This Week’s Theme: The National Recording Registry Part Three (Personal Top 25)
This week’s show is Part Three of a four-part series on the National Recording Registry. The first two parts focused on selections in the Registry from before 1955 and from 1955 to the present. This week’s show presents songs from my personal Top 25 albums in the Registry.
Welcome to Radio Faux Show volume two, number thirty-seven.
First things first – click a link to start listening and then come back to read about this week’s songs.
By my count, less than 200 of the 600 recordings in the Registry are full-length albums, and many of those are classical recordings, film scores, and Broadway cast recordings. Only about 100 of the 600 are what would be considered standard popular music albums. Of those 100, I included six in the first two parts of this series: Mingus Ah Um by Charles Mingus, In The Midnight Hour by Wilson Pickett, Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, The Wild Tchoupitoulas by The Wild Tchoupitoulas, She’s So Unusual by Cyndi Lauper, and The Joshua Tree by U2. This week’s show includes songs from 25 of the remaining 100 or so albums. This isn’t a traditional Top 25 list in which I have thought carefully about my absolute favorites of the list, especially since I didn’t want to fill the show with 15 jazz albums, but these are 25 albums that I like very much and have listened to for most of my adult life. The importance and high-quality of these albums speaks for itself. These are all albums that appear regularly on lists of the greatest albums of all-time, especially within their respective categories. For that reason, this is one of the more straightforward Faux Shows I have made, although there is still a wide variety of music within these 25 selections.
Because these are such well-known recordings, I’m not going to go into much detail in this week’s blog. Instead, I’ll just make a few comments wherever I feel the spirit moves me to do so.
This Week’s Selections
Public Enemy Fear of a Black Planet: I was introduced to the music of Public Enemy in 1988 by an old college radio friend. At the time, my attention to new rap music had drifted for a couple of years, but I am proud to say that I was a fan of rap music from its earliest period. I remember hearing “Rapper’s Delight” while in middle school and was a fan of old school rap throughout the early ‘80s. If I still had my old boombox and boxes of Certron tapes (these really cheap cassettes you could buy three for a dollar) I could listen to tape after tape filled with “Jam On It,” “Fly Girl,” “The Real Roxanne,” dozens of other songs I can’t remember the names of, Kurtis Blow, LL Cool J, Fat Boys, and, of course, Run DMC. I copied my friend’s Run DMC EP as soon as he had it. I listened to King of Rock more than any other album the year it was released. I blew out my cheap car speakers blaring Raising Hell and Beastie Boys Licensed to Ill. There was something about old school rap that I loved, even though I was a skinny white boy surrounded by shit country music and bad pop. Between 1986 and 1988, my understanding of the rap evolution occurring with bands like Public Enemy was non-existent, but after I heard It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back I realized that rap wasn’t just fun dance music – it was also a social statement that seemed to be taking on the world in a way that I had never heard music do before. I know that none of this is a revelation; it is more an apology to young DeeJay Faux that I should have served him better in the mid-80s. If I could go back and talk to my younger self, I would tell him that he needs to pay attention to this music and stop listening to so much hair metal and Led Zeppelin! After my re-introduction to rap in 1988, I consumed mass quantities of Ice-T, N.W.A., BDP, Stetsasonic, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, Schooly-D, Erik B & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, and anything else I could get my hands on. By the time Fear of a Black Planet was released, I was well-versed in all that hip-hop (as it seems it was now called) had to offer. I remember going to my college radio friend’s house for a listening party when the new P.E. album was released, sitting quietly, and listening intently to Terminator X’s genius, Flavor Flav’s nonsense, and Chuck D’s message. We already all knew the tracks “Fight The Power” and “Welcome To The Terrordome,” so it was the rest of these new tracks that we were there to hear. I wish I could say that I left that night thinking I had just heard the greatest album ever recorded, but my honest memory is that I thought “great, but not as good as Nation of Millions.” Over the last thirty years I have listened to Nation of Millions regularly – it is one of my top driving albums when I don’t want to think too hard about what to play. On the other hand, I have barely listened to Fear of a Black Planet at all over the last twenty years. But – and this is the point of this entire paragraph – spending the last month focused on this National Recording Registry project has led me to listen to Fear of a Black Planet over and over. I can’t stop listening to it. I have found it to feel like both the rediscovery of an old friend and a new experience I never understood before. The work of Terminator X and the Bomb Squad on this record is arguably the greatest moment in sampling history. While Nation of Millions is a focused criticism of the nation’s failure to address problems in black society such as drug abuse and addiction, disproportionate prison sentencing, and a broken criminal justice system, Fear of a Black Planet goes after a thousand race-related issues in a sprawling collection that somehow all holds together as an even more cohesive whole. Even when Flav raps about how “911 is a Joke,” he turns his ridiculous schtick into hard-hitting social commentary. Chuck D’s lyrics for songs like “Welcome to the Terrordome” are comparable to Dylan’s genius on songs like “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” I think I once heard Dylan say that he sold his soul to the devil to write the lyrics to songs like that because he couldn’t have done it consciously. I think Chuck D must have made a similar deal, because he never wrote lyrics this good before or after. Every song is a perfectly produced rap parable about a different aspect of racism in America. I don’t think I am saying anything here that most people don’t already know, but it has been a wonderful revelation to me. It isn’t every day that music this good re-enters my life in such a meaningful way.
