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 join the Library’s 2023 class of the National Recording Registry, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced today.
The 25 additions in the 2023 class span more than a century, 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. It also includes the first sounds of a video game to join the registry with the Super Mario Bros. theme.
Carey, Jimmy Buffett, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart (the Eurythmics), Graham Nash, Wynton Marsalis and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich joined the Library for interviews about their defining works. You can see them in the video above and in longer interview segments on the Library’s social media channels. The interviews will be added to Library archives as well.
“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.”
“Christmas” is Carey’s first song to make the NRR and she was delighted with the news. She cowrote the song in 1994 when she was just 22, thinking back on her often turbulent childhood years in Long Island and how she had always longed for Christmas to be a lovely holiday for the family. It rarely was, and she turned that longing into what is now a cultural touchstone.
“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.”
After working out a the lyrics and a melody line, she brought a demo tape 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 success upon release, it’s grown to be a cottage industry unto itself. It has been featured in films, Carey wrote a children’s book based on it and filmed three different music videos. It’s hit No. 1 on pop charts each of 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, describing the sessions with her supporting vocalists as one of the best experiences of her recording career.
“‘All I Want for Christmas…’ is sort of in its own little category,” she said, “and I’m very thankful for it.”
The recordings selected for the NRR bring the number of titles on the registry to 625, representing a minuscule portion of the national library’s vast recorded sound collection of nearly 4 million items.
This year’s selections features 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 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.
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, ironic comment on their impoverished status: “sweet dreams are made of this.”
“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.”
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 that it even moved some radio stations to switch formats from English to Spanish to tap into this revolution.
New Orleans jazz legend Wynton Marsalis explained that his “Black Codes (From the Underground)” album – recorded in 1985 when he was just 23 – was hard-swinging jazz that addressed the lingering societal effects of the Black Codes, the notorious post-Civil War laws that his native Louisiana and other Southern states used to keep black citizens in a violent state of oppression.
“A lot of 20th century civil rights cases were based on the Black Codes, on laws that tried to politically undress the achievements of the Civil War,” he said in an interview. The “From the Underground” part of the title refers to Black resistance to those laws: “No matter how defeated things seem, there’s always an idea in the pursuit of freedom that is subversive to anti-democratic thinking. I was very conscious of that (when recording).”
And finally, for everyone who has been near a beach in the past four decades, “Margaritaville.”
It’s hard to believe now, but early in the 1970s Jimmy Buffett was a little-know singer/songwriter who had one modest hit, “Come Monday.”
But, hanging out in Austin, Texas, with friends Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson, he had a long night on the town. The next afternoon, he he had a tasty Margarita at a bar. 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.”
People liked it and he routinely played it during his live concerts for a couple of years. When he finally recorded it in 1977, it was an instant Top 10 hit and has since become a pop culture staple. Buffett, a working-class kid from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, was appalled by the standard music contracts of the time that did not let songwriters keep the publishing rights to their works, so he was always attuned to making money on his tours and selling merchandise to fans as a means of more lucrative income.
Over time, this entrepreneurship with his biggest hit morphed into an astonishing array of “Margaritaville” themed businesses and products — now including bestselling books, a popular chain of restaurants, a radio channel, a cruise line and 55-and-older living communities. His tours are still wildly popular, too.
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.’”
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