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#AceHistoryDesk – National Recording Registry Inducts Music from Madonna, Mariah Carey, Queen Latifah, Daddy Yankee
Recordings from Jimmy Buffett, Eurythmics, John Lennon, John Denver, The Police, Led Zeppelin and Super Mario Also Among 25 Selected for Preservation
Madonna’s cultural ascent with “Like a Virgin,” Mariah Carey’s perennial No. 1 Christmas hit, Queen Latifah’s groundbreaking “All Hail the Queen” and Daddy Yankee’s reggaeton explosion with “Gasolina” are some of the defining sounds of the nation’s history and culture that will now join the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. The 2023 class also includes the first sounds of a video game to join the registry with the Super Mario Bros. theme, powerful voices of women, important inductions of Latin music, and classic sounds of rock and pop from the 1960s to the ‘80s.
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden today named 25 recordings as audio treasures worthy of preservation for all time based on their cultural, historical or aesthetic importance in the nation’s recorded sound heritage.
“The National Recording Registry preserves our history through recorded sound and reflects our nation’s diverse culture,” Hayden said. “The national library is proud to help ensure these recordings are preserved for generations to come, and we welcome the public’s input on what songs, speeches, podcasts or recorded sounds we should preserve next. We received more than 1,100 public nominations this year for recordings to add to the registry.”
The recordings selected for the National Recording Registry bring the number of titles on the registry to 625, representing a small portion of the national library’s vast recorded sound collection of nearly 4 million items.
The latest selections named to the registry span from 1908 to 2012. They range from the first recordings of Mariachi music and early sounds of the Blues to radio journalism leading up to World War II, and iconic sounds from pop, country, rock, R&B, jazz, rap, and classical music.
NPR’s “1A” will host several features in the series, “The Sounds of America,” on this year’s selections for the National Recording Registry, including interviews with Hayden and several featured artists in the weeks ahead. Follow the conversation about the registry on Twitter and Instagram @librarycongress and #NatRecRegistry.
Listen to many of the recordings on your favorite streaming service.The Digital Media Association, a member of the National Recording Preservation Board, has compiled a list of some streaming services with National Recording Registry playlists, available here: dima.org/national-recording-registry-class-of-2023/
Powerful Voices of Women
This year’s selections include the voices of women whose recordings have helped define and redefine their genres. Madonna’s 1984 smash hit album “Like a Virgin” would fuel her ascent in the music world as she took greater control of her music and her image. Of the nine songs originally on the album, four became top 10 hits.
Queen Latifah is the first female rapper to join the National Recording Registry with her debut album “All Hail the Queen” from 1989 when she was just 19 years old. Her album showed rap could cross genres including reggae, hip-hop, house and jazz — while also opening opportunities for other female rappers.
“All I Want for Christmas Is You,” the seasonal juggernaut that now sells more records than its 1994 release, is Mariah Carey’s first song to make the National Recording Registry. The delighted pop star told the Library it’s a perfect fit for a little girl from Long Island who grew up wanting a perfect Christmas. But Carey’s childhood was turbulent, beset by her parents’ divorce and difficult family relations. So, when she was a 22-year-old sensation in the music business, the first Christmas song she wrote was about her own wish for the holiday.
“I tried to tap into my childhood self, my little girl self, and say, ‘What are all the things I wanted when I was a kid?’” she said. “I wanted it to be a love song because that’s kind of what people relate to, but also a Christmas song that made you feel happy.”
She brought the melody and lyrics to her then-songwriting partner and producer Walter Afanasieff, and the pair worked together to create its retro “wall of sound” production, as if it might have been a recorded in the 1960s. A modest hit upon release, it’s grown over time to hit No. 1 on pop charts the last four years, setting Carey’s pop-culture image as the Queen of Christmas.
“I’m most proud of the arrangements, the background vocal arrangements,” she said. “‘All I Want for Christmas’ is sort of in its own little category, and I’m very thankful for it.”
Reggaeton Revolution and First Mariachi Recordings Join Registry
With roots in Panama in the 1980s, reggaeton has been described as Reggae, reggae en Español, dancehall, hip-hop and dembow. But it was Daddy Yankee’s 2004 hit single “Gasolina” that ignited a massive shift for reggaeton with its crossover appeal from Latin radio to broad audiences. “Gasolina” appeal was so great, it even moved some radio stations to switch formats from English to Spanish to tap into this revolution.
