Congas, Sambas and Falling Plaster

Billy Joel (Credit: Columbia)

Billy Joel (Credit: Columbia)

I was 15 years old, sitting cross-legged next to my friend Mascha on a cork-tile floor at Mammoth Gardens, a roller-skating rink built in 1910. Plaster, occasionally, was falling from the ceiling – because the band on the stage that night was the drum-heavy Santana, which had just released its 1970 album “Abraxas.” That’s the album with the breakout singles “Black Magic Woman,” “Oye Como Va” and the beautiful “Samba Pa Ti.”

What we thought was seriously cool then has held up pretty well. “Abraxas” has just been added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, which recognizes sound recordings worthy of permanent preservation on grounds they have cultural, artistic or historic importance. This year’s offerings also include Billy Joel’s single “Piano Man.”

“I am very honored to have my song, ‘Piano Man,’ included in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress,” said Joel. “While the recording of the album featured the now familiar song “Piano Man,’ some may not know that it was not initially a retail success. It was, however, considered a ‘turntable hit’, due to widespread airplay of various ‘album tracks’ by progressive FM radio stations around the country. Both the single and the album ‘Piano Man’ eventually went on to achieve ‘platinum’ status, thanks to that kind of free-form radio airplay.

“I personally owe a great deal of thanks to those independent disk jockeys who did not have to adhere to the restrictions of ‘program consultants’ and ‘hit formats’ as commercial radio does today,” added Joel (who received the Library’s Gershwin Prize for Popular Song two years ago). “They took the risk of broadcasting new and unproven music, based mostly on listener requests and their own enthusiasm for the recording artists of that time.”

The other recordings among this year’s 25 selections range from Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” to blues numbers, a landmark Zydeco album, a frenzied 1938 Mahler’s Ninth that foreshadowed Hitler’s invasion of Austria and the speech by U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall that kicked off the “Marshall Plan” that gave hope to citizens of the European nations devastated by World War II.

The registry also includes George Carlin’s icon-smashing “Class Clown,” the fourth quarter of Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain’s astounding 100-point basketball game in 1962; the LP in which Metallica stopped thrashing and took metal music in a new direction; and two variations on the song “Mack the Knife,” by Louis Armstrong and Bobby Darin.

(I had a boss once who used to deliberately botch the words of “Mack.” “Oh, the snark bites, with its feet, dear …” Try working on deadline with that distraction!)

Congress created the National Recording Registry (which now holds 450 designated recordings) to preserve these sounds of our times for posterity. You can nominate recordings of all kinds to become part of the registry, and you should. Here’s the link where you can have your say.

 

Found It!

(The following is featured in the January/February 2016 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. You can read the issue in its entirety here.) Nearly 1.6 million people came to the Library of Congress in 2015 to conduct research in its 21 reading rooms on Capitol Hill. More than 60 million users visited the […]

Look What I Discovered: Life as a Mary Wolfskill Trust Fund Intern

Today’s post has been written by Logan Tapscott, one of 36 college students participating in the Library of Congress 2015 Junior Fellows Summer Intern Program. Tapscott is completing a modified dual degree through the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education: a master of arts degree in public history from Shippensburg University and a masters in […]

Celebrating Juneteenth

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Major Gen. Gordon Granger led Union soldiers into Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War had ended and slavery was abolished – two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. […]

Have Exhibit, Will Travel

True or false? Visiting Washington, D.C. is the only way to enjoy the collections of the Library of Congress. False. The Library offers a rich treasure trove of its collections. Not only that, it loans items to other institutions and agencies for their exhibitions, as well as offers other institutions and cultural organizations the opportunity to […]

A Day of Mourning

This month marks the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The 16th president was shot by John Wilkes Booth the evening of April 14 and died nine hours later on April 15. Several days later, Lincoln’s body would begin its long train-trek home to Springfield, Ill., where he would be buried on […]

Library in the News: March 2015 Edition

Headlining Library of Congress news for March was the announcement of new selections to the National Recording Registry. Time called this year’s selections the “most American playlist ever.” “If the Smithsonian is America’s attic, the National Recording Registry is the dusty box of records that America’s parents left up there,” wrote reporter Ryan Teague Beckwith. […]

Celebrating Women’s History: America’s First Female P.I.

Walking into the Chicago office of Allan Pinkerton’s detective agency one afternoon in 1856 was a woman of medium height, “slender, graceful in her movements, and perfectly self-possessed in her manner.” Claiming to be a widow, aged 23, Kate Warne was looking for a job, and not as a secretary. One could imagine Pinkerton’s surprise […]

Library in the News: February 2015 Edition

The Library’s big headline for February was the opening of the Rosa Park Collection to researchers on Feb. 4, which was also the birthday of the civil-rights icon. “A cache of Parks’s papers set to be unveiled Tuesday at the Library of Congress portrays a battle-tested activist who had been steeped in the struggle against […]

Here Comes the Sun: Seeing Omens in the Weather at Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inauguration

(The following is a guest post by Michelle Krowl, Civil War and Reconstruction Specialist in the Manuscript Division. To commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, for a limited time [March 4-7, 2015] the Library of Congress will display both the four-page manuscript copy and the reading copy of the address in the Great Hall […]