On March 23, 2016, these 25 recordings were added to the National Recording Registry.
Note: This is a national list and many of the items listed are housed in collections across the country. The Library of Congress does not currently hold copies of all the recordings listed.
Recordings are listed in chronological order:
“Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” Columbia Quartette (The Peerless Quartet). (1911)
The Columbia Quartette was, in reality, the Peerless Quartet, led by tenor Henry Burr. Burr’s distinctive forward-sounding, nasal voice gave the Peerless a unique and easily identifiable tone. The blend and balance of the harmonized quartet is rich and satisfying, providing us with an authentic taste of the music of the 1910s. “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” a product of Tin Pan Alley, composed and written by Leo Friedman and Beth Slater Whitson, has an uncomplicated rhyming scheme and predictable melodic contour, making it a song that has endured for more than a century with its unabashed, expression of love.
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“Wild Cat Blues.” Clarence Williams’ Blue Five. (1923)
Clarence Williams’ “Wild Cat Blues” is among the earliest jazz recordings to have a widespread influence on other musicians. Pianist, composer, vocalist and entrepreneur Clarence Williams led hundreds of recording sessions during the 1920s, featuring some of New York’s finest black talent. He was a primary figure in Okeh Records’s “race series,” the first label to target the African-American audience. “Wild Cat Blues,” composed by “Fats” Waller, was one of the first jazz recordings to feature a virtuoso instrumentalist, in this case Sidney Bechet, who demonstrates an instrumental command combined with a compelling jazz feel on his saxophone.
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“Statesboro Blues.” Blind Willie McTell. (1928)
This haunting blues recording exhibits an unforgettable intensity. McTell’s unusual voice is compelling, bearing a confidential quality, as though he is telling a secret. He is a captivating storyteller. McTell’s voice is accompanied brilliantly by his 12-string guitar as the latter darts and dodges among the vocal phrases, creating many layers of rhythm. The guitar is also somewhat out-of-tune which combines with a reverberant room to lend the record an eerie effect. McTell is also very free with meter, in the manner of old-time country performers, adding and subtracting the standard number of measures. His performance never appears self-conscious, but rather, flows like a river. His confidence and quiet bravado make this a performance for the ages.
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“Bonaparte’s Retreat.” W.H. Stepp. (1937)
“Bonaparte’s Retreat” is representative of the 1937 recordings of Library of Congress folk historians Alan and Elizabeth Lomax during their musicological tour of the state of Kentucky. In the 1930s, “Bonaparte’s” was a common dance tune, but the musician they recorded that day, William Hamilton Stepp, played it very differently from other renditions. Stepp’s rollicking reel became the basis for one of the most famous pieces of American classical music ever composed, the “Hoe-Down” section of Agnes De Mille’s “Rodeo,” as written by Aaron Copland. Since then, “Hoe-Down” has been performed by symphonies such as Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops (1943). Rock fans might know the 1972 version of “Hoedown” by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, which reached number five on the charts. It was even used in a series of commercials for beef in the 1990s.
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"Vic and Sade." Episode: "Decoration Day Parade." (May 28, 1937)
Created by Paul Rhymer, "Vic and Sade" was a long-running daytime serial devoid of the usual formula of melodrama. First broadcast in 1932 as a 15-minute weekday show on NBC, "Vic and Sade" did not follow the usual structure of a serial drama. Instead, each episode was complete in itself. This representative broadcast—in which Vic laments the decline in Decoration Day recognition—is one of the earliest surviving examples of this highly-praised, still beloved program. Although it is estimated that Rhymer wrote more than 3,500 scripts for the show only a few hundred original recordings have survived to present day.
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Mahler Symphony No. 9. Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Bruno Walter, conductor. (1938)
This recording was made in Vienna in 1938. Critics disagree about the quality of this performance. Many praise its intensity; Tony Duggan described the orchestra as playing like "the world was on the verge of going smash." Others, however, hearing the same intensity from a different perspective, feel that the music flies out of control. But regardless of any perceived performance shortcomings, no recording of the ninth has as much historical significance. This recording was made just two months before Germany invaded Austria in the run-up to World War II. Shortly thereafter, 13 Jewish members of the Vienna Philharmonic were fired; some would later die in Jewish ghettos or concentration camps. The valedictory Symphony No. 9 is one of the most important works in Mahler's oeuvre. Its composition signaled the end of a musical era; this recording, the end of a historical one.
