National Recording Registry Inducts 16 Classic Recordings Performed or Written by ASCAP Members
March 21, 2018
Tony Bennett’s hit single, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco;” the timeless soundtrack of The Sound of Music; Run-DMC’s 1986 crossover hit album Raising Hell; and an early cylinder recording by Victor Herbert, one of ASCAP's co-founders, have been honored for their cultural, historic and aesthetic importance to the American soundscape. On March 21, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden named these recordings and 21 other titles to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress, as aural treasures worthy of preservation. 14 were recorded by ASCAP members, and an additional two feature music written by ASCAP members.
“This annual celebration of recorded sound reminds us of our varied and remarkable American experience,” Hayden said. “The unique trinity of historic, cultural and aesthetic significance reflected in the National Recording Registry each year is an opportunity for reflection on landmark moments, diverse cultures and shared memories—all reflected in our recorded soundscape.”
Under the terms of the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, the Librarian, with advice from the Library’s National Recording Preservation Board (NRPB), is tasked with annually selecting 25 titles that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and are at least 10 years old. More information on the National Recording Registry can be found here. Nominations were gathered through online submissions from the public and from the NRPB, which is comprised of leaders in the fields of music, recorded sound and preservation.
The recordings selected for the class of 2017 bring the total number of titles on the registry to 500, a small part of the Library’s vast recorded-sound collection of nearly 3 million items.
Here is a chronological list of the 16 inducted recordings made by ASCAP members, or featuring music written by ASCAP members. Scroll down to watch exclusive video interviews with Tony Bennett and Don Schlitz about two of them.
“Dream Melody Intermezzo: Naughty Marietta” (single), Victor Herbert and his Orchestra (1911)
ASCAP founding member Victor Herbert’s “Dream Melody Intermezzo” is one of several iterations of the immortal song “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life” heard throughout Herbert’s most successful operetta, Naughty Marietta. This recording is the intermezzo version of “Sweet Mystery,” which is heard near the beginning of Act II as a transitional piece during which time the locale moves from the marionette theatre to the Juenesse Doree Club’s ballroom. As “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life,” the work has lived on as a free-standing song, heard to both dramatic and comic effect. In this 1911 Edison cylinder recording, listeners are transported back to the fall of 1910. The arrangement calls for a sprightly, annunciatory introduction by brass and pizzicato strings. The new cylinder recording process made it possible to capture nuances of the orchestra not possible with disc recording technology of the time. Listen to it here.
“If I Didn’t Care” (single), The Ink Spots (1939)
In 1939, when ASCAP songwriter Jack Lawrence brought his new song to Bill Kenny and the other three members of his group—The Ink Spots—Kenny and his bandmates were at first reluctant to record it. Yet, they did, and soon after, it became one of the best-selling singles in history, eventually moving 19 million copies worldwide. The song’s lovely opening guitar riff, flawless countertenor-singing and arresting mid-song spoken-word passage created a recording that is charming, haunting, evocative and both timely and timeless more than 75 years after its release. “If I Didn’t Care” has since been covered by everyone from Connie Francis to Bryan Ferry, while the original has become a go-to standard for use in movies, television shows and even video games.
“How I Got Over” (single), Clara Ward and the Ward Singers (1950)
ASCAP songwriter Clara Ward wrote her song “How I Got Over” in gratitude for and as a promise to overcome the challenges and struggles she met in her life. The song has served as a song of praise and a call to action ever since. According to her sister, Willa, she wrote it after the singers were menaced with racial epithets while on their way to a performance at an Alabama church in 1951. This experience led Clara to contemplate hardship and survival, and she published her reworking of a gospel standard as “How I Got Over.” The Ward Singers were one of the earliest female gospel performing groups to bring their distinctive sound outside the church and into popular culture. Mahalia Jackson performed the song at the 1963 March on Washington, and it has remained vital as a standard in the gospel genre and via the work of many artists, including The Blind Boys of Alabama and Aretha Franklin.
