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Joe Smith and the National Recording Registry

Joe Smith and Richard Perry

Joe Smith (left) with producer Richard Perry. Photo by Sandy Gibson.

The Joe Smith Collection is a fascinating one—it’s made up of interviews recorded in the late 1980s by retired record company executive Joe Smith with over two hundred musicians and fellow industry execs for an oral history of the recording industry and of pop music as told by its creators and promoters. Smith’s long career in the music business allowed him to record interviews with a wide range of people, and the resulting book, Off the Record: An Oral History of Popular Music, compiles excerpts from these interviews.

Many of the musicians Smith interviewed went on to have recordings inducted into the National Recording Registry, which began in 2002 as part of a congressional mandate to ensure the preservation of our audio heritage. Each year, the Librarian of Congress names twenty-five additional titles that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” to the Registry, which range from spoken word and radio to music of all kinds. As we near the March 20 announcement of the next twenty-five recordings to be named to the Registry, we invite you to take a look at past additions and to listen to Smith’s interviews with National Recording Registry artists. You can explore many of the Joe Smith interviews in the digital collection, and we’ve compiled a few interviews with National Recording Registry artists here for your listening pleasure.

 

Joni Mitchell
On the Registry: For the Roses (1972)

In For the Roses, Joni Mitchell took the confessional lyrics of her critically-acclaimed Blue album and infused them with touches of jazz. The result is a mélange of folk, rock, jazz and country that retains the heartfelt tone of her earlier work, but presents it on a broader canvas. While Mitchell later delved more deeply into jazz, For the Roses remains the album in which all the elements of her creative palette are in perfect balance. It was inducted into the Registry in 2007.

 

Chubby Checker
On the Registry: “The Twist” (1960)

Chubby Checker’s rendition of “The Twist” became emblematic of the energy and excitement of the early 1960s. Originally a twelve-bar blues song written and released as a “B” side in 1959 by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, “The Twist” enjoyed only moderate success until American Bandstand host Dick Clark selected Checker, a young singer from Philadelphia, to record the new version and perform it on his program. Checker’s recording quickly became a hit with teens and the model for many takeoffs. Reissued in 1962, Checker’s version soared again to the top of the charts, ahead of the other “Twist” records that had inundated the recording industry in the intervening months. “The Twist” was selected for the Registry in 2012.

 

David Bowie
On the Registry: The Rise and-Fall of Ziggy-Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)

On this apocalyptic concept album, Bowie combined several themes from his previous work to create the persona of Ziggy Stardust, an androgynous rock star who communicates with space aliens and whose rise and fall heralds the end of the world. Aided by Mick Ronson’s blistering guitar, at least two of the songs—”Ziggy Stardust” and “Suffragette City”—can be considered rock standards. Ziggy Stardust was named to the Registry in 2016.

The Beatles
On the Registry: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

The Beatles are undoubtedly the most successful and significant rock group in history. Their 1967 concept album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, is a compilation of twelve unforgettable songs, each masterfully arranged. The songs embrace a myriad of divergent styles yet, through the collective genius of these musicians, they are melded into a cohesive whole. The album makes use of novel studio techniques in creating an enchanting musical experience which transcends genre.

Smith interviewed the three (at the time) surviving Beatles, as well as producer George Martin, and Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono. George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, and George Martin’s interviews are available in the digital collection. Sgt. Pepper was inducted to the Registry in 2003.

 

Joan Baez
On the Registry: Joan Baez (1960)

The first solo album by the woman Time magazine would soon crown “Queen of the Folk Singers,” Joan Baez preserves for posterity powerful performances from the Harvard Square coffeehouse repertoire that brought Baez to prominence as the folk revival movement was arriving on the national stage. Baez’s haunting arrangements of traditional English and Scottish ballads of longing and regret, mixed with an eclectic blend of Bahamian, Yiddish, Mexican, and Carter Family favorite tunes, sent critic Robert Shelton “scurrying to the thesaurus for superlatives.” The album’s success was especially important for women in the folk music milieu who found a role model “absolutely free and in charge of herself,” in the words of fellow folksinger Barbara Dane. The album was added to the Registry in 2014.

 

Fleetwood Mac
On the Registry: Rumours (1977)

Stevie Nicks said: “Devastation leads to writing good things.” It’s little wonder, then, that Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is so highly regarded, having been forged by the crumbling relationships of every member of the group. In 1974, the then-remaining members of Fleetwood Mac—drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie and his wife, vocalist and keyboard player Christine McVie—found themselves without a male vocalist or guitarist. A chance meeting at a recording studio led to guitarist and vocalist Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist Stevie Nicks, who were romantically involved, joining the group. The newly formed Anglo-American lineup soon struck gold with their eponymous 1975 album. They should have been on top of the world, but as they began working on their follow-up album, Rumours, relationships became so strained that, except as musically necessary, they would barely speak to each other while playing songs about each other. However, because the group had a sense that the songs were so strong, they not only endured, they prevailed.

Smith interviewed Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham of the band for Off the Record. Rumours was selected to the Registry in 2017.

 

Herbie Hancock
On the Registry: Head Hunters (1973)

Head Hunters is a pivotal work in the career of Herbie Hancock; it was his first true fusion recording. Possessing all the sensibilities of jazz but with R&B and funk soul rhythms, Head Hunters had a mass appeal that made it the greatest-selling jazz album in history at the time of its release. The recording is notable for its use of an extremely wide range of instruments, including electric synthesizers which brought that new instrument to the forefront of jazz for the first time. Hancock’s experiments caused controversy among jazz purists, many of whom at the time belittled it as “pop.” Head Hunters proved to be influential not only to jazz, but also to funk, soul and hip hop musicians. The album was selected for the Registry in 2007.

 

 

Have questions about the recorded sound holdings of the Library of Congress? Ask a reference librarian here.

Want to know more about the National Recording Registry? Check out these Frequently Asked Questions. The blurbs for each of the artists and recordings above come from this list of Registry titles, where you can also find extended essays, links to podcasts about a number of the recordings, and listen to clips of select recordings.

 

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