Some of the earliest sounds in this year’s class are “The Very First Mariachi Recordings,” an album recorded in 1908 and 1909. Four musicians from the Mexican state of Jalisco made this recording in Mexico City and performed for Mexico’s president. Even early recording technology could still capture the spirit of this music. Scholars and sound archivists collected and reissued this album in 1998 to revive an otherwise lost chapter in the history of mariachi.
Video Game Soundtrack Joins Recording Registry for First Time
Few musicians have had their work become so internationally recognized for decades yet remain so relatively unknown as Koji Kondo, the man who composed the music for the Super Mario Bros. video games in the 1980s. Still today, Kondo is credited for original Nintendo music in the new “Super Mario Bros. Movie” out this month.
Kondo, born and raised in Japan, was a college senior in Osaka, interested in the piano and sound design, when he saw a recruiting flyer from Nintendo on a university bulletin board. He answered the ad, and the rest is video game history. His main, or “Ground Theme,” for the 1985 game is a jaunty, Latin-influenced melody that’s instantly recognizable around the world today.
“The amount of data that we could use for music and sound effects was extremely small, so I really had to be very innovative and make full use of the musical and programming ingenuity that we had at the time,” he said through an interpreter in a recent interview. “I used all sorts of genres that matched what was happening on screen. We had jingles to encourage players to try again after getting a ‘game over,’ fanfares to congratulate them for reaching goals, and pieces that sped up when the time remaining grew short.”
Now 61 and still working for Nintendo, he’s seen his “Mario” music used in films and played by orchestras. He’s designed the world of sound for dozens of other video games. He did, however, have an inkling that they were onto something at the beginning. “I also had a feeling that this game might be something that could turn into a series and continue for a long time,” he said.
“Having this music preserved alongside so many other classic songs is such a great honor,” he said. “It’s actually a little bit difficult to believe.”
Classic Folk, Rock and Pop Music Preserved for All Time
Some of the most enduring and beloved music from folk, rock and pop from the 1960s to 1980s tunes many Americans still find themselves singing together every year — also join the National Recording Registry this year.
This year’s class includes “Sherry” by The Four Seasons in 1962, “What the World Needs Now is Love,” recorded by Jackie DeShannon in 1965 and written by the late songwriting duo of Hal David and Burt Bacharach, “Imagine” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1971, Led Zeppelin’s“Stairway to Heaven” from 1971, “Synchronicity” by The Police, including Sting, in 1983, and more unforgettable recordings.
“Take Me Home, Country Roads,” recorded by John Denver in 1971, might be one of the nation’s favorite singalongs year after year. Denver’s family said they were honored the song by Denver, Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert was chosen for preservation by the Library.
“Dad has been gone 25 years, and this song continues to be sung at concerts and events around the world, which we’re sure Dad, Bill, and Taffy never imaginedwhen they wrote it so many years ago. Thanks to the Library of Congress for this recognition,” Denver’s family said in a joint statement.
David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young formed a super-group of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Their second album, “Déjà Vu,” made the National Recording Registry this year representing folk rock at its peak of influence and popularity. With hits such as “Teach Your Children,” “Our House” and “Woodstock,” the 1970 album also showed the influence of Joni Mitchell, this year’s recipient of the Library’s Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
Mitchell wrote “Woodstock” and Nash, her live-in partner at the time, wrote “Our House” as an almost diary-like entry of a dreary late-winter day at their home in California.
Nash said Crosby Stills Nash and Young’s primary rule was that everyone had to agree on every song they released in order to ensure it was a collaborative statement. This led to meticulous recording sessions — Stills once estimated that it took hundreds of hours of recording to finish “Déjà Vu” — but it paid off in beautiful harmonies and melodies that have lasted for decades.
“We wanted to tell the truth,” Nash told the Library recently. “We wanted to reflect the times in which we lived. I think that’s the duty of every artist.”
Early in the 1970s, Jimmy Buffett was a little-known singer/songwriter when, after a rough night in Austin, Texas, he had a tasty Margarita at a bar the next day. Still sipping, he started scribbling a song on a cocktail napkin, finished it later while stuck in a traffic jam on the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys and played “Margaritaville” for the first time in a little bar in Key West that night when it was “probably six hours old.”