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“Carousel of American Music.” George M. Cohan, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Arthur Freed, Shelton Brooks, Hoagy Carmichael, others. (September 24, 1940)
These recordings, captured live at the Golden Gate International Exposition, document a once-in-a-lifetime concert which gathered together the top American songwriters of the day to perform their own compositions. Staged to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the composers' rights organization, ASCAP, the all-day event featured an afternoon symphony concert by the San Francisco Symphony followed by an evening of remarkable performances. Included here: Albert Von Tilzer (singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"); Ann Ronnell (singing "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf"); Arthur Freed (singing "Singin' in the Rain"); Hoagy Carmichael (singing "Stardust"); Joseph E. Howard (singing "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now"); George M. Cohan (singing a rousing "Over There"); and Irving Berlin (performing "God Bless America").
The "Marshall Plan" Speech. George C. Marshall. (June 5, 1947)
In the spring of 1947, more than two years after VE Day, with much of Europe still in ruins, General George C. Marshall, then serving as US Secretary of State, spoke at Harvard University and gave this policy speech in a deliberate but not dramatic style that is still renowned for its careful construction and directness, and its sober assessment of the tasks ahead. First describing Europe's bleak landscape of destruction, broken economies and slow starvation, Marshall then declared, "Political passion and prejudice should have no part. With foresight, and a willingness on the part of our people to face up to the vast responsibility that history has clearly placed upon our country, the difficulties I have outlined can and will be overcome." Selected for the 2015 registry.
"Destination Freedom." Episodes: "A Garage in Gainesville" and "Execution Awaited" (September 25; October 2, 1949)
From June 1948 to August 1950, Chicago radio station WMAQ broadcast "Destination Freedom," a remarkable program dedicated to presenting not only the accomplishments of black Americans, but also the obstacles they overcame and the prejudice they endure. All episodes were written by Richard Durham, who had been previously been an editor at the "Chicago Defender" newspaper. This two-part episode is a searing indictment of racial prejudice in America. In the first, a black businessman in the south is harassed; in the second, "Execution Awaited," prejudice itself is put on trial.
"Original soundtrack from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.'" Alex North, composer. (1951)
Alex North's innovative "Streetcar" score is credited as being the first to integrate jazz into a major motion picture. Additionally, his music for the film, rather than merely supporting the action in a scene, is used it to express a character's emotions, even if those emotions are in conflict with the action. Originally released as a 10-inch LP and a box set of 7-inch 45s, the issued recordings feature a suite consisting of 10 sections drawn from the musical cues of the film.
"Cry Me a River." Julie London. (1955)
Songstress Julie London had her biggest hit with her debut single, "Cry Me a River," written by Arthur Hamilton. Though she described her voice as only a "thimbleful" of a voice, she added, "It is kind of over-smoked voice and it automatically sounds intimate.'' Originally written for the film "Pete Kelly's Blues" (but ultimately rejected), London's version was produced by Bobby Troup, who would later marry London. Wisely, Troup had London accompanied by only a guitar and bass, Barney Kessel and Ray Leatherwood, respectively. A large ensemble would have overwhelmed her "thimbleful." The result was an enduring sexy, smokey classic.
"Mack the Knife" (singles). Louis Armstrong (1956); Bobby Darin (1959).
"Mack the Knife" began its life in Weill and Brecht's "The Threepenny Opera" in 1928. The song opens and closes the play, sung by a ragged organ grinder to herald the play's gangster anti-hero, Mackie Messer. Recorded in 1956 by Louis Armstrong, it became one of the least likely hits of the year. It was covered again in 1959 by pop crooner Bobby Darin. Darin's version is consciously in the spirit of Armstrong's, using his pronunciation and his name-check of the song originator's Lotte Lenya, but his arrangement is jazzier, going from a jazzy, finger-snapping opening to a full-throttled, rocking climax. "Mack the Knife" became an even bigger international pop hit this time around, as well as Darin's signature song.
