This Week’s Theme: The National Recording Registry Part Four (My Selections)
This week’s show is the final entry of a four-part series on the National Recording Registry. The first three parts focused on selections in the Registry from before 1955, selections from 1955 to the present, and my personal favorite Top 25 albums that have gained inclusion. This week’s show presents 33 recordings that I would add to the Registry if I was proclaimed the Librarian of Congress.
Welcome to Radio Faux Show volume two, number thirty-eight.
First things first – click a link to start listening and then come back to read about this week’s songs.
The last three Faux Shows have been a celebration of The National Recording Registry. Creating this series of shows required the most research I’ve done yet, and the result was my realization of the great job the Library of Congress has done in presenting a recorded history of the United States. The Registry’s mission of providing a collection of recordings that are culturally, historically or aesthetically significant, and/or inform or reflect culture in the United States is a success. Unlike the collections compiled by organizations like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there is a clear seriousness in the creation of this collection. There is no clear bias or lack of inclusion, and if someone were to take the time to listen to the 50 or so hours of recordings in the collection they would walk away with a very sound (pun intended) understanding of the recorded history of the country.
That said, I am not going to miss the opportunity to finish this series off with my own opinions on some recordings that I would add. This week’s show presents 35 such recordings, spanning speeches, songs, albums, and other recordings that, in my opinion, fit nicely into the Registry’s mission. This is not a compilation of my favorite artists or songs. I put serious thought into the collection as it stands, and I have presented recordings that I would (and do) argue are just as deserving for inclusion on their cultural, historic, and aesthetic importance.
This Week’s Selections
Every selection in the Registry stands on its own merit, but there are clearly specific categories of recording that have been used to help organize the recordings in order to evaluate them. I’ve grouped my 35 suggested recordings into some basic categories to organize my arguments.
Speeches and Other Audio
Many of the speeches that are known by most U.S. citizens are already included in the Registry, from FDR to JFK and MLK. However, there are two speeches that seem to me to be significant enough to include. There are actually three, but I couldn’t find a recording of Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” audio clip.
Lou Gehrig “Luckiest Man On The Face Of The Earth” speech (7/4/1939): This one, like Bobby Thompson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round The World,” must be put into the context of the importance of baseball in the U.S. during the first half of the 20th century, but it’s importance goes beyond baseball. It is very short, but it is significant because it is one of the most well-known, possibly first, recordings of someone discussing the impact of chronic illness and disease on themselves. Although Gehrig doesn’t address his health directly, this is the speech he gave when he was forced to retire from baseball due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) which is now often referred to as Lou Gehrig Disease. What made the speech even more poignant was the fact that Gehrig was known as The Iron Horse for playing in 2,130 consecutive games, a record that lasted for 56 years until Cal Ripken broke it in 1995. The impact of his illness on his ability to play was quick and profound. Within a year he was unable to physically perform on the field at a professional level, and he decided on his own that he needed to be removed from the lineup in May 1939. By July, he retired. His speech, often called Baseball’s Gettysburg Address, was given to a sold-out Yankee crowd by one of the most popular players in history at the time, although he was a player who spent his 17-year career avoiding public attention. Only a few sentences of the speech exist as recordings. The complete speech was:
Fans, for the past two weeks, you’ve been reading about a bad break. Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such fine-looking men as are standing in uniform in this ballpark today? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky. When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift — that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies — that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter — that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body — it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed — that’s the finest I know. So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.
Richard M. Nixon “I am not a crook” speech: I’m not going to waste my time writing about one of the worst U.S. presidents. In case anyone is still unclear, he WAS a crook. This speech is important because it puts a final nail in the coffin of U.S. politics. We are now going on three generations of citizens who have no trust in their politicians, and all of the apathy and distaste can be traced directly to Nixon, Agnew, and the rest of the criminals with whom he chose to consort.
Comedic recordings make up a large part of the Registry, so it only seems fitting to fill in the few holes still left to fill.
Lenny Bruce “Christ and Moses” from Live At Carnegie Hall (album): The Registry already includes most of the innovators of comedy throughout the 20th century, so it is astounding that Lenny Bruce is not already included. This is absolutely the most confusing selection I made this week. Lenny Bruce invented modern day stand up. His delivery defined the genre as you know it. His ability to combine humor, jokes, social commentary, and political discussion was groundbreaking. His courage in using language and themes that were considered unacceptable at the time smashed down the high stone walls that surrounded all entertainers in the 1950s and allowed the artists of the 1960s (not only comedians, but all artists) to experiment and create a new world of entertainment. In the end, his courage killed him, but not before he conquered a new world. This album presents him at the zenith of his comedic genius – fifteen years into his hard work mastering the craft and before he became a broken comedian forced to focus his work on his own legal struggles that were caused by his refusal to give in to the system.
