shout-out to her. It became one of the least likely hits of the year, inspiring 17 cover versions in the U.S. alone. “You hear it coming out of bars, jukeboxes, taxis, wherever you go,” Lenya marveled. “Kurt would have loved that. A taxi driver whistling his tune would have pleased him more than winning the Pulitzer Prize.” The most famous version of the song came a few years later, when Bobby Darin, seeking to prove his versatility after several rock’n’roll hits, included it on a 1959 album of show tunes and standards called “That’s All.” Darin’s version is consciously in the spirit of Louis Armstrong’s, but Richard Wess’ big-band arrangement gives him room to take the song from a jazzy, finger-snapping opening to a rocking climax. Though some thought it encouraged juvenile delinquency, “Mack the Knife” became an even bigger international pop hit as well as Darin’s signature song.
Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-Point Game, Fourth-Quarter Coverage (Philadelphia Warriors vs. New York Knicks)—Bill Campbell, announcer (March 2, 1962)
On March 2, 1962, Philadelphia Warriors center Wilt Chamberlain shattered the NBA record by scoring 100 points in a single game. The game, played in Hershey, Pennsylvania, was not covered by television; it was only broadcast by a Philadelphia radio station. University student Jim Trelease, who had fallen asleep listening to the game, awoke to the news that the station would be replaying part of the game in the early morning. Trelease decided to record the rebroadcast. In 1990, Trelease learned that the Hershey Community Archives did not have a copy of the broadcast. Fortunately, Trelease still had his copy and donated it to the HCA, which later gave a copy to the NBA. In 1988, the NBA had acquired a copy of the fourth quarter of the game from Warriors fan Samuel B. Marcus, who had recorded the Warriors’ possessions on a Dictaphone. League archivist Todd Caso had both recordings cleaned up and combined to make the best possible version from the two sources.
“A Love Supreme”—John Coltrane (1964)
John Coltrane viewed “A Love Supreme” as a deeply spiritual devotional work. The album begins with pianist McCoy Tyner, drummer Elvin Jones and tenor saxophonist John Coltrane quickly establishing the solemn mood. Tyner’s sustained opening chord and Jones’s gong sound simultaneously creating a reverberant wash that builds as Coltrane enters with a deft fanfare-like figure. The music continues to swell but then shifts as bassist Jimmy Garrison enters with the familiar four-note melody that will recur repeatedly throughout the work, including as a chant. Scholar Lewis Porter has observed that Coltrane carefully structured his composition. Not only do the titles of the four movements (“Acknowledgment,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance,” and “Psalm”) suggest a redemptive spiritual journey, but the second movement is harmonically related to the third movement and the first to the fourth in a way that unifies the piece. This structure, however, is loose enough that each musician has his own say. The qualities offered on this album guaranteed it a much wider listenership than most jazz albums of the time, appealing to a public that was increasingly turning its attention to a wide range of spiritual concerns. It has been quoted in sampled music and played in church services.
“It’s My Way”—Buffy Sainte-Marie (1964) (album)
Buffy Sainte-Marie’s debut album was a highly personal set of original and traditional songs, but her Cree heritage and such offerings as “Now That the Buffalo is Gone” and “The Universal Soldier” spurred her to struggle for years against her typecasting as a protest singer and the folk revival’s token Native American. “It’s My Way” is a mature and compelling work of thematic and emotional variety that contemporary critic Godfrey John said showed “the convergent influences that create the contemporary American.” “Cod’ine” drew on her own experiences with addiction. “He Lived Alone in Town” spoke to isolation and romantic frustration. “It’s My Way” was an anthem of determination, while “Ananais” assumed the voice of the Apostle Paul to challenge religious authority. “Cripple Creek,” on which she traded her guitar for a mouth bow, was simply for fun. Her voice is alternately soothing and harrowing throughout “It’s My Way,” another facet of her style that paved the way for such powerful female singers as Grace Slick a few years later, and reflected the intensity and passion which would continue to distinguish Sainte-Marie’s work.