“(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” (single), Bill Haley and His Comets (1954)
Critics and journalists could describe this rollicking hit as the definitive anthem of rock and roll decades after its release, but its early history is riddled with uncertainty. The recording session was rushed and beset by technical difficulties that were overcome through the quick thinking of veteran producer Milt Gabler. Upon its release, the record performed fairly well, but it took the song’s inclusion in the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle, a popular film centered on teen culture, for its popularity to explode with young audiences. Despite its early difficulties, the song has survived because it is absolutely compelling. The start/stop intro—“One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock, rock”—masterfully sets up the final line of the stanza in which the entire group hammers down single, quick chords on the emphasized syllables: “ROCK” “aROUND” “the CLOCK” “toNIGHT.” ASCAP member Bill Haley’s energetic vocal, the simple yet effective saxophone break, the speedy and brief guitar lead and even the final, intentionally irregular drum riff sustain interest to the end. (The song was co-written by ASCAP members James Myers & Max Freedman.)
Calypso (album), Harry Belafonte (1956)
The child of a Jamaican mother and a Martinican father, ASCAP songwriter Harry Belafonte had tried singing conventional pop songs in New York in the 1940s, but was drawn to the city’s small but vibrant folk scene of the time. There, he encountered Josh White, Pete Seeger and Lead Belly and developed a folk-influenced repertoire that included West Indian songs. In the fall of 1955, he performed several Caribbean songs in a televised musical production number, including “Day-O,” a Jamaican folk song he adapted with his friend, writer, Bill Attaway, and Irving Burgie, another New York singer with West Indian roots. The positive audience response convinced Belafonte that a full album of such songs was viable. The album Calypso, featuring “Day-O” and more song contributions by Burgie, was released in May 1956, on the heels of Belafonte’s second album, which had been the nation’s best-selling LP in April. Calypso proved to be a far bigger hit, exceeding all expectations. The title was evocative; only a few of the songs on the album were actually in the calypso song form of Trinidad, which Belafonte acknowledged. The album was rather a masterfully presented celebration and exploration of Caribbean song. Initially, it sold mainly to the older audience that purchased albums. However, when “Day-O” and “Jamaica Farewell” were released as singles, Belafonte became popular with the teenage audience as well, a unique achievement at the time, and perhaps the reason that “Calypso” is still a much-beloved album.
“I Left My Heart in San Francisco” (single), Tony Bennett (1962)
It takes a truly remarkable song—and vocal performance—to become the hallmark tune in a career as legendary as ASCAP member Tony Bennett’s, but “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” is exactly that. Written by George Cory with lyrics by Douglass Cross (ASCAP members both), it was originally released as the “b” side of another Bennett record by his label, Columbia. Soon after, DJs across the country became far more infatuated with it than the song on the other side of the disc and soon listeners were in love with it too. “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” would be covered by dozens of other artists, but Bennett’s version remains the definitive rendition. His recording would later be adopted as one of the official themes for The City by the Bay.
“My Girl” (single), The Temptations (1964)
“Were it not for The Temptations, I never would have written ‘My Girl,’” declared Smokey Robinson, who co-wrote the song and co-produced the recording with fellow Miracle, ASCAP songwriter Ronald White. According to Robinson, “My Girl” wasn’t written about a specific girl, but it was written for a specific guy, David Ruffin. Robinson felt Temptations tenor Ruffin could be a star if he had the right song to show off his talent. Both he and The Temptations (Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, ASCAP member Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams and Otis Williams) believed “My Girl” was that song and began working out the arrangements and rehearsing it while on the road. The recording took place in Studio A of Hitsville U.S.A., Motown’s Detroit headquarters and featured the legendary group of session musicians known as the Funk Brothers. One of the most remarkable outcomes of “My Girl” is that James Jamerson’s barely there opening bassline has become so iconic that the song is instantly recognizable from just those three notes. Guitarist Robert White quickly adds an ascending guitar riff, a pentatonic scale. From there, the sound builds, layer by layer: finger snaps, drums, Ruffin’s lead vocal, other members of the Funk Brothers, vocal harmonies by the other Temptations and, finally, strings by members of the Detroit Symphony. “My Girl” was at the top of the charts for only one week, but it remained on jukeboxes for years, becoming a classic of the Motown era.