By 1977, it was a Top 10 hit and has since become a pop culture staple and the namesake of a chain of businesses and products — including books, restaurants, a radio channel, a cruise line and 55-and-older living communities — that Buffett oversees. Initially, though, he said he was just delighted to have a hit song on a hit record and be “actually making money.”
The key to the song’s resonance in American culture, Buffett told the Library, was that people were looking for a song to make them feel good and be happy.
“You’re lucky enough at some point to put your thumb on the pulse of something that people can connect with,” he said. “It’s an amazing and lucky thing to happen to you, and that happened with ‘Margaritaville.’”
By the 1980s, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart had been in and out of British-based music groups for some time without much success. Flat broke in 1982, Stewart managed to borrow enough money to buy a couple of synthesizers and a prototype of a drum machine so basic that it was housed in a wooden case.
One night in their studio — the loft of a picture-framing factory in central London — he got the drum kit going and hit a couple of chords on the synthesizer. Lennox sat up bolt upright, as if she’d touched an electric wire. She went to her own synthesizer, played a riff against his beat and soon ad-libbed a lyric, a wry comment on their impoverished status: “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” The Eurythmics’ influential, synthesizer-heavy song was born, and soon the duo would have a massive international dance hit and would be a sensation in the new medium of music videos.
“It’s a mantra, almost like a Haiku poem, a coded message, a commentary about the human condition,” Lennox said of the song. “You can use it as a happy birthday song or a celebratory song…it could be anything. Looking back, I love the way people have identified with it.”
Stewart, who now works primarily as a producer, took a break from working on a musical with Ringo Starr to talk about the song that made the rest of his life possible.
“It’s like alchemy, you get two people like Annie and myself” with different skill sets but a united passion for a single sound, he said. “It’s like one plus one equals three.”
About the National Recording Registry
Under the terms of the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, the Librarian of Congress, with advice from the National Recording Preservation Board, selects 25 titles each year that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and are at least 10 years old. More information on the National Recording Registry can be found at loc.gov/programs/national-recording-preservation-board/about-this-program/. The public may nominate recordings for the Registry here.
Some registry titles have already been preserved by the copyright holders, artists or other archives. In cases where a selected title has not already been preserved, the Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center works to ensure that the recording will be preserved by some entity and available for future generations. This can be through the Library’s recorded-sound preservation program or through collaborative ventures with other archives, studios and independent producers.
The national library maintains a state-of-the-art facility where it acquires, preserves and provides access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of films, television programs, radio broadcasts and sound recordings (loc.gov/avconservation/). It is home to more than 9 million collection items.
The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States — and extensive materials from around the world — both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.
National Recording Registry, 2023 Selections
- “The Very First Mariachi Recordings” — Cuarteto Coculense (1908-1909)
- “St. Louis Blues” — Handy’s Memphis Blues Band (1922)
- “Sugar Foot Stomp” — Fletcher Henderson (1926)
- Dorothy Thompson: Commentary and Analysis of the European Situation for NBC Radio (Aug. 23-Sept. 6, 1939)
- “Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around” — The Fairfield Four (1947)
- “Sherry” — The Four Seasons (1962)
- “What the World Needs Now is Love” — Jackie DeShannon (1965)
- “Wang Dang Doodle” — Koko Taylor (1966)
- “Ode to Billie Joe” — Bobbie Gentry (1967)
- “Déjà Vu” — Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (1970)
- “Imagine” — John Lennon (1971)
- “Stairway to Heaven” — Led Zeppelin (1971)
- “Take Me Home, Country Roads” — John Denver (1971)
- “Margaritaville” — Jimmy Buffett (1977)
- “Flashdance…What a Feeling” — Irene Cara (1983)
- “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” — Eurythmics (1983)
- “Synchronicity” — The Police (1983)
- “Like a Virgin” — Madonna (1984)
- “Black Codes (From the Underground)” — Wynton Marsalis (1985)
- Super Mario Bros. theme — Koji Kondo, composer (1985)
- “All Hail the Queen” — Queen Latifah (1989)
- “All I Want for Christmas is You” — Mariah Carey (1994)
- “Pale Blue Dot” — Carl Sagan (1994)
- “Gasolina” — Daddy Yankee (2004)
- “Concerto for Clarinet and Chamber Orchestra” — Northwest Chamber Orchestra, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, composer (2012)
National Recording Registry, 2023 Selections
(about each selection)
“The Very First Mariachi Recordings” — Cuarteto Coculense (1908-1909) (album)
Mariachi music and its imagery are now emblematic of Mexican national identity, but it was once a rural style of music played mainly in the state of Jalisco. In 1908, four musicians from the town of Cocula, Jalisco, led by the vihuela player Justo Villa, made the first recordings of it in Mexico City, where two years earlier they had introduced the style to the capital when they performed for the Mexican President Porfirio Diaz. These performances lack the trumpet now inextricably associated with mariachi, but even the early recording technology of the time could not fail to capture the group’s drive and spirit, and the recordings remained in print for many years. Thanks to the efforts of scholars and record collectors, the group’s work was collected and reissued in 1998 by Arhoolie Records, revisiting and reviving an otherwise lost chapter in mariachi’s history and paying overdue homage to these recording pioneers.