“Where Did Our Love Go”(single)—The Supremes. (1964)
Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Flo Ballard did not think much of “Where Did Our Love Go” when it was brought to them by Motown’s star songwriters and producers Holland, Dozier and Holland In April of 1964. They all found the lyrics simplistic, even childish. Diana Ross reportedly disliked singing in a low, unfamiliar key. The arrangement left the other Supremes with what seemed like very small supporting roles. But the group had produced only minor hits for Motown to that point, and they were in no position to refuse the song. When Ross sang in the lower register, she found a distinctive and mature tone that set her apart from other female singers, and when Wilson and Ballard had mastered the behind-the-beat timing of their parts, the group’s performance revealed a depth of longing in the lyrics that made the song stand out.
“People Get Ready” (single)—The Impressions. (1965)
The Impressions began as a five-man group in 1958, but achieved their greatest artistic and popular success as the trio of Curtis Mayfield, Sam Gooden and Fred Cash. Their background in gospel music informed not only their singing, but Mayfield’s songwriting, which achieved a rare level of spirituality and empathy. The sharing of lead vocals among the three also set them apart, and was another essential aspect of their approach that they brought to their most enduring song, “People Get Ready.” As he had in earlier compositions inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, such as “Keep On Pushing,” Mayfield employed both folk and religious imagery in “People Get Ready,” and his message offers hope at the same time that it exhorts its audience to rise to its task. “People Get Ready” also boasts one of the most effective arrangements of its day, with the Impressions’ solo and harmony voicings and Mayfield’s solo guitar passages blending seamlessly with arranger Johnny Pate’s string and brass orchestration. The song was a strong hit at the time and it has continued to reach audiences ever since in the original version as well as in many covers and tributes.
“Mama Tried” (single)—Merle Haggard (1968)
“Mama Tried” is country singer-songwriter Merle Haggard’s loosely autobiographical tribute to his mother’s love and sacrifice as she tried to raise her restless, unruly child by herself. Originally written for the movie “Killers Three,” the song is the story of a young man sentenced to life in prison without parole and coming to understand, too late, that he alone is responsible for his terrible situation. Haggard’s direct, hard-driving, honky-tonk approach to both his songwriting and his performance stood out in the late ‘60s against the smoother, more honeyed Nashville style of country music of that day. “Mama Tried” has gone on to become a classic, covered by many groups, including the Grateful Dead.
Santana’s second album consolidated the group’s position as purveyors of a unique blend of Latin music, rock, blues and modal jazz. The rhythm section was of key importance in appealing to fans of many musical genres. While the songs “El Nicoya” and “Se Acabo” allowed Jose “Chepito” Areas’s timbales and Mike Carabello’s congas a chance to stretch out, their contributions are important on the more rocking numbers and especially on the jazz-influenced “Incident at Neshabur.” Greg Rollie proved adept at writing compelling rocker tunes while contributing some of the best organ solos of the era. The standard rock rhythm section—Dave Brown on bass, Mike Shrieve on drums—deftly switched from jazz to rock to Latin as the situation required. But Carlos Santana’s signature guitar tone, with its nearly infinite sustain, and his lyrical melodies have proven highly compelling to this day.
“Class Clown”—George Carlin (1972)
In the late 1960s, George Carlin stepped back from a successful career as a mainstream standup comedian and reinvented himself with a much funnier, but far riskier, countercultural style. “Class Clown” was the second album of this phase of his career, and contained his “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television” routine, a discourse not only on those words and their power to offend, but also on the varieties and vagaries of the English language itself. At the time of the album’s release, Carlin had actually been arrested on a charge of obscenity for a live performance of this routine, though the charges were ultimately dropped—yet those words still cannot be spoken on broadcast television.
“Robert and Clara Schumann Complete Piano Trios”—The Beaux Arts Trio (1972)
The Beaux Arts Trio demonstrated, with a series of landmark recordings for Philips, how expressive and wide-ranging the piano trio repertoire was and could be. In each, the trio demonstrated incredible skill for drawing attention to details in the music without losing sight of overall structure and with attention to blending and cohesiveness. The Beaux Arts were an ideal vehicle for the trios of Robert and Clara Schumann, whose music is full of interesting musical details, and whose structures might get lost without the balance of musical values the trio put into everything. While its approach puts both composers in the best light, they strongly demonstrate the musical identity of Clara Schumann. The temptation is to compare Clara’s writing with her husband’s, but it stands on its own. The work of both Schumanns is some of the most nuanced in classical music—and it found advocates in the members of the Beaux Arts Trio.
