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They Will Survive: the 2015 National Recording Registry

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“I Will Survive” 45 sleeve (1978) (Courtesy of Polydor)
“I Will Survive” 45 sleeve (1978) (Courtesy of Polydor)

This year’s selections for the National Recording Registry provide the makings of a typically eclectic mixtape that spans decades and genres. There really is something for everybody.

Each year the National Recording Preservation Board advises the Librarian of Congress in the selection of 25 recordings that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” and are at least ten years old. Acting Librarian of Congress David Mao explains that, “these recordings by a wide range of artists in many genres of music and in spoken word will be preserved for future listeners.” In an age when the history of music seems more accessible than ever, the National Recording Registry recognizes that many recordings are in danger of being lost to history.

This year’s list includes a recording that was indeed thought lost. “Carousel of American Music,” recorded live at the Golden Gate International Exhibition, documented the 25th anniversary of the composer’s rights organization ASCAP and featured performances by such iconic figures of American music as George M. Cohan and Irving Berlin. Fifty years later, the long-lost recording turned up for sale on an antique record auction, and was issued on CD in 1997.

Gloria Gaynor’s 1978 single “I Will Survive” speaks to the Registry’s aesthetic endurance as well as its preservation initiative. The anthemic disco hit has inspired survivors far beyond its original meaning as a tale of resilience after a bad relationship. Prolific songwriters Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris went on to write other hits like Peaches and Herb’s “Shake Your Groove Thing” and David Naughton’s sitcom theme “Makin’ It,” but this perennial favorite may be their self-fulfilling legacy. Gaynor is the second disco diva to join the list, after Donna Summer’s 1977 single “I Feel Love” was selected in 2011.

“Piano Man” album cover (1973) (Courtesy of Columbia)
“Piano Man” album cover (1973) (Courtesy of Columbia)

Billy Joel, recipient of the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2014, joins the registry this year with his 1973 single “Piano Man.” This is one of two selections this year that have been performed by actor Kevin Spacey. Spacey memorably sang “Piano Man” at the 2014 Gershwin Prize concert, and in a 2004 biopic of Bobby Darin, sang his signature hit “Mack the Knife.” Darin’s 1959 version of the Brecht-Weill standard is one of two “Macks” chosen this year, along with Louis Armstrong’s 1956 recording.

Armstrong is no stranger to the registry. His iconic 1925-1928 Hot Five and Seven recordings were among the very first inductees selected for the Registry in 2002. Another jazz giant making a repeat appearance is tenor saxophone great John Coltrane, whose 1964 album A Love Supreme joins his 1959 album Giant Steps, selected for the Registry in 2004. Coltrane’s appearance on the 1959 Miles Davis album Kind of Blue, selected in 2002, makes him one of the rare artists to appear on three Registry selections.

This year’s typically eclectic selections range from an early jazz recording (“Wild Cat Blues” by Clarence Williams’ Blue Five) to the registry’s first heavy metal album (Metallica’s {Master of Puppets}); from a civil rights anthem (The Impressions’ “People Get Ready”) to a smoldering blend of Latin music, jazz and rock, (Santana’s {Abraxas}). Spoken word selections this year include radio coverage of basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962 (which you can hear in NPR’s coverage of the Registry selections) and standup comic George Carlin’s 1972 album {Class Clown}, featuring his legendary routine “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” (Note: you still can’t say those words on television.)

“A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane album cover (Courtesy of Universal Music)
“A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane album cover (Courtesy of Universal Music)

Fans of artists like Billy Joel and Metallica may argue over which of their favorite artist’s records should have been picked. Feel free to make suggestions for next year’s Registry! Learn how to submit your nomination here.

Here’s the full list:

2015 National Recording Registry (Listing in Chronological Order)

  1. “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”—Columbia Quartette (The Peerless Quartet) (1911)
  2. “Wild Cat Blues”—Clarence Williams’ Blue Five (1923)
  3. “Statesboro Blues”—Blind Willie McTell (1928)
  4. “Bonaparte’s Retreat”—W.H. Stepp (1937)
  5. Mahler Symphony No. 9—Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Bruno Walter, conductor. (1938)
  6. “Carousel of American Music”—George M. Cohan, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Arthur Freed, Shelton Brooks, Hoagy Carmichael, others       (September 24, 1940)
  7. “Vic and Sade”—Episode: “Decoration Day.” (June 4, 1937) Radio (April 14, 1945)
  8. The “Marshall Plan” Speech—George C. Marshall       (June 5, 1947)
  9. “Destination Freedom”—Episodes: “A Garage in Gainesville” and “Execution Awaited” (September 25, October 2, 1949)
  10. Original soundtrack from “A Streetcar Named Desire”—Alex North, composer. (1951)
  11. “Cry Me a River”—Julie London (1955)
  12. “Mack the Knife” (singles)—Louis Armstrong (1956); Bobby Darin (1959).
  13. Wilt Chamberlin (Credit: LOC Collection)
    Wilt Chamberlin (Credit: LOC Collection)

    Fourth-quarter radio coverage of Wilt Chamberlin’s 100-point game (Philadelphia Warriors vs. New York Knicks)—Bill Campbell, announcer       (March 2, 1962)

  14. “A Love Supreme”—John Coltrane (1964)
  15. “It’s My Way”—Buffy Sainte-Marie (1964) (album)
  16. “Where Did Our Love Go” (single)—The Supremes (1964)
  17. “People Get Ready” (single)—The Impressions (1965)
  18. “Mama Tried” (single)—Merle Haggard (1968)
  19. “Abraxas”—Santana (1970)
  20. “Class Clown”—George Carlin (1972)
  21. “Robert and Clara Schumann Complete Piano Trios”—The Beaux Arts Trio (1972)
  22. “Piano Man” (single)—Billy Joel (1973)
  23. “Bogalusa Boogie”—Clifton Chenier (1976)
  24. “I Will Survive”—Gloria Gaynor (1978)
  25. “Master of Puppets”—Metallica (1986)


Comments (2)

  1. If Billy Joel and Metallica are being added to the National Recording Registry, it’s time to cease this exercise.

  2. @David: No need for snobbery.

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