25 Recordings Chosen for National Recording Registry

Published : Thursday, April 13, 2023, 11:20 am
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Madonna’s cultural ascent with “Like a Virgin,” Mariah Carey’s perennial No. 1 Christmas hit, Queen Latifah’s groundbreaking “All Hail the Queen” and Daddy Yankee’s reggaeton explosion with “Gasolina” are some of the defining sounds of the nation’s history and culture that will now join the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. The 2023 class also includes the first sounds of a video game to join the registry with the Super Mario Bros. theme, powerful voices of women, important inductions of Latin music, and classic sounds of rock and pop from the 1960s to the ‘80s.

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden today named 25 recordings as audio treasures worthy of preservation for all time based on their cultural, historical or aesthetic importance in the nation’s recorded sound heritage.

“The National Recording Registry preserves our history through recorded sound and reflects our nation’s diverse culture,” Hayden said. “The national library is proud to help ensure these recordings are preserved for generations to come, and we welcome the public’s input on what songs, speeches, podcasts or recorded sounds we should preserve next. We received more than 1,100 public nominations this year for recordings to add to the registry.”

The recordings selected for the National Recording Registry bring the number of titles on the registry to 625, representing a small portion of the national library’s vast recorded sound collection of nearly 4 million items.

The latest selections named to the registry span from 1908 to 2012. They range from the first recordings of Mariachi music and early sounds of the Blues to radio journalism leading up to World War II, and iconic sounds from pop, country, rock, R&B, jazz, rap, and classical music.

NPR’s “1A” will host several features in the series, “The Sounds of America,” on this year’s selections for the National Recording Registry, including interviews with Hayden and several featured artists in the weeks ahead. Follow the conversation about the registry on Twitter and Instagram @librarycongress and #NatRecRegistry.

Listen to many of the recordings on your favorite streaming service. The Digital Media Association, a member of the National Recording Preservation Board, has compiled a list of some streaming services with National Recording Registry playlists, available here:

Powerful Voices of Women

This year’s selections include the voices of women whose recordings have helped define and redefine their genres. Madonna’s 1984 smash hit album “Like a Virgin” would fuel her ascent in the music world as she took greater control of her music and her image. Of the nine songs originally on the album, four became top 10 hits.

Queen Latifah is the first female rapper to join the National Recording Registry with her debut album “All Hail the Queen” from 1989 when she was just 19 years old. Her album showed rap could cross genres including reggae, hip-hop, house and jazz — while also opening opportunities for other female rappers.

“All I Want for Christmas Is You,” the seasonal juggernaut that now sells more records than its 1994 release, is Mariah Carey’s first song to make the National Recording Registry. The delighted pop star told the Library it’s a perfect fit for a little girl from Long Island who grew up wanting a perfect Christmas. But Carey’s childhood was turbulent, beset by her parents’ divorce and difficult family relations. So, when she was a 22-year-old sensation in the music business, the first Christmas song she wrote was about her own wish for the holiday.

“I tried to tap into my childhood self, my little girl self, and say, ‘What are all the things I wanted when I was a kid?’” she said. “I wanted it to be a love song because that’s kind of what people relate to, but also a Christmas song that made you feel happy.”

She brought the melody and lyrics to her then-songwriting partner and producer Walter Afanasieff, and the pair worked together to create its retro “wall of sound” production, as if it might have been a recorded in the 1960s. A modest hit upon release, it’s grown over time to hit No. 1 on pop charts the last four years, setting Carey’s pop-culture image as the Queen of Christmas.

“I’m most proud of the arrangements, the background vocal arrangements,” she said. “‘All I Want for Christmas’ is sort of in its own little category, and I’m very thankful for it.”

Reggaeton Revolution and First Mariachi Recordings Join Registry

With roots in Panama in the 1980s, reggaeton has been described as Reggae, reggae en Español, dancehall, hip-hop and dembow. But it was Daddy Yankee’s 2004 hit single “Gasolina” that ignited a massive shift for reggaeton with its crossover appeal from Latin radio to broad audiences. “Gasolina” appeal was so great, it even moved some radio stations to switch formats from English to Spanish to tap into this revolution.

Some of the earliest sounds in this year’s class are “The Very First Mariachi Recordings,” an album recorded in 1908 and 1909. Four musicians from the Mexican state of Jalisco made this recording in Mexico City and performed for Mexico’s president. Even early recording technology could still capture the spirit of this music. Scholars and sound archivists collected and reissued this album in 1998 to revive an otherwise lost chapter in the history of mariachi.

Video Game Soundtrack Joins Recording Registry for First Time

Few musicians have had their work become so internationally recognized for decades yet remain so relatively unknown as Koji Kondo, the man who composed the music for the Super Mario Bros. video games in the 1980s. Still today, Kondo is credited for original Nintendo music in the new “Super Mario Bros. Movie” out this month.

Kondo, born and raised in Japan, was a college senior in Osaka, interested in the piano and sound design, when he saw a recruiting flyer from Nintendo on a university bulletin board. He answered the ad, and the rest is video game history. His main, or “Ground Theme,” for the 1985 game is a jaunty, Latin-influenced melody that’s instantly recognizable around the world today.