“St. Louis Blues” — Handy’s Memphis Blues Band (1922) (single)
Even during his lifetime, W.C. Handy was often called the “Father of the Blues.” And while he might not be responsible for an entire genre of music, there is little question that it was largely Handy’s creative output that enabled the blues to cross America’s race and cultural lines. One of the songs he did it with was “St. Louis Blues,” which Handy both wrote and played. It was one of the first blues songs to enjoy success as a pop song. Later, the tune would be incorporated into the repertoire of numerous other legends including Bessie Smith, Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller, Count Basie and Benny Goodman. Meanwhile, Handy, beyond his own composition and performing prowess, created detailed, written exegeses of blues music (including his own compositions) which have long served to educate others about the artistry of blues and aid in their appreciation for this American artform.
“Sugar Foot Stomp” — Fletcher Henderson (1926)
“Sugar Foot Stomp” was a milestone recording that incorporated jazz into a dance band setting. Henderson was one of the most successful African American bandleaders of his time. From its inception in 1921, his band played rather polite dance music, laced with a well-intended yet ponderous style of jazz, typically found in New York during the early 1920s. This changed suddenly upon the October 1924 arrival of New Orleans cornetist Louis Armstrong into the Henderson ensemble. Based on Armstrong’s collaboration with Joe Oliver’s “Dipper Mouth Blues,” “Sugar Foot Stomp” — in a smart, forward-looking arrangement by Don Redman — becomes streamlined and timelessly hip. Its most salient feature was the 36-bar solo by Armstrong, based on Oliver’s own “Dipper Mouth Blues” solo.
Dorothy Thompson: Commentary and Analysis of the European Situation for NBC Radio (Aug. 23-Sept. 6, 1939)
Dorothy Thompson spent most of the 1920s and early 1930s in Europe, covering politics and culture throughout the continent as a print journalist, interviewing subjects as varied as Sigmund Freud and Adolph Hitler. From 1936 on, she wrote a thrice-weekly column, “On The Record,” in which she drew on her unique experience and knowledge of the issues and people in the news in the U.S. and Europe. She also became a frequent presence on network radio, and in late August 1939, as the European situation worsened and war was imminent, she made daily broadcasts on NBC analyzing developments during the last days of peace and the first days of war in Europe. These broadcasts form a unique broadcast record of this complex period.
“Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around” — The Fairfield Four (1947) (single)
The Fairfield Four has represented the Jubilee style of a cappella quartet singing in the African-American church since their early days in Nashville, Tennessee, in the 1920s, a legacy carried on by the present incarnation of the group. At their second session for Nashville’s Bullet Records label in 1947, they recorded “Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around,” a signature song that they would perform and re-record throughout their career. The Rev. Sam McCrary had been their lead tenor since 1940, powerfully sustaining words and syllables while the other members intoned their accompaniment. The song had been in the repertoire of others since the 1920s, but at a time when African-American religious music was changing rapidly, adding instruments and amplification in service of the message, the Fairfield Four broke through as the accomplished and passionate embodiment of the older Jubilee style, making their mark in the louder and faster postwar world of America.