Fourth quarter radio coverage of Wilt Chamberlin's 100-point game (Philadelphia Warriors vs. New York Knicks). Bill Campbell, announcer. (March 2, 1962)
Basketball history occurred on March 2, 1962, when Philadelphia Warriors center Wilt Chamberlain shattered the NBA record by scoring 100 points in a single game. Not covered by television, it was only broadcast by a Philadelphia radio station and this recording of its fourth quarter has endured largely due to a young college student who a taped a day-after rebroadcast of the game off of his home radio. The tape, rediscovered in 1990, was later combined by an NBA archivist with a Dictaphone recording of the game thus resulting in the only audio which exists of this remarkable sports achievement.
"A Love Supreme." John Coltrane. (1964)
John Coltrane viewed "A Love Supreme" as a personal and deeply spiritual devotional work. As noted by others, not only do the titles of the four movements—"Acknowledgment," "Resolution," "Pursuance," and "Psalm"—suggest a redemptive spiritual journey, the second movement is harmonically related to the third movement and the first to the fourth in a way that unifies the piece. The qualities offered on this album guaranteed it a much wider listenership than most jazz albums at the time, letting it appeal to a public that was increasingly turning its attention to a wider range of spiritual concerns. The album's legacy, which includes a deep influence on a generation of saxophonists and other musicians and its repeated quotation in sampled music and its actual use in church services, has made the work huge and enduring.
“It’s My Way.” Buffy Sainte-Marie. (1964) (album)
Buffy Sainte-Marie's debut album was an impressive and highly personal set of original and traditional songs, but her Cree heritage and songs like "Now That the Buffalo is Gone" and "The Universal Soldier" led the press to typecast her as a protest singer and the folk revival's token Native American, a superficial portrayal that she fought for years afterwards. On "It's My Way," Saint-Marie's voice is alternately soothing and harrowing, a facet of her style that many found difficult at the time but which paved the way for powerful female singers like Grace Slick a few years later, and reflected the intensity and passion which would continue to distinguish Sainte-Marie's work.
Interview with Buffy Sainte-Marie (PDF, 84KB)
“Where Did Our Love Go?” The Supremes. (1964) (single)
The breakthrough hit for Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Flo Ballard, "Where Did Our Love Go?" was written by Motown's star songwriters and producers Holland, Dozier and Holland. Lead singer Ross, singing in a lower register, found a distinctive and mature tone that set her apart from other female singers of the era, while Wilson and Ballard's full mastery of their behind-the-beat timing for their parts, helped reveal a depth of longing in the lyrics that made the song stand out even in the dynamic, varied and ever-shifting pop scene of 1964. This single's success ensured the future of both the Supremes and Motown Records.
Interview with Mary Wilson (PDF, 65KB)
“People Get Ready” (single). The Impressions. (1965)
The Impressions began as a five-man group in 1958, but achieved their greatest artistic and popular success as the trio of Curtis Mayfield, Sam Gooden and Fred Cash. Their background in gospel music informed not only their singing, but Mayfield's songwriting, which often achieved a rare level of spirituality and empathy. Mayfield, as he had previously, employed both folk and religious imagery in his composition "People Get Ready," and his message offered hope at the same time that it exhorted its audience to rise to its task. "People" was a hit at the time and it has continued to reach audiences ever since in the original version as well as in covers and tributes.
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"Mama Tried" (single). Merle Haggard. (1968)
"Mama Tried" is country singer-songwriter Merle Haggard's loosely autobiographical tribute to his mother's love and sacrifice as she tried to raise her restless, unruly child by herself. The song is the story of a young man sentenced to life in prison without parole and coming to understand too late that he alone is responsible for his situation. Haggard's direct, hard-driving, honky-tonk approach to both his songwriting and his performance directly contrasted with the then smoother, more honeyed Nashville-style of country music. "Mama Tried" has gone on to become a classic, covered by many groups, including the Grateful Dead.
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"Abraxas." Santana. (1970)
Santana's second album consolidated the group's position as purveyors of a unique blend of Latin music, rock, blues and modal jazz. The group's rhythm section was of key importance in this musical mission. While the songs "El Nicoya" and "Se Acabo" allow Jose "Chepito" Areas's timbales and Mike Carabello's congas a chance to stretch out, their contributions are even more important on the more rocking numbers and especially on the jazz-influenced ones. Greg Rollie proves adept at writing compelling rocker tunes while contributing outstanding organ solos. Meanwhile, the standard rock rhythm section--Dave Brown, bass; Mike Shrieve, drums—prove adept at switching from jazz to rock to Latin. Still, it is Carlos Santana's signature guitar tone, which is possessed of nearly infinite sustain, and his lyrical melodies, that have proven highly compelling to this day.