Saturday Night Live “Gerald Ford, Opening, and Fluckers” Various clips from Season One: It is impossible to separate American comedy in the 21st century from the first few seasons of this television empire. The themes, language, and jokes that are now allowed on television were all presented in barrier-breaking style by the original Not Ready For Prime Time Players.
Eddie Murphy “Ice Cream Man/Shoe Throwin’ Mothers” from Comedian (album): Just when it seemed that Saturday Night Live was going to die an agonizing death after all the original cast members left, an eighteen-year-old comedian joined the cast and became an overnight sensation. Murphy’s first album was a companion piece to his SNL work, but his second album, Comedian, showed his true stand-up genius. Anyone old enough to listen to this (or able to get a hold of it from someone else old enough) can recite chunks of it from memory. Murphy is the comedian that bridged the gap between 1970s innovators like Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin and the explosion of stand-up comedy at the end of the 1980s.
Weird Al Yankovic “Eat It” (single): Weird Al belongs in the Registry for his comedic innovations and his music video innovations. I selected this song, out of the many possible choices, because it is arguably his greatest music video and because it works as a bookend for Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which is already included.
If you follow the Faux Show then you know I am an advocate for female artists and believe that they are the victims of inherent sexism in the world of music. Luckily, the Registry does not fall into that sexist trap, but it does need to focus a little more attention on women in the second half of the 20th century.
Wanda Jackson “Fujiyama Mama” (single): A good start is with this early rock and roll song by the original bad girl of rock. Jackson opened the door for artists like Janis Joplin, Joan Jett, and Chrissie Hynde.
Fanny “Changing Horses” from Fanny (album): This is the debut album by the first all-female rock band. That is about all the cultural significance one needs to know to understand why this band should be included.
Betty Davis “They Say I’m Different” (single) and Chaka Khan and Rufus “Tell Me Something Good” (single): The best way to get a little more funk into the Registry is to start with two of the greatest female funk artists. One was virtually unknown during her career (Davis) and one was one of the original R&B divas (Khan). Both are powerhouses who never got the attention they deserved because they refused to give in to the male-dominated music industry that fought to reign them in.
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts “I Love Rock and Roll” (single): Change the word funk to rock and the argument for Jett is the same as for Davis and Khan.
Madonna “Vogue” (single): The advent of music videos in the early ‘80s is obviously important culturally. Artists such as Prince, Michael Jackson, and Cyndi Lauper are included in the Registry, but the queen of music video, and one of the most important women in pop music history is not. Madonna is the second most confusing selection I made for this week’s show (after Lenny Bruce) because I can’t understand how she isn’t already included. It seems impossible that she won’t get selected at some point soon. There are a lot of singles that I could have selected, but this one has always felt to me like the most important Madonna song.
You must include these, right?
This large group of songs have one thing in common – they are all too important and well-known to ignore. They all have different reasons for being included, but I don’t believe any of them should be left off the list.
Roy Brown “Good Rockin’ Tonight” (single): Followers of the Faux Show know how much I love music that I call the Unsung Heroes of Rock and Roll. Roy Brown is an A-level unsung hero, and this song is arguably the first rock and roll song (I wouldn’t argue that, but I have seen others do so). One thing that can’t be argued is that the music called jump blues, of which Brown was one of the most important and successful, was a direct connection between blues and rock and roll, and this song is the most famous jump blues song not called “Shake, Rattle, and Roll.”
The Byrds “Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything There Is a Season)” (single): I wasn’t alive at the time of its initial release, but I believe this song defines the music of the Vietnam War era along with “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield. One, if not both, of those songs belongs in the list.
The Monkees “I’m A Believer” (single): This is the original bubble gum pop song. While most of the critically acclaimed rock music of the 1960s was either psychedelia, folk, or from England, music like this had just as much of a lasting impact on the sound of rock moving forward.
The Kingsmen “Louie, Louie” (single): This is the first punk song, first garage rock song, and arguably the greatest riff in rock and roll history. Nothing else needs to be said.