“The amount of data that we could use for music and sound effects was extremely small, so I really had to be very innovative and make full use of the musical and programming ingenuity that we had at the time,” he said through an interpreter in a recent interview. “I used all sorts of genres that matched what was happening on screen. We had jingles to encourage players to try again after getting a ‘game over,’ fanfares to congratulate them for reaching goals, and pieces that sped up when the time remaining grew short.”

Now 61 and still working for Nintendo, he’s seen his “Mario” music used in films and played by orchestras. He’s designed the world of sound for dozens of other video games. He did, however, have an inkling that they were onto something at the beginning. “I also had a feeling that this game might be something that could turn into a series and continue for a long time,” he said.

“Having this music preserved alongside so many other classic songs is such a great honor,” he said. “It's actually a little bit difficult to believe.”

Classic Folk, Rock and Pop Music Preserved for All Time

Some of the most enduring and beloved music from folk, rock and pop from the 1960s to 1980s tunes many Americans still find themselves singing together every year — also join the National Recording Registry this year.

This year’s class includes “Sherry” by The Four Seasons in 1962, “What the World Needs Now is Love,” recorded by Jackie DeShannon in 1965 and written by the late songwriting duo of Hal David and Burt Bacharach, “Imagine” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1971, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” from 1971, “Synchronicity” by The Police, including Sting, in 1983, and more unforgettable recordings.

“Take Me Home, Country Roads,” recorded by John Denver in 1971, might be one of the nation’s favorite singalongs year after year. Denver’s family said they were honored the song by Denver, Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert was chosen for preservation by the Library.

“Dad has been gone 25 years, and this song continues to be sung at concerts and events around the world, which we’re sure Dad, Bill, and Taffy never imagined when they wrote it so many years ago. Thanks to the Library of Congress for this recognition,” Denver’s family said in a joint statement.

David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young formed a super-group of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Their second album, “Déjà Vu,” made the National Recording Registry this year representing folk rock at its peak of influence and popularity. With hits such as “Teach Your Children,” “Our House” and “Woodstock,” the 1970 album also showed the influence of Joni Mitchell, this year’s recipient of the Library’s Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

Mitchell wrote “Woodstock” and Nash, her live-in partner at the time, wrote “Our House” as an almost diary-like entry of a dreary late-winter day at their home in California.

Nash said Crosby Stills Nash and Young’s primary rule was that everyone had to agree on every song they released in order to ensure it was a collaborative statement. This led to meticulous recording sessions — Stills once estimated that it took hundreds of hours of recording to finish “Déjà Vu” — but it paid off in beautiful harmonies and melodies that have lasted for decades.

“We wanted to tell the truth,” Nash told the Library recently. “We wanted to reflect the times in which we lived. I think that’s the duty of every artist.”

Early in the 1970s, Jimmy Buffett was a little-known singer/songwriter when, after a rough night in Austin, Texas, he had a tasty Margarita at a bar the next day. Still sipping, he started scribbling a song on a cocktail napkin, finished it later while stuck in a traffic jam on the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys and played “Margaritaville” for the first time in a little bar in Key West that night when it was “probably six hours old.”

By 1977, it was a Top 10 hit and has since become a pop culture staple and the namesake of a chain of businesses and products — including books, restaurants, a radio channel, a cruise line and 55-and-older living communities — that Buffett oversees. Initially, though, he said he was just delighted to have a hit song on a hit record and be “actually making money.”

The key to the song’s resonance in American culture, Buffett told the Library, was that people were looking for a song to make them feel good and be happy.

“You're lucky enough at some point to put your thumb on the pulse of something that people can connect with,” he said. “It's an amazing and lucky thing to happen to you, and that happened with ‘Margaritaville.’”

By the 1980s, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart had been in and out of British-based music groups for some time without much success. Flat broke in 1982, Stewart managed to borrow enough money to buy a couple of synthesizers and a prototype of a drum machine so basic that it was housed in a wooden case.

One night in their studio — the loft of a picture-framing factory in central London — he got the drum kit going and hit a couple of chords on the synthesizer. Lennox sat up bolt upright, as if she’d touched an electric wire. She went to her own synthesizer, played a riff against his beat and soon ad-libbed a lyric, a wry comment on their impoverished status: “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” The Eurythmics’ influential, synthesizer-heavy song was born, and soon the duo would have a massive international dance hit and would be a sensation in the new medium of music videos.

“It’s a mantra, almost like a Haiku poem, a coded message, a commentary about the human condition,” Lennox said of the song. “You can use it as a happy birthday song or a celebratory song…it could be anything. Looking back, I love the way people have identified with it.”

Stewart, who now works primarily as a producer, took a break from working on a musical with Ringo Starr to talk about the song that made the rest of his life possible.

“It’s like alchemy, you get two people like Annie and myself” with different skill sets but a united passion for a single sound, he said. “It’s like one plus one equals three.”

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