This Week’s Theme: The National Recording Registry Part Two (1955-Present)
This week presents Part Two of the Faux Show’s four-part series on the National Recording Registry. If you missed Part One, take a look to learn about the Registry and see my selections from before 1955. This week’s show is Part Two and presents the selections from 1955 to the present.
I presented the selections in last week’s show by focusing on the chronological impact of technology on the recordings of the early 20th century. By 1955, recording technology was still progressing, but most people are familiar with the major developments of the last seventy years, such as stereo recording, hi fidelity mastering, digital recording, and the move from vinyl records to cassettes to CDs to streaming. For that reason, I have presented this week’s selections as groups of recordings that represent specific types of recordings or moments in history.
This Week’s Selections
Children’s Programming In The Late 20th Century
One of the most important paradigm shifts in entertainment during the second half of the 20th century was the realization that children’s programming could be not only entertaining but also educational. The early days of radio were filled with children’s programming, but almost exclusively focused on entertainment with shows such as Little Orphan Annie and The Lone Ranger. These programs presented exciting tales of adventure with no goals other than increased listenership and advertising revenue. The move from radio to television programming advanced this goal toward monetizing children’s programming with live-action shows such as Superman, The Lone Ranger, and Zorro. However, the wide array of children’s television in the 1950s started to move away from scripted action shows with new programming, such as Captain Kangaroo and Romper Room, so that by the end of the 1960s there was a need for more educational programs. The creation of PBS in 1969 solidified this new trend and created a market for children’s programming that is both entertaining and educational. Children’s programming is now a multi-billion-dollar industry and mainstay of television. The popularity of networks such as Disney Channel and Nickelodeon could not have happened without the early innovations in children’s programming during the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s.
Mister Rogers “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” (1973): If you think Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is old-fashioned, silly, childish, or over-rated then all I can say is “whatever.” I would then say that maybe you should go watch some episodes and think about how good you are at being empathetic, sympathetic, and caring, and maybe think about whether you might be a better person if you allowed yourself to learn some lessons from Fred Rogers. The world is currently going to hell, and the lessons presented in every episode of this show seem pretty relevant in the middle of all of the shit going on out there in our global neighborhood.
Kermit the Frog “Bein’ Green” (1995): The collection of songs from Sesame Street that was compiled in 1995 is a soundtrack to the childhoods of multiple generations. I could have included almost any of the songs on that collection, but this one has always been the Faux household’s favorite.
Bob Dorough “Three Is A Magic Number” (1971/1973): Any child of the ‘70s can’t help but feel extreme waves of nostalgia at the thought of Schoolhouse Rock. This educational series was developed by ABC and ran for over a decade. It presented cartoons focused on grammar, math, science, history, and other educational topics. Everyone who remembers has a favorite tune, such as “Conjunction Junction,” “I’m Just A Bill,” or “Interplanet Janet,” but the first and arguably best of all of them was “Three Is A Magic Number.” Originally created as an extended version and one-off cartoon in 1971, it was later reworked as the version that everyone now knows and presented as the first episode of the series in 1973. Dorough wrote and performed all the songs in the first season, and many of them are great, but the greatest of them all is this one.
Marlo Thomas and Harry Belafonte “Parents Are People” (1972): The popularity of the 1972 television special Free To Be…You And Me has slowly decreased over the last fifty years, but those who know about it continue to pass it down from generation to generation. Much like Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the lessons taught in this show are timeless. The animation is dated, and the music is of its time, but the concepts are still important if we ever expect to share a world of inclusion, equity, and peace.
Gospel music continued its influence on the evolution of rock and roll, R&B, and soul music in the mid-1950s and ‘60s. The Registry is filled with too many great selections to include, so I chose my two favorites.
Swan Silvertones “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep” (1959): They are not the best-known gospel vocal group, but they were important in the transition of gospel music into soul music. There is an easy-to-follow evolution from Sister Rosetta Tharpe to The Soul Stirrers and Swan Silvertones to Ray Charles and Sam Cooke.
The Edwin Hawkins Singers “Oh Happy Day” (1969): This song is an iconic hit from the late 1960s. It still sounds important over fifty years later.
