Love on the National Recording Registry

Donna Summer. Photo courtesy of Universal Music Company

The 2011 National Recording Registry selections were announced this morning, and as always the titles are great fodder for an eclectic, historically important, culturally influential mix-tape. Among the titles is one of my very favorite albums, Love’s Forever Changes, a relic of 1967 whose lush string arrangements, rich melodies, and alternately pastoral and visionary lyrics make it unlike anything you normally think of as psychedelic — and unlike anything Love mastermind Arthur Lee ever did again.  Other musicians named include Dolly Parton, who was honored with a Living Legend Award by the Library of Congress in 2004, and is the subject of a Performing Arts Encyclopedia presentation.

But the announcement is bittersweet because of an iconic musician we just lost.  One of the Recording Registry selections is Donna Summer’s 1977 hit “I feel love.” Produced by Giorgio Moroder, the song emerged from the height of the disco era. Its pulsing, mechanistic keyboards represented a move from disco’s R&B roots to the more electric sound of Euro disco.  The song  became an anthem for the gay community and earned admiration from such unlikely sources as Emmylou Harris and Brian Eno.

Summer passed away just last week, as well as legendary bass guitarist Donald “Duck” Dunn,  who helped lays the rhythmic foundation for another of this year’s registry selections, Booker T. and the MG’s instrumental “Green onions.” This month has been a hard one for lovers of dance music.  The music world also mourns the death of the Bee Gees’  Robin Gibb and Washingtonian Chuck Brown, a pioneer of Washington DC’s go-go music scene who performed  at the Library of Congress in 2002 as part of the American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert series.

The Music Division houses materials deposited for copyright by this year’s Recording Registry honorees,  including the sheet music for “I feel love” and songbooks for Donna Summer’s albums Once Upon a Time and The Wanderer .  One hopes that future announcements in the National Recording Registry include titles by Chuck Brown and the Bee Gees. After all, the latter’s  anthemic “Stayin’ alive” has a beat that is used to demonstrate the proper technique for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).  Find out how to nominate recordings to the registry here.

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One Comment

  1. Steve Smolian
    May 23, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    Having done the transfer of the Bernstein debut (and having been among those lobbying the orchestra’s administration at the time for its first release as a New York Philharmonic Radiothon premium,) I think a comment is in order.

    Bernstein and the Orchestra are, of course, an essential part of this event but I’ve long considered the orchestra’s first cellist at the time, Joseph Schuster, to have made a contribution of equal or greater value to “Don Quixote .” It is his playing that makes this performance, to me, the best of all recorded versions. His conversational style of playing goes far beyond the notes to make this a totally convincing musical experience. It’s a work that’s a transformation of a romance novel that is here played in romantic style. The composer’s own recording seems perfunctory in comparison and that by Reiner and Janigro a bit stand-offish. There may be other approaches as good but I can’t conceive of a better one. It demonstrates how, when all is aligned, a live performance well exceeds the sum of its parts. Truly memorable, truly worthy of the Registry.

    Steve Smolian
    Smolian Sound Studios

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