National Treasury of Music: Which Songs Would Yours Include?
The Library of Congress is preserving important recordings for posterity. Tell us yours.
By Suzanne Gerber
Originally Posted On May 10, 2013
Suzanne Gerber is the editor of the Living & Learning channel for Next Avenue. Follow Suzanne on Twitter @gerbersuzanne.
It’s official: Pink Floyd, Janis Joplin and the Ramones are now national cultural treasures.
We’ve known this since high school and college, but last week the venerable Library of Congress (see sidebar at end of piece) did its version of canonizing these rockers by including some of their albums in its registry of recordings that are "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.” This is part of the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, a government-sponsored “blueprint for saving America’s recorded sound heritage for future generations.”
Every year for the past 13, the library’s National Recording Preservation Board, a group of musicians, musicologists and preservationists, selects musical and spoken-word recordings that have been nominated by both board members and the public. This year’s addition of 25 brings the total to 375. (Not a Ramones fan? Make your own suggestions for the next registry.)
The 2013 selections are impressively diverse. They include Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence; the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack; Will Rogers’ 1931 “folksy” radio speech supporting President Herbert Hoover’s unemployment-relief campaign; Artie Shaw’s cover of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine”; Cheap Thrills, Janis Joplin’s second album with Big Brother and the Holding Company; Van Cliburn’s 1958 interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1; and that “dance-craze sparker” from Chubby Checker, “The Twist.”
But the selection that earned the most public nominations was — drum roll, please — Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, which to this day is still one of the best-selling rock albums of all time (and a personal favorite).
Also included were performances by Leontyne Price, Ornette Coleman, Clarence Ashley, Doc Watson, Philip Glass, Betty Carter, Junior Wells, Jimmie Davis, Frank (not Weird Al) Yankovic, and the Brothers Blackwood and Neville (but not Allman or Doobie).
Library of Congress: One Cool Institution
The Library of Congress is the oldest federal cultural institution in the nation, established by John Adams as a reference library for Congress in 1800, when the seat of government was moved to D.C. (from Philadelphia). Originally housed in the U.S. Capitol, the first collection was destroyed in 1814 when British troops burned that building down during the War of 1812. The following year, Thomas Jefferson sold the government his entire personal collection (6,487 books and one of the premium personal libraries in the country at the time) for $23,950.
After the Civil War, the Library of Congress got its own building (it’s currently housed in four). The 19th-century Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Spofford helped established copyright law, which led to a massive influx of books, pamphlets, maps, music, prints and photos.
In the 20th century, the library expanded its mission to not merely “support the Congress in fulfilling its constitutional duties” but also “to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.” Today, only members of Congress, the Supreme Court and other high-ranking officials are permitted to check out books, but everyone can use the library (which in the 21st century has developed a robust online presence).
Currently the Library of Congress is the largest library in world in terms of shelf space and books (nearly 23 million), employs a staff of 3,597 and includes artwork, newspapers, sound recordings, film, maps and manuscripts and promotes literary and American literature through a variety of projects, including the Poet Laureate.
I can’t help wondering, though: What would Adams and Jefferson have made of “Blitzkreig Bop”?