The Struggle For Civil Rights Makes Its Final Push Toward Equality
Many of the recordings of the first half of the 20th century presented the struggles of black Americans. Many of the greatest recordings of that era, such as Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” the spirituals of Marian Anderson, and the gospel of Mahalia Jackson, presented the violence, pain, and racial ignorance of those struggles for all to hear. By the 1950s, the fight for civil rights in the United States had moved into the National political arena, and the influence on the compositions and recordings of the era was impossible to ignore. If one selects all the recordings in the Registry that are focused on this topic, one can listen to the struggle for equality from its earliest stages at the turn of the century to the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s to the present day’s continued attempt to end the racism still inherent throughout the nation. Of all the historical lessons that can be taught through the Registry’s recordings, the struggle against racism is by the far the best presented and most powerful in terms of not only the quantity of content, but also the range of artistic quality. It would be great if one hundred years from now people listen to the recordings in the Registry in wonder at how ignorant people were during our lifetime.
Martin Luther King “I Have A Dream (speech)” (8/28/63): This is one of the most important moments in the fight for civil rights in the United States. It is hard to believe that it is still relevant sixty years later.
Sam Cooke “A Change Is Gonna Come” (1964): This is one of the most important songs composed during the Civil Rights Era. It is hard to believe that it is still relevant sixty years later.
Nina Simone “Mississippi Goddam (Live at Carnegie Hall)” (1964): This is one of the most important songs composed during the Civil Rights Era. It is hard to believe that it is still relevant sixty years later.
The Impressions “People Get Ready” (1965): This is a perfect blend of soul, gospel, and social awareness that was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s personal choice as the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. It is hard to believe that it is still relevant sixty years later.
Gil Scott-Heron “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (1970): This is one of the most important songs ever written about the fight for racial equality. It is hard to believe that it is still relevant over fifty years later.
Scores and Soundtracks
Some of the most popular recordings of the first half of the 20th century were Broadway cast recordings and orchestrated film scores. That isn’t to say that there weren’t popular soundtrack albums, such as The Wizard of Oz and Singin’ In The Rain, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that movie soundtracks became more popular than the incidental recordings and scores of the same films. Most of the best-known scores and soundtrack albums are from the second half of the 20th century, and several are in the Registry.
Henry Mancini “Peter Gunn Theme” (1958): His work is no longer as well-known as it was in the 1950s and ‘60s, but for several decades Mancini was the master of film and television scoring. This is the first truly great television theme song. The show is incredible as well if you are into noir crime dramas.
John Williams “Star Wars Main Theme” (1977): I guess you can argue for another choice, but I would imagine that the best-known piece of orchestral film score music is this. Williams is also the best-known film score composer, having written scores for around one hundred films (I stopped counting after eighty), including many of the greatest films of the last seventy-five years. Just to name a few, he has composed for franchises such as Star Wars and Harry Potter as well as most of the movies directed by Steven Spielberg.
Kermit the Frog “Rainbow Connection” (1979): The Registry contains a variety of different types of film recordings, but it is always something special when a song from a soundtrack transcends the film itself and becomes its own piece of pop culture. Obvious examples include songs such as “Mrs. Robinson,” “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” “Danger Zone,” and “Old Time Rock and Roll.” Two of the best-known, “Footloose” and “Purple Rain,” are in the Registry. Of all of these, my favorite is “Rainbow Connection.” Composed by Paul Williams, this song is now considered one of the greatest compositions of the 20th century. Whether it stirs up happiness and visions of Kermit riding his bike or makes a deeper impact on you because of its connection to a particular moment in your life, songs like this are timeless.
There are several great selections in the Registry to represent the evolution of stand-up comedy during the second half of the 20th century, including Mort Sahl, Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart, Richard Pryor, and Steve Martin, but I chose what is arguably the greatest comedy bit ever written.
George Carlin “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television” (1972): Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits. “Hey Tits, c’mere man!”
There are many historically important audio clips in the Registry. These two are especially significant with regard to technological advancements during the Cold War.
Dwight D. Eisonhower “First Voice from Space” (12/19/1958): We now take it for granted that satellites orbit Earth and provide the technology required for almost everything we need to live in the 21st century. This was the stuff of science fiction in 1958.
