Musical Space: The National Recording Registry

May 9, 2017

Renee Chaney, visitor Louisa Parker, Linda Wertheimer and Kris Mortensen, in the first All Things Considered studio in 1972. The inaugural episode of All Things Considered has been inducted into the National Recording Registry.
Credit npr.org

Every year the U.S. Library of Congress compiles a list of 25 important records to be placed on the National Recording Registry, with a mandate that they be preserved for future generations.

The registry is a way to immortalize our audio culture, a recognition that our recorded heritage is an asset that merits maintenance and preservation, just like our highway system and our national parks.

This year’s list has some great stuff; all kinds of styles are represented. There are some spoken word recordings, notably the very first broadcast edition of All Things Considered, but also Thomas Edison’s first wax cylinder pressings and some live comedy from Richard Pryor.

The list traces the beginnings of Rock & Roll with Big Mama Thornton’s 1952 version of “Hound Dog” and also shows how far rock could go with David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, and Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, It’s nice to see the Memphis Stax sound get a nod with “In the Midnight Hour” by Wilson Pickett. Jazz, Music Theater, Country & Western, and classical are also represented.

Many of this year’s registry entries are political artifacts, reflecting turning points in American culture. There’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” not just a popular gospel hymn but also the anthem of the NAACP. And there’s Judy Collins’ version of “Amazing Grace,” sung to protest the Vietnam War. Likewise NWA’s landmark rap album Straight Outta Compton: crass, inflammatory, influential and impossible to ignore.

If you go to loc.gov you can find the full list and get a good feeling knowing that our musical history is being treated as a national monument.

(Music: Harry Richman, “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” (Irving Berlin) 1930.

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Listening List:

Chuck Wagon Gang, “I’ll Fly Away,” 1948.

Big Mama Thornton, “Hound Dog,” 1952


She was the first to record this song, 3 years before Elvis did.

Wes Montgomery, “Airegin,” The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery, 1960

Wilson Pickett, “In the Midnight Hour,” 1965


Great to see the Stax sound from Memphis be recognized! Steve Cropper (Booker T & the MGs, The Blues Brothers) is co-writer. Stax is as important as Motown, in my estimation.

David Bowie, “Moonage Daydream,” 1972.


A landmark in the idea of a “concept album”; groundbreaking recording technique

Talking Heads, “Born Under Punches,” Remain In Light 1980

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