“Sherry” — The Four Seasons (1962) (single)
The Four Seasons was one of the most popular groups of the early and mid-1960s with more than 25 hits over a five-year period, and it all began in 1962 with their first single, “Sherry,” a crossover hit that topped the industry pop and R&B charts. With it, Seasons members Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi established their signature harmony sound, led by Valli’s three-octave range and soaringfalsetto. Tenor Gaudio said it took him about 15 minutes to write the song, initially as a tribute to first lady Jacqueline Kennedy titled “Jackie Baby,” before it was renamed “Sherry” after the daughter of Gaudio’s close friend, New York radio DJ, Jack Spector. The Four Seasons are still one of the best-selling musical groups of all time, having sold an estimated 100 million records worldwide. The song, “Sherry,” continues to be used in popular culture in films, television and theater, including the Tony Award-winning musical “Jersey Boys,” which chronicled the life and career of Frank Valli and The Four Seasons.
“What the World Needs Now is Love” — Jackie DeShannon (1965) (single)
Even among the galaxy of beautiful, timeless songs co-written by the great songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, this lovely 1965 creation sparkles. But its lightness belies its very serious and (still) timely message. Bacharach — recipient of the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2012 — had the then raging Vietnam War in his mind during the song’s composition. Originally offered to the team’s frequent collaborator Dionne Warwick (who turned it down) they later made it available to singer/songwriter Jackie DeShannon who used it to kick off her fourth album. For that recording, Bacharach arranged the song, conducted the orchestra and produced the session. Released as a single in March 1965, it became one of DeShannon’s signature hits. DeShannon would win the Grammy that year for Female Vocal Performance, and the song evolved into a standard, not only for her treatment of it but for later cover versions by the likes of Barbra Streisand, Sergio Mendes, Barry Manilow and, eventually, even Dionne Warwick.
“Wang Dang Doodle” — Koko Taylor (1966) (single)
The hard-charging authentic Chicago blues sounds of “Wang Dang Doodle” made for an unlikely hit in the spring of 1966, when poppier sounds from both the U.S. and England dominated the charts. But when Koko Taylor, born Cora Walton in Tennessee in 1935, teamed up with blues composer, bassist and producer Willie Dixon to record it, they hit pay dirt and made a blues standard of a song that had not clicked with audiences even when the great Howlin’ Wolf released a version five years earlier. Taylor sang the lyrics with gusto, backed by a crack team of players that included Buddy Guy on guitar, and the song’s rogues’ gallery of party guests that included “Automatic Slim” and “Razor Totin’ Jim” rocked jukeboxes and radios around the country. Taylor went on to become one of the great voices of Chicago Blues, recording more than a dozen albums and performing around the world until her death in 2009.
“Ode to Billie Joe” — Bobbie Gentry (1967) (single)
Imagery, as vivid as any Southern Gothic novel, meets superlative storytelling and musicianship in this 1967 country classic. It was not, necessarily, a local death that singer/songwriter Bobbie Gentry wanted to explore with the writing of this song but, rather, the banality with which many of us greet and process news regarding the tragedy of others: “Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense; pass the biscuits, please.” Spare and arresting, and written and recorded when Gentry was only 25 years old, its release in July 1967 was a distinctive break from most country music of the era, and it resonated strongly with country, pop and R&B audiences. In 1976, “Ode” would inspire a big screen film adaptation and return to the charts, powered once more by its fable-like quality and its central mystery that we are still debating over 50 years since it was proffered to us.
“Déjà Vu” — Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (1970) (album)
The trio of David Crosby, Steven Stills and Graham Nash re-defined folk-rock and brought a new musical and lyrical maturity to the pop music scene with their eponymous 1969 debut album, and expectations were high for the first release by the expanded “supergroup” of four created by Neil Young’s arrival. Once again, the combination proved far more than the sum of its parts, even though the four found it hard to work together in the studio and the album was largely recorded in individual sessions. Stephen Stills estimates that the album took 800 hours of studio time. While that may be exaggerated, the band’s meticulous attention to detail coupled with the patience and skill of engineer Bill Halvorson, made “Déjà Vu” one of the most iconic albums of the last 50 years. “Déjà Vu” found its audience immediately, and remains the highest-selling album of each member’s career to date, with over 8 million copies sold. The three singles released from it: “Woodstock,” “Teach Your Children,” and “Our House” were AM and FM hits at the time and have each proved to be enduring, defining songs of early 1970s rock.