Neil Armstrong and Walter Cronkite “First Man On The Moon” (7/20/1969): To be clear, this really did happen. Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
I could have made an entire playlist of jazz from the second half of the 20th century. Instead, I included only one tune. This is not to say that this is the most important jazz composition or the greatest jazz artist. It is, however, a perfect example of jazz composition during the period of jazz between the early days of Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker and the electric and fusion jazz explosion in the late 1960s and ‘70s by artists like Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock.
Charles Mingus “Better Get Hit In Your Soul” (1959): If you don’t know whether you like jazz, listen to Mingus Ah Um and realize that you do.
Some Odds And Ends Too Good Not To Include
There is so much music in the Registry that it is impossible to include multiple examples for every type of music represented. These five recordings stand out to me as great examples of the diversity of music provided in the complete collection.
Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band “Moonlight On Vermont” (1969): Frank Zappa gets all of the attention from mainstream music historians who want to feel like they are cool for appreciating weird rock music, but Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica is the best experimental rock album ever recorded. It was produced by Zappa, but Beefheart made Zappa’s experimentalism seem conservative in comparison.
New York String Quartet “Black Angels Pt. 1, Departure, V. Danse Macabre” (1972): George Crumb was one of the most important avant-garde American composers, and this is arguably his masterpiece.
Aaron Copland and the London Symphony Orchestra “Appalachian Spring: VII. Dopio Movimento” (1974): This is the only classical composition I have included, although the Registry is filled with them. This one is important in the United States because it is the most American symphonic piece ever composed, and this recording was conducted by the composer.
Wild Tchoupitoulis “Brother John” (1976): This is my favorite discovery of the week, and I am embarrassed that I did not know about this album before now. This group were members of the Mardi Gras tribe of Louisiana. This is their only album. It was produced by Allen Toussaint and featured the recording debut of the Neville Brothers as backing vocalists, who then decided maybe they should form their own group. The music is funky and sounds exactly like what you might think music would sound like if performed by a Louisiana tribe known as Mardi Gras. Simply wonderful.
Israel Kamakawiwo’ole “Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World” (1993): I was surprised to see this recording in the Registry. At the time of its release, it was not a hit and I’m not sure how popular it was. However, anyone who has been listening to music since the early 1990s knows this song and probably loves it. There is something indefinably beautiful in its simple delivery, and it continues to stand as an anthem for hope over thirty years later. Kamakawiwo’ole played ukulele and was one of the greatest Hawaiian musicians. He died tragically at the age of 38 from complications caused by his lifelong struggles with obesity.
Songs that Everybody Knows
The Registry is filled with songs that are standards across many genres, especially recordings from the second half of the 20th century. I selected a few of my favorites.
Carl Perkins “Blue Suede Shoes” (1955): Elvis’ version was more popular at the time, but Perkins’ original version is the one that has endured. This is the beginning of rockabilly and one of the most important rock and roll recordings. If I had to pick one song to represent the sound of Sun Records, this would be it.
Julie London “Cry Me A River” (1955): To be honest, there are a lot of better performed torch songs, jazz vocalists, and pop singles than this one, but this is the one that has endured more than almost any other. There is nothing wrong with the song, but it is a prime example of how the definition of importance is controlled by white men. I don’t know who determines the nominees or inductees into the Registry, but this one was definitely selected by some old white dudes.
Wilson Pickett “In The Midnight Hour” (1965): This is quite simply one of the greatest soul songs ever recorded. There are Motown groups, Phil Spector groups, Girl Groups, Stax artists, and other soul legends in the Registry, but I chose Pickett because he is often undeservedly overshadowed by his contemporaries James Brown, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and The Temptations.
Creedence Clearwater Revival “Fortunate Son” (1969): If anyone wants to argue that this song and artist should not have been selected over dozens of other late 1960s artists, I am ready to take them on. CCR were the greatest second-generation rock and roll band. I am not talking about songwriting, popularity, style, or importance. I am talking about raw, emotional, old-school rock and roll. No other band of the era represented the heart and soul of a rock and roll band more than CCR – not The Beatles, not The Stones, and definitely not all the rest of CCR’s pitiful San Francisco contemporaries like The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and The Grateful Dead. I would argue they deserve an entire album and not just one single, but at least they are included.
Earth Wind and Fire “September” (1978): I don’t know why they only get one song and not an album, but this is one of the group’s best. It is so good that September 21 is now known as September Day.