The Sound of Music (soundtrack), various (1965)
It was the era of the Beatles and big screen Hollywood musicals were already on the wane, yet the 1965 film The Sound of Music became one of the biggest box office hits in the history of movie-making. Named to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 2001, the decades-old film is a beloved, multi-generational cornerstone of American life. The movie’s accompanying soundtrack, featuring the lush orchestrations of ASCAP composer Irwin Kostal, the musical supervision by Saul Chaplin and cast performances led by Oscar winner (and ASCAP member) Julie Andrews, all contribute to this remarkable achievement. Selections include such timeless singalongs as “Do-Re-Mi” and “My Favorite Things,” to the rousing title tune and, of course, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”
“Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” (single), Arlo Guthrie (1967)
A “massacree” is a Southern colloquialism for “an event so wildly and improbably and baroquely messed up that the results are almost impossible to believe.” In this signature song, ASCAP member Arlo Guthrie (the son of the celebrated Woody Guthrie) immortalized his own true-life massacree. Years earlier, as a youth, he helped a friend take out trash on Thanksgiving Day, forgetting that the dump would be closed that day. Subsequently, Guthrie and his friend were arrested for littering, which eventually led to his rejection by the draft board to serve in Vietnam. A monologue set to music—and epic in length at 18 minutes—Guthrie’s song is both a neo-comedy and an anti-war statement. In the decades since its release, the song (either by listening to it or by playing and singing it themselves) has become a yearly Thanksgiving tradition for many families and gatherings.
New Sounds in Electronic Music (album), Steve Reich, Richard Maxfield, Pauline Oliveros (1967)
This avant-garde release was the first in composer and producer David Behrman’s adventurous “Music of Our Time” series for CBS’s budget label Odyssey. While each of the three compositions is unique, all employed tape machines as an expressive instrument, and each composer was as interested in the process of making the sounds as in the sounds themselves. Richard Maxfield’s “Night Music” employs the tape machine’s bias tone and an oscilloscope as the main sound sources. Neither of these sounds is typically heard: Bias is an inaudible signal that improves the tape’s fidelity, whereas an oscilloscope is an audio-measurement device normally encountered on a work bench. Maxfield uses these sources to create a series of complex sounds intended to mimic the nighttime vocalizations of birds and insects. The sound source for minimalist composer Steve Reich’s “Come Out” is, almost entirely, the phrase “come out to show them,” heard both on the left and right of the stereo field and timed so the two repetitions slowly fall in and out of sync. In “I of IV,” ASCAP composer Pauline Oliveros used 12 tone generators, an eight-second tape delay and reverb to create a dense, reverberant recording that was entirely improvised; individual sound will rise to the surface and fade only to repeat later and disappear altogether. As with her later compositions that emphasized what Oliveros called “deep listening,” close attention to “I of IV” reveals a wealth of detail. Maxfield died in 1969, but both Reich and Oliveros continued to develop the ideas evident here to create celebrated bodies of work.
An Evening with Groucho (album), Groucho Marx (1972)
On May 6, 1972, 81-year-old ASCAP member Groucho Marx took the stage at Carnegie Hall and dazzled an audience young enough to be his children and grandchildren for more than an hour with songs, stories and insults. Though he was still well remembered by fans of the Marx Brothers and his quiz show You Bet Your Life, he had recently become an unlikely countercultural hero and was determined to make the most of it. Introduced by Dick Cavett and ably accompanied by ASCAP legend Marvin Hamlisch on piano, Groucho began with a violin-smashing tribute to Jack Benny and concluded with a sing-along of “Lydia the Tattooed Lady.” In between, he recounted his long and varied life in vaudeville, theater, films, radio and television. The album An Evening with Groucho was released six months later and remains a unique and hilarious document of one of the 20th-century’s rel="noopener noreferrer" rel="noopener noreferrer" greatest entertainers. Listen to the full album here.