“Imagine” — John Lennon (1971) (single)
Even among the litany of breathtakingly beautiful songs written by John Lennon, either alone, with the Beatles or with his wife, Yoko Ono (as this song was), his “Imagine” resonates. The best-selling single of Lennon’s solo-career, “Imagine” with its lyrical plea of moving beyond materialism and nationalism and towards a worldwide peace, has become a balm and anthem for people in difficult times. It has been performed at Olympic ceremonies, at tributes to the victims of war, and at memorial services worldwide. Since 1986, the original “Imagine” has been played in New York City every New Year’s Eve as its glittery ball drops signifying the end of one time and the start of a new. Over the years, “Imagine” has been one of the globe’s most often covered songs, with significant versions performed by everyone from Elton John and Lady Gaga to Dolly Parton, Diana Ross and David Bowie. From the song’s debut in 1971, its lyrics have been equal parts heartfelt and thought-provoking (and sometimes controversial) and have been rendered all the more poignant, now, in light of Lennon’s tragic, untimely death in 1980.
“Stairway to Heaven” — Led Zeppelin (1971) (single)
The familiarity of “Stairway to Heaven” can obscure the fact that it is a carefully crafted song. Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin’s guitarist and producer, was responsible for much of the song’s structure and feel. Early in his career as a studio musician, Page had learned that one of the cardinal rules of studio work was to keep an even tempo and resist the urge to speed up at all costs. Ironically, “Stairway to Heaven” violates this rule to masterful effect, as it gradually increases speed, while adding instruments one at a time. First, we hear a lone acoustic guitar, soon a recorder enters, and, as the sound broadens, we hear vocals, a 12-string guitar and bass. Remarkably, the drums don’t enter until half way through the eight-minute song. As it gains momentum, the acoustic instruments fall away and we find ourselves listening to a fully electric hard-rock band. Bassist John Paul Jones contributed the recorder melody, lending a medieval feel to the song’s early measures. He and drummer John Bonham’s rhythm activities build to their usual huge and thunderous level. Few can imitate Robert Plant’s singing, and his lyrics, most of which were written during the band’s rehearsals, have appealed to a wide range of fans, while proving open to a bewildering number of interpretations. Finally, Page recorded one of the most tasteful solos in rock music.
“Take Me Home, Country Roads” — John Denver (1971) (single)
Though the song clearly celebrates West Virginia, its inspiration actually occurred on the winding highways of another East Coast state, rural Maryland, with a little nostalgic influence from the New England states. It was there, on one of those byways, that two of the song’s co-writers, Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert (later to become two-thirds of the Starland Vocal Band), struck upon the feelings and imagery for the song that would become “Take Me Home….” Later, in December 1970, the duo met up with singer/songwriter John Denver at a New York City gig they were both playing. After they shared the song with him, Denver added the song’s bridge and later recorded it for his fourth album. It became that album’s first single and his breakout, career-making hit. “Take Me Home…” went on to define much of Denver’s career while also becoming a family and sing-along favorite, hitting a common ground simultaneously shared by the genres of country, folk and pop.
“Margaritaville” — Jimmy Buffett (1977) (single)
Though he began his career as a country-folk artist in Nashville in the late 1960s, it was after an early ‘70s move to Key West that Buffett seemed to find the direction, niche and even persona that would not only endure but also endear him to many generations. Buffett seemed to have created his own genre of music, one that takes life easy, enjoys the beach, the sun, the wind and waves, no matter where one happens to be. It was Buffett’s second release, 1973’s “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean” that began his transformation but it became fully realized in 1977 with the release of the LP “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.” And that was thanks largely to its breakthrough song “Margaritaville.” The song stayed on industry charts from April to September, scoring with pop and country audiences alike, as well as teenagers and adults. And, today, its lyrics are as memorized as any song in history, “Margaritaville” is as well known and omni-present as ever — a regular component of bars, beach parties, karaoke and any place cool vibes are required.
“Flashdance…What a Feeling” — Irene Cara (1983) (single)
A film about a determined young woman who dreams of living her life in the spotlight doing what she loves to do — dance — needed a song that fully embodied and echoed that very sentiment. In 1983, that movie was “Flashdance,” and to fashion that all-important title track, the filmmakers turned to some experts in the field of music for movies: Giorgio Moroder, Irene Cara and Keith Forsey. Their result not only worked perfectly for the final, climatic moment of the film but sprung out from it to become a major radio hit that lasted 25 weeks on the pop chart, 14 of them in the top 10. While Moroder — as he had done for previous soundtrack songs like Blondie’s “Call Me” — created the pulsating melody, Forsey and Cara, the latter already an icon for her “Fame” success, produced the lyrics, which Cara sang with her characteristic fervor and, indeed, passion. Since its ride on the charts, “Flashdance,” the song, has emerged as an enduring anthem for anyone working to prove the doubters wrong.
“Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” — Eurythmics (1983) (single)
David Stewart and Annie Lennox, popularly known as Eurythmics, had enjoyed some chart success prior to the release of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” but this synth-pop song with its propulsive drum and synth line proved their breakthrough hit. Stewart remembers the track coming together very quickly using a prototype drum machine and two synthesizers. Lennox was depressed and laying on the floor when suddenly this pounding rhythm came out of the speakers. Lennox leapt to her feet, asking, “What’s that?” She quickly seized one synthesizer already preset to a string ensemble sound. That, along with Stewart’s addition of one more monophonic synth line, and the track was complete. Lennox then wrote the bulk of the lyrics on the spot and sang the lead vocal in one take. With the addition of one more section, they had created one of the most recognizable tracks in pop.
“Synchronicity” — The Police (1983) (album)
For their final studio album, which eventually garnered three Grammy awards, The Police gave us a five-year distillation of their previous work that included punk, reggae, and jazz, and a sophisticated sense of melodic line and harmony that echoed the previous 50 years of classic popular song. Instead of an obvious fusion, the musical divisions are so neatly layered and dovetailed that one cannot help but not notice. It is all a dream-like musical tour: from the title song’s hypnotic and somewhat off-balance feel, to the plaintive and heart-wrenching “King of Pain,” to the ear-catching intervallic leaps and magical layering of “Tea in the Sahara.” The Police represented, not a pastiche, but a stylistic ethos. In 1988, Police singer and bassist Sting warned of not labeling music, “The labeling process limits it…gives people prejudice, when they should just be listening to music.”
“Like a Virgin” — Madonna (1984) (album)
Madonna began her cultural ascent with her self-named debut album in 1983. But, even then, few could have predicted the worldwide domination she would achieve, starting on the dance floor, with her follow-up collection, “Like a Virgin.” Madonna was taking greater control of her musical output and skillfully integrating her image with the world mood of the moment. The album did much to solidify the early iconography of the soon-to-be legend — from the bridal dress to the “Boy Toy” belt buckle — but it is the music that endures. Collaborating with the equally legendary Nile Rodgers, Madonna proved no one could craft pop quite like her. Of the nine songs originally included on the album, four became top 10 hits, and a fifth, “Into the Groove,” which was added to a latter pressing, also was a smash. With 21 million copies of this album sold, the influence of Madonna and this album especially — catchy, controversial, coy — has yet to abate, and the beats have yet to stop.
“Black Codes (From the Underground)” — Wynton Marsalis (1985) (album)
“Black Codes (From the Underground)” is regarded as one of Wynton Marsalis’ most beloved and artistically successful recordings. In contrast with the electronic and funk-infused jazz of the 1970s, these recordings hearken back to the acoustic jazz of the 1950s and ’60s, but with a distinctly 1980s flair and virtuosity. Retaining all but one member of his original quintet, the brilliant playing by everyone defined the era, and launched the group that came to be known as the “Young Lions.” Drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, bassist Charnett Moffett and pianist Kenny Kirkland play with muscular assurance, and a guest appearance by bassist Ron Carter, an alumnus of the second Miles Davis quintet, gives a seal of approval on this new take on 1960’s post-bop jazz. Recorded when he was only 23 years old, “Black Codes” won two Grammy awards that year, including Best Jazz Instrumental Performance-Group. Two years later, in 1987, Wynton Marsalis would help start the Classical Jazz summer concert series at Lincoln Center in New York City and the Jazz at Lincoln Center department, which continues today.
Super Mario Bros. theme — Koji Kondo, composer (1985)
Perhaps the most recognizable video game theme in history, Koji Kondo’s main motif for the 1985 Nintendo classic, Super Mario Bros., helped establish the game’s legendary status and proved that the five-channel Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) sound chip was capable of vast musical complexity and creativity. Inspired in part by the music of Japanese jazz fusion band, T-Square, the game’s main theme, or “Ground Theme,” is a jaunty, Latin-influenced melody that provides the perfect accompaniment to Mario and Luigi’s side scrolling hijinks. Kondo’s score laid the groundwork for an entire generation of chiptune musicians and has been performed by orchestras around the globe, befitting its status as one of the most beloved musical compositions of the last 40 years.