Journey “Don’t Stop Believin’” (1981): I have loved this song since it’s initial release, but not even their biggest fans would have ever predicted that this song would become such a pop cultural icon. Journey is great, but it is this song alone that places them in the Registry.
Cyndi Lauper “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” (1983): Madonna isn’t in the Registry, but Lauper’s entire debut album is. I guess in the end this means that Lauper won the fake media battle between her and Madonna. I’m just happy that music like this is included in the Registry.
The Beginnings of Alternative Rock
The breadth of music that can be considered alternative rock, such as ‘60s garage music, proto-punk, first generation punk, new wave, hardcore, indie rock, and so on is barely recognized in the Registry. Therefore, it is refreshing that U2 and R.E.M. at least get their rightful place as two of the bands that invented the sound of rock in the 1980s and ‘90s.
R.E.M. “Radio Free Europe” (1981): They only get one song, but R.E.M. deserve to be included, and it is wonderful that it is their first masterpiece. If nothing else, it is interesting that the only two recordings in the Registry from 1981 are this barely-listened-to-at-the-time single by a little band from Athens, GA and Journey’s Top Ten smash “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
U2 “With Or Without You” (1987): The entire album The Joshua Tree is in the Registry. That is meaningful for a lot of reasons, but none less important than the fact that producer Brian Eno is therefore in the Registry.
Three Queens of Country Music
The Registry is filled with country music, including several female artists, but these three women hold a place as the original Queens. Patsy Montana and Kitty Wells built the foundation for the female country artists to come, but these three women took country music to new levels of success and passed the Queen’s crown from Cline to Lynn to Parton.
Patsy Cline “Crazy” (1961): This is one of the greatest songs ever written and one of the quintessential country music performances.
Loretta Lynn “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (1970): This song and Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” are two of the best examples of country songwriting perfection. They present very personal stories, but in a way that is relatable to anyone dealing with the basic struggles of living from day to day. Much country music is set firmly in the world of white America, but these two songs are anthems for anyone of any nation, race, or ethnicity who is raised in poverty with love and empathy.
Dolly Parton “Coat of Many Colors” (1971): See above
That concludes the breakdown for this week’s selections. Next week’s show will highlight more from The National Recording Registry, with songs from my personal favorite Top 25 albums included in the collection.
Thanks for listening (and reading)!
|1||Carl Perkins||Blue Suede Shoes|
|2||Bob Dorough||Three Is A Magic Number|
|3||Swan Silvertones||Oh Mary Don’t You Weep|
|4||Julie London||Cry Me A River|
|6||Wild Tchoupitoulas, The||Brother John|
|7||Earth, Wind, and Fire||September|
|8||Gil Scott-Heron||The Revolution Will Not Be Televised|
|9||Neil Armstrong||“One Small Step”|
|10||Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band||Moonlight On Vermont|
|11||Creedence Clearwater Revival||Fortunate Son|
|12||Wilson Pickett||In The Midnight Hour|
|13||Charles Mingus||Better Get Hit In Your Soul|
|14||Nina Simone||Mississippi Goddam|
|15||Edwin Hawkins Singers||Oh Happy Day|
|16||Mister Rogers||Won’t You Be My Neighbor|
|17||Kermit the Frog||Bein’ Green|
|18||Kermit the Frog||Rainbow Connection|
|19||Journey||Don’t Stop Believin’|
|20||George Carlin||Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television|
|21||Dwight D. Eisenhower||“First Voice From Space”|
|22||Henry Mancini||Peter Gunn Theme|
|23||New York String Quartet||Black Angels, Pt. 1 Departure: V. Danse Macabre|
|24||London Symphony Orchestra||Appalachian Spring: VII. Dopio Movimento|
|25||John Williams||Star Wars Main Theme|
|26||Israel Kamakawiwo’ole||Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World|
|27||U2||With Or Without You|
|28||R.E.M.||Radio Free Europe|
|29||Cyndi Lauper||Girls Just Want To Have Fun|
|30||Dolly Parton||Coat of Many Colors|
|31||Loretta Lynn||Coalminer’s Daughter|
|32||Marlo Thomas and Harry Belafonte||Parents Are People|
|33||The Impressions||People Get Ready|
|34||Martin Luther King||“I Have A Dream”|
|35||Sam Cooke||A Change Is Gonna Come|