Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry adds new picks
By Chris Richards,
Keep your eyes peeled for the Mothership on Wednesday.
That’s when Parliament’s legendary 1975 funk album “Mothership Connection” is cleared for landing on the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry, a collection of recordings deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
Every year, the library selects 25 sound recordings to add to the registry, where they will be preserved. This year’s crop spans nearly 100 years, from 1888 to 1984, and it includes a collection of news reports from Edward R. Murrow, Leonard Bernstein’s debut performance with the New York Philharmonic and hip-hop Magna Carta “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang.
“America’s sound heritage is an important part of the nation’s history and culture, and this year’s selections reflect the diversity and creativity of the American experience,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington in a statement. “These songs, words and natural sounds must be preserved for future generations.”
The registry, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year, focuses on preservation, but recognition plays a huge role, too. Congress tasked the library with gathering rare recordings and keeping the fragile ones from turning to dust. But Prince’s 1984 masterpiece “Purple Rain” — the youngest, flashiest recording on this year’s list — has gone platinum 13 times. It ain’t scarce.
“We really do want to promote preservation, and this is a way to do it,” said Matthew Barton, the library’s curator of recorded sound. “There are a number of recordings on this year’s list — and really, on any year’s list — that aren’t in any great immediate danger. But then you have these other things that have only survived by the skin of their teeth.”
To wit, this year’s oldest selection is the Edison Talking Doll cylinder, a one-of-a-kind artifact that was discovered in 1967 in the desk of an assistant to Thomas Edison. It’s a cylinder meant to be stuffed inside a doll for children and was, until recently, unplayable. The original belongs to the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, N.J., but the Library of Congress will store a new digital recording at its Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation in Culpeper.
The Packard Campus will also house “Voices from the Days of Slavery,” a series of 24 interviews with African American former slaves recorded between 1932 and 1941, and “The Indians for Indians Hour,” recordings from a 1947 Oklahoma radio show that was broadcast wide enough to reach 18 Native American tribes.
There’s lots of music, too, of course — from pioneering Hawaiian recordings (Sol Hoopii’s “Fascinating Rhythm” and Gabby Pahinui’s “Hula Medley”), to iconic blues (Bo Diddley’s eponymous hit and “I’m a Man”) to California psychedelia (Love’s “Forever Changes” and a 1977 concert recording of the Grateful Dead).
“It’s an honor,” said Bob Weir, a founding member of the Dead. “Though it seems about right. We’ve always been lovers and students of American music, and we did our very best to present what we picked up in our own fashion.”
This year’s entries also move toward the dance floor. “Disco is represented for the first time with “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer,” Barton said. “And that’s back-to-back with ‘Rapper’s Delight’ from a couple years later. It tracks this enormous shift.”
The timeliness wasn’t intentional — this year’s list was decided before Summer’s death on Thursday.
Based on the advice of the National Recording Preservation Board— a 44-member group of music producers, engineers, historians and industry professionals — and nominations from the public, Billington made the library’s final selections in April.
The library has been adding recordings to the registry since 2002, and this year’s batch increases the total to 350. (Fifty recordings were added each year for the first four years, with 25 added each year since.) This year, the list of nominees approached 1,000.
Barton said that figure continues to grow because of public nominations made on the Library of Congress’s Web site. “There’s always a spike after the announcement is made, and we try to use that publicity to encourage people to visit the Web site and nominate.”
Barton also said that this year’s most recent recordings — “Rapper’s Delight” and “Purple Rain” — benefited from that public push.
“Very often you look at those and you start to see that that was the soundtrack of a lot of lives,” he said.
2011 National Recording Registry (Listing in Chronological Order)
1. Edison Talking Doll cylinder (1888)
2. “Come Down Ma Evenin’ Star,” Lillian Russell (1912)
3. “Ten Cents a Dance,” Ruth Etting (1930)
4. “Voices from the Days of Slavery,” Various speakers (1932-1941 interviews; 2002 compilation)
5. “I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart,” Patsy Montana (1935)
6. “Fascinating Rhythm,” Sol Hoopii and his Novelty Five (1938)
7. “Artistry in Rhythm,” Stan Kenton & and his Orchestra (1943)
8. Debut performance with the New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein (November 14, 1943)
9. International Sweethearts of Rhythm: Hottest Women’s Band of the 1940s (1944-1946)
10. “The Indians for Indians Hour” (March 25, 1947)
11. “Hula Medley,” Gabby Pahinui (1947)
12. “I Can Hear It Now,” Fred W. Friendly and Edward R. Murrow (1948)
13. “Let’s Go Out to the Programs,” The Dixie Hummingbirds (1953)
14. “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1954, 1958)
15. “Bo Diddley” and “I’m a Man,” Bo Diddley (1955)
16. “Green Onions,” Booker T. & the M.G.’s (1962)
17. “Forever Changes,” Love (1967)
18. “The Continental Harmony: Music of William Billings,” Gregg Smith Singers (1969)
19. “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Vince Guaraldi Trio (1970)
20. “Coat of Many Colors,” Dolly Parton (1971)
21. “Mothership Connection,” Parliament (1975)
22. Barton Hall concert by the Grateful Dead (May 8, 1977)
23. “I Feel Love,” Donna Summer (1977)
24. “Rapper's Delight,” Sugarhill Gang (1979)
25. “Purple Rain,” Prince and the Revolution (1984)