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"Class Clown." George Carlin. (1972)
In the late 1960s, George Carlin withdrew from a successful career as a mainstream standup and reinvented himself with a far riskier, countercultural style. "Class Clown" was the second album of his second phase, and contains his "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television" routine, a discourse not only on those words and their power to offend, but also on the varieties and vagaries of the English language itself. At the time of the album's release, Carlin had actually been arrested on a charge of obscenity for a live performance of this routine, though the charges were ultimately dropped. Yet those words are still banned broadcast.
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"Robert & Clara Schumann Complete Piano Trios." The Beaux Arts Trio. (1972)
The Beaux Arts were an ideal vehicle for the trios of Robert and Clara Schumann, whose music is full of interesting musical details, and whose structures might get lost without the balance of musical values the Trio puts into everything. While the Trio's approach puts both composers in the best light, they demonstrate very strongly the musical identity of Clara Schumann. The temptation is to compare Clara's writing with her husband's, but her work stands strongly on its own. The work of both Schumanns is some of the most nuanced in classical music—and it found three sympathetic advocates in the members of the Beaux Arts Trio.
"Piano Man" (single). Billy Joel. (1973)
Billy Joel's first hit, "Piano Man"—which would go on to become his signature song--was based upon his own experience from when he played in an LA piano bar. According to Joel, "All the characters in that song were real people." There actually was a sailor named Davy and a real estate agent named Paul who sat at the bar working on his novel. The waitress who was "practicing politics" would later become Joel's wife. Unfortunately, clocking in at 5:38, his record company considered "Piano Man" too long to get radio airplay, so they cut out over a minute from the single and nearly two and a half minutes from the DJ promo. Joel later sarcastically referenced this in later composition, "The Entertainer": "It was a beautiful song but it ran too long…so they cut it down to 3:05."
"Bogalusa Boogie." Clifton Chenier. (1976)
Zydeco, a driving mix of Cajun, creole and blues influences, has now an international audience, but it wasn't always the case. Accordionist and singer Clifton Chenier, born into a French-speaking family in Louisiana, in 1925, was part of the generation that added a strong blues feeling and hot rhythms to Cajun and creole music to create a new style that would sweep across Louisiana and Texas. "Bogalusa Boogie," recorded in 1976, was the second album Chenier recorded with his Red Hot Louisiana Band, the expanded group that accompanied him during the most successful phase of his career. This album was cut in a single day, with no second takes, and remains a definitive performance by Zydeco's greatest artist.
"I Will Survive." (single). Gloria Gaynor. (1978)
According to its co-writer, Dino Fekaris, "I Will Survive" was initially inspired by his being fired from his job but then realizing that he was going to be okay. For performer Gloria Gaynor, it took on added meaning as she was, at the time, recovering from a serious spinal injury. Originally released as a "B" side, so many deejays began playing "Survive" that the record company reissued it as a single. It was immediately embraced as an emblem of women's empowerment and soon became anthem among the LGBT community. Over time, it has also been adopted as an anthem by survivors of all kinds.
"Master of Puppets." Metallica. (1986)
The third release by the band Metallica showed that the group was less interested in maintaining its reputation as a progenitor of thrash metal than in exploring interesting new ideas. Thrash, a reaction against the pop metal of the early 1980s which aimed to renew metal by emphasizing speed and aggression, is evident on this collection's song "Battery" and it is as rousing an example of the sub-genre as one could find. But, other songs on the record soon break free of thrash orthodoxy. Cliff Burton's clean bass lines, volume swells, and careful harmonies, for example, on "Orion," set that song apart. The title track starts unsurprisingly enough with a crisp power chord and catchy riff, but halfway through, the tempo slows and a clean arpeggiated progression, introduces Hetfield's mid-tempo lead which eschews tapping, sweep picking, and other metal guitar techniques. Black Sabbath bassist and lyricist Geezer Butler has commented that Metallica's 1980s output brought the music "back to the spirit of [Black] Sabbath" and, he further emphasizes, "If we started it, then [Metallica] reinvented it."