Willie Nelson Red Headed Stranger: Here is the truth. I am the only member of the Faux household who listens to country music. I am the only person I know who listens to country music (at least the only person I know well). I don’t listen to country music from after the 1970s, but I listen to a lot of it from that era and before. I love Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton (the ‘70s stuff), and anything from before 1960. I understand if people don’t want to listen to it, and I never judge anyone for not wanting to. However, there is one album that I have recommended to people for years (at least, anyone who will listen to me) whenever they say they don’t like country music. It is this one. Red Headed Stranger is a masterpiece. It is country music that transcends the genre. It is folk music. It is Americana. It is roots music. It is quite simply music – composed by one of the greatest songwriters in recording history and presented as country music simply because everything must have a label. If you think that you don’t like country music, listen to this album. If you like country music, but for some reason have never heard it, listen to this album. This is storytelling at its finest, and a prime example of why the Registry is important as a record of the music of the United States.
Bob Dylan “A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall”: Speaking of Bob Dylan, which I don’t do enough on these shows, I was a little surprised that this was the album selected for the Registry and that there was only one selected. I assume that the album’s opening track, “Blowin’ In The Wind,” is the reason for this selection, and I won’t argue this is a bad selection. I am more surprised that others such as Bringing It All Back Home, Blonde on Blonde, or Blood On The Tracks aren’t also included. Even so, this gave me the chance to include this song on this week’s show. I have always thought this was one of Dylan’s least-known masterpieces. Sixty years later, a casual listener of this album will most likely turn to “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “Masters of War,” or “Don’t Think Twice,” because they are a little easier to digest with one listen. “Hard Rain,” however, is the album’s centerpiece. It closes side one with some of the most heart-wrenching poetry Dylan ever wrote about the problems he saw in the world around him. I’m not sure one listen does the song justice, and I still find it strikes an emotional chord in me every time I listen to it. People have often attributed it as a reference to a nuclear rain, but Dylan has explained that it isn’t a nuclear rain, but simply a “hard rain” that is going to wash everything away, a “hard rain” that just must happen for no other reason that we all know that it is just going to happen. The song has always been relevant, but the last several years have made it even more relevant than it may have even been when it was written. It certainly feels that a “hard rain” is going to fall if we don’t find an answer to the madness in our current world.
Elizabeth Cotten “Freight Train”: This is most likely the least-known song on this week’s show. It would be a better world if it was the best-known.
Parliament Funkadelic “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)”: This was a no-brainer to include because there is so little funk music in the Registry. By default, Mothership Connection is the best funk album on the list. Hopefully the lack of funk appreciation will someday be corrected.
Sonny Rollins “St. Thomas,” Miles Davis “So What,” and John Coltrane “A Love Supreme Part 1, Acknowledgment”: In order to avoid making this an all jazz show, I left off Thelonius Monk (Brilliant Corners), Dave Brubeck (Time Out), Tito Puente (Dance Mania), a different John Coltrane album (Giant Steps), Eddie Palmieri (Azucar Pa’ Ti), Fania All Stars (Live at Yankee Stadium), Wes Montgomery (Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery), Dexter Gordon (Go), Sweet Emma and her Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and Pat Matheny (Bright Size Life), as well as Charles Mingus (Mingus Ah Um) which I included in last week’s show. However, I had no choice but to include Rollins’ Saxophone Colossus, Davis’ Kind of Blue, and Coltrane’s A Love Supreme because it is possible that these are my Top 3 albums of the entire show. They all present jazz in different styles and are all albums that transcend genre. I have heard it said that if you go into anyone’s house and look for a jazz album, even people who don’t listen to jazz, you will find a copy of Kind of Blue. I believe that is a true statement. Much like Mingus Ah Um, the Rollins album is a great pick for someone to listen to if they aren’t sure if they like jazz. If they listen to Saxophone Colossus, they will realize that they do. And the Coltrane album is in its own genre – part jazz, part meditation, and part otherworldly beauty incarnate.
The Wailers Burnin’ and The Harder They Come Soundtrack: There isn’t much reggae in the Registry (only these two selections) but this is a great place to start if you want to present the origins of the genre.
Steely Dan Aja, Stevie Wonder Songs In The Key Of Life, Talking Heads Remain In Light, Radiohead OK Computer, B.B. King Live At The Regal, Prince Purple Rain, Beach Boys Pet Sounds, Carole King Tapestry, Jackson Browne Late For The Sky, Run DMC Raising Hell, Ramones Ramones, Bruce Springsteen Born To Run, The Beatles Sgt. Pepper: I can’t remember a time in my adult life when less than five to ten (or more) of these albums were not in my all-time Top 25.
That concludes the breakdown for this week’s selections and the shows focused on songs from the Registry. Next week’s show will present recordings that I would include in The National Recording Registry if I was the Librarian of Congress. If you know anyone over there, put in a good word for me – that sounds like a kick-ass gig.
Thanks for listening (and reading)!
|1||Marvin Gaye||What’s Going On|
|2||Public Enemy||Fight The Power|
|3||Wailers, The||Get Up, Stand Up|
|4||Willie Nelson||Time Of The Preacher|
|5||Bob Dylan||A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall|
|6||Elizabeth Cotten||Freight Train|
|7||Sonny Rollins||St. Thomas|
|8||Parliament Funkadelic||Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)|
|10||Sly & The Family Stone||Everyday People|
|12||Miles Davis||So What|
|13||Jimmy Cliff||You Can Get It If You Really Want|
|14||Talking Heads||Once In A Lifetime|
|17||Run DMC||It’s Tricky|
|18||B.B. King||How Blue Can You Get? (Live)|
|20||John Coltrane||A Love Supreme Part 1 – Acknowledgment|
|21||Beach Boys, The||God Only Knows|
|22||Carole King||It’s Too Late|
|23||Jackson Browne||Late For The Sky|
|24||Bruce Springsteen||Thunder Road|
|25||Beatles, The||A Day In The Life|
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