“Piano Man” (single)—Billy Joel (1973)
Billy Joel’s first hit, “Piano Man,” became his signature song, but it might never have happened if not for “Bill Martin” and “Captain Jack.” Joel performed a concert for Philadelphia radio station WMMR in April 1972 to promote his first solo album, “Cold Spring Harbor.” But the album had technical problems, and Joel also found himself bound by an unfavorable recording contract, so he moved to Los Angeles to lay low for awhile. To make ends meet, using the name Bill Martin, Joel landed a gig at the Executive Room piano bar. The staff and regulars he met there would later populate “Piano Man.” “All the characters in that song were real people,” Joel said. There actually was a sailor named Davy and a real estate agent named Paul, who sat at the bar working on his novel. The waitress who was “practicing politics” would later become Joel’s wife. As the West Coast gig unfolded, the song “Captain Jack” from his live recording became so popular that not only did WMMR add it to its rotation, so did other New York stations. Because of that exposure, Joel was eventually able to sign a contract with a different company and record his second solo album, which featured both “Piano Man” and a studio version of “Captain Jack.” However, the record company considered “Piano Man,” originally 5:38, too long to get radio airplay, so it cut more than a minute from the single and even more from the DJ promo. Joel later referenced this in “The Entertainer”: “It was a beautiful song but it ran too long … so they cut it down to 3:05.”
“Bogalusa Boogie”—Clifton Chenier (1976)
Zydeco, the hard-driving mix of Cajun, creole and blues influences, now has an international audience, but it wasn’t always so. Accordionist and singer Clifton Chenier, born into a French-speaking family in Opelousas, Louisiana, in 1925, was part of the generation that added a strong blues feeling and hot rhythms to Cajun and creole music to create a new style that swept Louisiana and Texas. Years on the blues festival circuit in the 1960s, plus a series of albums recorded by pioneering roots-music producer Chris Strachwitz, helped bring Chenier and Zydeco to a new audience. “Bogalusa Boogie,” recorded in 1976, was the second album Chenier recorded with his Red Hot Louisiana Band, the expanded group that accompanied him during the most successful phase of his career. The album was cut in a single day, with no second takes, and remains a definitive performance by one of Zydeco’s greatest artists.
“I Will Survive” (single)—Gloria Gaynor (1978)
It began when a guy lost his job. He channeled the experience into a breakup song, “I Will Survive,” that has become an anthem for survivors of all kinds. Gloria Gaynor had been recording since the mid-1960s, but had limited success until 1975’s “Never Can Say Goodbye,” a historic disco album featuring the first continuous-mix album side. By 1978, however, she needed a hit. Songwriting team Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris had recently formed a production unit and had “I Will Survive,” but no one to sing it. The song, Fekaris said, was first inspired by his realization he’d be OK after being fired. For Gaynor, not only did she like the song, but it held added meaning because she was recovering from a serious spinal injury. “I was actually at the mic in a back brace, believing the song would save my career—and it did.” But first, the song itself had to survive being relegated to the B-side of another single. So many deejays began playing it that the record company reissued “Survive” as a single. The song has been popular as an emblem of women’s empowerment and as an anthem among the LGBT community.
“Master of Puppets”—Metallica (1986)
The third release by the band Metallica shows the group moving away from its thrash metal history and reputation and exploring new ideas. Thrash, a reaction against the pop metal of the early 1980s, aimed to renew metal by emphasizing speed and aggression. For example, the song “Battery” on this album—with rhythm guitarist James Hetfield’s galloping power chords, Lars Ulrich’s machine-gun drumming, and lead guitarist Kirk Hammet’s blinding tapped leads—is as rousing an example of the sub-genre as one could find and the technical proficiency is astonishing. However, other songs on the record break free of thrash orthodoxy. Cliff Burton’s clean bass lines, volume swells, and careful harmonies, for example, on “Orion,” set that song apart from the standard metal song. The title track starts unsurprisingly enough with a crisp power chord and catchy riff, but halfway through, the tempo slows and a clean arpeggiated progression, accompanied by cello-like tones, introduces Hetfield’s mid-tempo lead which eschews tapping, sweep picking and, other metal guitar techniques. Black Sabbath bassist and lyricist Geezer Butler has commented that Metallica’s 1980s output brought the music “back to the spirit of [Black] Sabbath” and, he further emphasizes, “If we started it, then [Metallica] reinvented it.”