Hall and Oates “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” (single): Hall and Oates are important as one of the most successful duos in pop history, and as artists whose success lasted from their early Philly soul sound through their genre-defining 1980s pop hits. Falling right at the start of the MTV era, this song is their greatest achievement. It is one of the most successful blue-eyed soul songs and was a pop/R&B crossover hit. It has one of the most recognizable intros of any song and is still beloved by multiple generations. I would argue that “Sara Smile” and “You Make My Dreams” are better songs, but this is the song that seems like a perfect fit for the Registry.
Survivor “Eye of the Tiger” (single): Love it or hate it, this song defines an era. “Footloose” is already in the Registry, so this one is a no-brainer.
The Upsetters “Blackboard Jungle Dub” (single): This song is from the sessions that produced the sound that is now known as dub. There are other choices, many of which were produced by Lee Scratch Perry, King Tubby, Augustus Pablo, and others from their sphere of influence. I can’t argue which song should be included, but one of them should and I went with this one.
The Winstons “Amen Brother” (single): This is one of the most sampled songs in the history of hip hop. There should be at least three songs included in the Registry as examples of the importance of hip hop sampling – this one, “Apache” by The Incredible Bongo Band, and “Take Me To The Mardi Gras” by Bob James. I chose this one for the show because it is also a fundamental funk drum beat for anyone learning how to play drums.
James Taylor “Fire and Rain” (single) and Bill Withers “Lean On Me” (single): There are dozens of great songs from this period that deal with suicide, drug addiction, and mental health in general. Two of my favorite examples are “Adam’s Song” by Jackson Browne and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel. I chose these songs by Taylor and Withers because neither of these artists are in the Registry.
Led Zeppelin “Whole Lotta Love” (single): It is hard not to argue for entire Zeppelin albums, especially II and IV, but I’ll stick with this one song to represent their entire catalog. Nothing sounded like it before, and everything sounded like it after. It isn’t where I personally go when I want to get the Led out, but for millions of people over the last fifty years this song is what they think of when they think of the sound of Zeppelin.
The Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog” from The Stooges (album): This is the first punk album. Nothing else needs to be said.
Black Flag “Rise Above” from Damaged (album): This is the first hardcore album. Nothing else needs to be said.
There is a relatively large amount of difficult listening in the Registry, including Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and George Crumb. I have selected two more for inclusion – one obvious and one out on the fringes of the musical spectrum.
John Cage “Excerpts – 7pm to 8pm” from Variations IV of the Variations series (multiple albums/recordings): John Cage is one of the most important composers of the 20th century, so I am not sure why he has not already been included. His work in the field of the avant-garde and his discourses on the topic of what constitutes music were instrumental (pun intended, especially if you understand Cage’s work) in the development of 20th century composition. The track I should have (and wanted to) include is 4’33”, a piece in which the performer sits at the piano for 4 minutes and 33 seconds and does not play, thus allowing the audience to listen to the sounds occurring around them and appreciate them as music, but it doesn’t really exist as a recording. His broad vision of music evolved throughout his lifetime and his compositions evolved along with him. The piece I selected, Variations, was an evolving piece developed between 1958 and 1967. This series of works is one of the principle examples of Cage’s development of indeterminate music, in which aspects of the work are left to chance and interpretation by the musicians. Cage defined his concept of this piece as the ability of a piece to be performed in substantially different ways. He even avoided using the term music in describing these pieces. The specific section I selected is one small part of Variations IV. As a recording it is interesting and difficult, but it also misrepresents the original intent of the piece, which was to present any sounds in any way with or without other activities. This is one of the problems with most recordings of Cage’s works. His vision was too broad and open-ended to be captured through the recording of a single performance or of specific musicians’ interpretations of the piece. That is the genius of Cage, however, as he saw meaning in sound in ways that are still revolutionary today.
The Shaggs “Philosophy Of The World” (single): This is the selection in this week’s show that is least likely to be added to the Registry but I at least wanted to point out the fact that there are no examples in their list of artists this far out on the fringe. The closest is Captain Beefheart but he is still a mainstream artist. Composers such as Steve Reich and Terry Riley are difficult listening but are still classically trained, professional musicians. The Shaggs, on the other hand, are as far from classically trained, mainstream music as you can find. They are outsider musicians to the extreme. I won’t argue that they are culturally or historically significant in the terms used by the Registry but I would argue that there is a long history of American music based on people wanting to make music in non-traditional ways, especially since the advent of recording technology. In general, humans prefer to avoid things that are grotesque, uncomfortable, disconcerting, and strange. This is true within concepts of physical appearance, everyday life, the arts, and all other aspects of the human condition. However, who are we to decide that the strange and grotesque are not worthy of our attention and admiration? I would argue that the difference between The Shaggs, Elizabeth Cotton, Elvis Presley, and Glenn Gould is much smaller than we think. A little natural talent and some training is often the main difference but that should not preclude our acceptance of the far end of that spectrum from receiving recognition.
