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Oz Squared, Cowboy Pop, Ziggy, Gospel and Pie

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This year’s National Recording Registry is a sonic smörgåsbord– quite a lot to choose from, and all of it audibly appetizing. The 25 selections being preserved by the Library of Congress based on their cultural, historic or aesthetic value include two takes on “The Wizard of Oz,” in the form of Judy Garland’s version of “Over the Rainbow” from the 1939 movie and the entire soundtrack of the 1975 original Broadway cast version of “The Wiz,” the urbane African-American take on the tale.

Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz" (1939). Courtesy MGM
Lots of people recorded “Over the Rainbow,” but Judy owned it. Courtesy MGM

There’s ethereal beauty, from opera soprano Renee Fleming’s album “Signatures” featuring arias such as “Dove sono e bei momenti” from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” to Judy Collins’ goosebump-inducing version of “Amazing Grace” from her 1970 album “Whales and Nightingales.”

There’s soul – “In the Midnight Hour” by Wilson Pickett; disco, via “We are Family” by Sister Sledge (rest in peace, Sister Joni); rap, in “Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A.

Richard Pryor "Wanted-Richard Pryor" album cover. Courtesy Warner Bros.
Richard Pryor “Wanted-Richard Pryor” album cover. Courtesy Warner Bros.

And there’s “Ziggy Stardust” by the late, icon-breaking David Bowie and “Wanted:” by the late, side-splitting Richard Pryor. Also “People,” by the early Barbra Streisand, whose amazing career is nearing its sixth decade.

There’s western-influenced music, from “Their Greatest Hits” by The Eagles to Marty Robbin’s “Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs,” featuring that ultimate earworm, “El Paso.” (Years ago, when I worked in the Lansing bureau of Associated Press, we had a technical problem that forced us to send our copy by phone lines out of Michigan to El Paso, Texas and back into the state to our member papers in Michigan. A song parody emerged: “Out in the west Texas town of El Paso/Michigan copy was clearing the wire/Suddenly circuits snapped loose like a lasso/zapping reporters and starting a fire …”)

There’s gospel— another two-versions recognition, with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the “Black National Anthem,” by the Manhattan Harmony Four (1923) and a more recent version recorded by Melba Moore in 1990 backed by Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker, Dionne Warwick and Bobby Brown, in an attempt to reacquaint young African Americans with this historic and beloved song. The registry also recognizes the 1948 recording of “I’ll Fly Away” by the Chuck Wagon Gang.

Also history (the 1888 London cylinder recordings of Col. George Gouraud, a pal of Thomas Edison and the Vin Scully broadcast of the 1957 last game at the Polo Grounds between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants) and more Broadway, with Irving Berlin’s inimitable “Puttin’ On the Ritz” as sung by Harry Richman in 1929.

Talking Heads, "Remain In Light" album cover. Courtesy Sire Records
Talking Heads, “Remain In Light” album cover. Courtesy Sire Records

There’s the song everyone knows the words to, perhaps better than they know the words to the U.S. national anthem: Don McLean’s “American Pie.” And an album you may know the words to, even if you don’t quite get the free-verse way they hang together: “Remain in Light” by Talking Heads, which includes the singles “Once in a Lifetime” and “Houses in Motion.” (“And as we watch him/ Digging his own grave/ It is important to know / That was where he’s at. / He can’t afford to stop / That is what he believe./ And he’ll keep digging/ for a thousand years.”)

The National Recording Registry will begin taking nominations for next year’s selections right away, however, so if you have a song or album at least 10 years old that you particularly dig, you can nominate it here.

Comments (3)

  1. I have broad opinion of what constitutes good/noteworthy/historical music but that trite/tripe/ nonsense that is “We Are Family” doesn’t come close being either good, noteworth or history.
    If it wasn’t wedding receptions this song would have sank into the obscurity it deserves.
    Other than that, interesting selections.

  2. I didn’t realize the Library archived and what wonderful treasures these recordings are to be preserved for the future – and such a diverse selection of genres represented.. Thank you

  3. Wow, what breadth! Something for everyone. Love the Judy Collins and Barbra Streisand and Don McLean and Eagles. And Richard Pryor! Great additions, now I’ve gotta go find that Renee Fleming. Go LC

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