“All Hail the Queen” — Queen Latifah (1989) (album)
The release of Queen Latifah’s debut album “All Hail the Queen” in 1989 solidified the success of her past singles while also announcing that rap could be female, Afrocentric, and incorporate a fusion of musical genres. Those genres include reggae, as well as hip-hop, house and jazz as she raps in the song, “Come Into My House.” Moreover, Queen Latifah sang as well as rapped on the album. Lyrically, the album addresses race, gender, political and social issues that were contemporary and yet remain universal. The album was released when Queen Latifah was 19 years old. Born Dana Elaine Owens in New Jersey, Queen Latifah was not the first female rapper, but her work with other female rappers, like Monie Love, on both the single and the video for “Ladies First,” opened a new door for discussion about gender in rap. The success of “All Hail the Queen” was both a product of, and led to, Queen Latifah’s success in other areas of media.
“All I Want for Christmas is You” — Mariah Carey (1994) (single)
For the past 40 years, the lower rungs of the pop chart have been littered with attempts to launch a new Christmas standard, a song for the season to modernize the feelings that Bing Crosby and Mel Torme had so resoundingly put onto disc decades before. None of them had ever endured, however, nor taken their place with those previous hits and all the classic Christmas hymns and carols. That was until 1994 when, for her fourth collection, Carey went into the studio to make the now almost obligatory holiday album. For it, she laid down 10 songs, most of them holiday favorites like “Silent Night” and “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” But, in the mix, she and collaborator/producer Walter Afanasieff (a.k.a. Baby Love) also contributed this original tune. The song was first released in October 1994, but, now, almost like Christmas itself, the song comes back again and again; it continues to chart every year. In fact, each year since 2000, the song has even charted higher than the year before! “All I Want…” has now gone 12 times platinum and is the best-selling holiday song ever recorded by a female artist.
“Pale Blue Dot” — Carl Sagan (1994)
Few people understood astronomy, planetary science and astrophysics like Carl Sagan, and even fewer could communicate it in a way that makes us think and feel a deeper connection with the universe. In 1990, as the space probe Voyager 1 was finishing its final mission, Sagan asked NASA to take a photo of Earth in a wide shot across the great span of space. The photo and concept resulted in Sagan’s 1994 book, “Pale Blue Dot,” and reminds us of the humility of being the only known species in the solar system and beyond. Reading the words is one thing, but hearing the recording, in Sagan’s own voice, really paints the perspective on how vast the universe is and the responsibility of our existence. As Sagan so eloquently speaks, “It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
“Gasolina” — Daddy Yankee (2004) (single)
Its birth is generally thought to have taken place in Panama in the 1980s. The genre now called “reggaeton” was originally described as Reggae, reggae en español, dancehall, hip-hop and dembow. But despite its genesis 30 years prior, reggaeton was only truly ignited with the debut of Daddy Yankee’s massive, seismic-shifting 2004 hit “Gasolina.” A song by a Latin artist first released to Latin radio, “Gasolina’s” unparalleled success quickly poured over every border, musically and geographically, hitting big with a wide swath of audiences. “Gasolina’s” aural dominance was so great that it ushered in a full reggaeton explosion and even saw various radio stations switching their formats — some even switching from English language to Spanish — to be part of the reggaeton revolution. “Barrio Fino,” the album which includes “Gasolina,” debuted at No. 1 on the Top Latin Albums chart, and “Gasolina” was the first reggaeton nominee for a Latin Grammy Award for Record of the Year. Not surprisingly, “Gasolina” is the first reggaeton recording to be added to the National Registry.
“Concerto for Clarinet and Chamber Orchestra” — Northwest Chamber Orchestra, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, composer (2012)
Composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich had already written the first movement of this work when the terrorist attacks of 9/11 took place. Clarinetist David Shifrin leads the Northwest Chamber Orchestra on this live recording made in Portland, Oregon, in 2004. He and several members of the ensemble had performed its premiere a year earlier, and their feeling for it comes through in the buoyancy of the first movement, suggesting the hustle and bustle of a normal working day in New York City, and in the violence, anger and sorrow of the rest of the day expressed in the subsequent movements. The 2012 CD release of this performance, and its enduring impact and reputation, are singular for a 21st century classical recording.
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