The Registry is filled with great selections from musicals, movies, and television shows but there are still more that seem appropriate for inclusion. I selected three that represent different aspects of film scoring.
Ennio Morricone “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly main title” (single): John Williams is the most famous film score composer, but Morricone is the best. This specific piece is now part of American pop culture. If you ask someone to sing the sound of a Western, they will almost always say “wah, WAH, wah…wah, wah, WAH..wah, wha wha wha…WHA wha.”
Rocky Horror Picture Show Cast “Time Warp” from the soundtrack to the film (album): Don’t ask me to explain why this film is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary as an icon of pop culture. All I know is that it lives on and deserves to be recognized as an important part of American history. It is a stupid part of history, but it is deserving nonetheless.
Randy Newman “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” (single): This song seems deserving for several reasons. It is the beloved theme song to the first Pixar film. It is the most popular example of Newman’s soundtrack work. It continues to inspire generations, from grandparent to parent to child. I’m a Randy Newman fan but even if I wasn’t I would argue that this is a song that deserves to be recognized, much like “Rainbow Connection.”
The Registry is filled with great holiday music, so adding more could be considered gilding the lily, but these three songs are standards of the genre. They present three very different types of music but are all songs that make you feel the holiday spirit, even if you hear them in July.
Spike Jones “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” (single): Spike Jones should probably be included in the Registry for his significance as a comedic music talent, especially for his World War II song “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” but it is this holiday song that has lasted for over seventy-five years. You may not know this version as well as others because this is now such a standard song to include on a holiday album, but this is the original recorded version.
Darlene Love “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” (album): The album A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector is not only one of the greatest holiday albums ever recorded, it also is one of the greatest albums of 1960s pop music. This song is an original written for the album and has now stood for over sixty years as a holiday classic. It stands aside “White Christmas,” “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting),” and “All I Want For Christmas Is You” on the Mount Rushmore of 20th century holiday classics.
Mariah Carey “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (single): This is the last great holiday song of the 20th century. You know it. Everyone knows it. It is the modern pop holiday song that all songwriters aspire to when they write a new holiday song.
That concludes this four-part series, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of the recordings included in the Registry. Future Faux Shows will most likely draw further on the recordings I did not include. For now, though, it is time to set the historical research aside and get back to some other Faux Show themes, starting with next week’s annual Halloween show!
Thanks for listening (and reading)!
|1||Ennio Morricone||The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (Main Title)|
|2||Byrds, The||Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything There Is A Season)|
|3||Monkees, The||I’m A Believer|
|4||Kingsmen, The||Louie, Louie|
|5||Joan Jett & The Blackhearts||I Love Rock and Roll|
|7||Wanda Jackson||Fujiyama Mama|
|8||Roy Brown||Good Rockin’ Tonight|
|9||Richard Nixon||“I Am Not A Crook” speech|
|10||Betty Davis||They Say I’m Different|
|11||Rufus and Chaka Khan||Tell Me Something Good|
|13||Saturday Night Live||Gerald Ford|
|14||Saturday Night Live||Opening|
|15||Saturday Night Live||Fluckers|
|16||“Weird Al” Yankovic||Eat It|
|17||Survivor||Eye Of The Tiger|
|18||Daryl Hall and John Oates||I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)|
|19||Upsetters, The||Blackboard Jungle Dub|
|20||Winstons, The||Amen Brother|
|21||Lenny Bruce||Christ and Moses|
|22||Eddie Murphy||Ice Cream Man/Shoe Throwin’ Mother (not on Spotify)|
|23||John Cage||Excerpts – 7pm to 8pm|
|24||Bill Withers||Lean On Me|
|25||James Taylor||Fire And Rain|
|26||Randy Newman||You’ve Got A Friend In Me|
|27||Lou Gehrig||“Luckiest Man” speech|
|28||Led Zeppelin||Whole Lotta Love|
|29||Stooges, The||I Wanna Be Your Dog|
|30||Black Flag||Rise Above|
|31||Shaggs, The||Philosophy Of The World|
|32||Rocky Horror Cast||Time Warp|
|33||Spike Jones||All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth|
|34||Darlene Love||Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)|
|35||Mariah Carey||All I Want For Christmas Is You|