“The Gambler” (single), Kenny Rogers (1978)
ASCAP songwriter Don Schlitz was a young night shift computer operator at Vanderbilt University in Nashville in 1976, writing songs and shopping them around on Music Row on the side, when he came up with “The Gambler,” a haunting story about a mysterious card player and a metaphor for navigating life’s ever-changing stakes. Recorded and released by Bobby Bare to little attention in spring 1978, the song was later recorded by Johnny Cash, whose career was at a low point because of his struggles with drugs. Kenny Rogers, however, hit the jackpot with the song, the centerpiece of the accompanying album. As a former pop star with the group First Edition who had come into his own as a solo country artist, Rogers was well-positioned to bring the song to both pop and country audiences, earning the song its indelible place in popular culture. Placing high in both the country and pop charts that year, “The Gambler” later spawned a made-for-TV movie featuring Rogers and even a duet between Rogers and one of the Muppets in 1979.
“Le Freak” (single), Chic (1978)
One of the most influential disco acts of the 1970s, the five-member band Chic had a unique sound propelled by the innovative, funky guitar work of guitarist Nile Rodgers and ASCAP bassist Bernard Edwards. Rodgers and Edwards were also the writers of this, the group’s biggest hit—an infectious, danceable confection that lyrically celebrated the then-moment (with its mention of “54”) as well as the past (with its mention of the Savoy), while rhythmically keeping everyone on the dance floor in motion. Chic’s work has gone on to influence a host of other acts, including Madonna, Mtume, The Pointer Sisters, The Sugarhill Gang, Evelyn “Champagne” King, Teena Marie, Shalamar, Soul II Soul and Justin Timberlake, among others. Despite the supposed “death” of disco, Chic’s “Le Freak” has become a staple of wedding receptions, movie soundtracks and nightclubs.
“Footloose” (single), Kenny Loggins (1984)
Inspired remarkably by real-life events, the 1984 movie Footloose was one of the biggest film hits of the decade and the career-breakthrough for its leading man, Kevin Bacon. The film’s title tune, performed by ASCAP member Kenny Loggins, remains today deeply emblematic of the 1980s—fun, invigorating and, in its way, a little rebellious. Co-written by Loggins and the film’s screenwriter, Dean Pitchford, the song would prove to be the biggest hit of Loggins’s long career (dating back to his work with Jim Messina from the early 1970s) and the biggest hit from the film’s multi-platinum soundtrack. Since its debut and initial 16 weeks on the Billboard charts, the song has served as the musical centerpiece for both the 1998 Broadway musical and the big-screen remake released in 2011.
Raising Hell (album), Run-DMC (1986)
Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and his fellow ASCAP songwriter Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell, or Run-DMC, introduced hip-hop to mainstream audiences on this, their third and best album. DMC has observed that the lyric from “My Adidas,” which affirms that “[w]e took the beat from the street and put it on TV,” describes what the album achieved as a whole. The album’s mass appeal can partially be explained by their collaboration with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith on a remake of the rock band’s 1975 hit “Walk This Way.” Co-producer and guitarist Rick Rubin (also an ASCAP member) added power chords and guitar riffs on the title track, lending the album a rock flavor in keeping with DMC’s mission to “take rock to the left.” While this element of rock with a twist brought many new fans, songs like “Peter Piper” stayed true to the band’s earlier stripped down minimalism in which only beats, lyrics and samples were required.
Yo-Yo Ma Premieres Concertos for Violoncello and Orchestra (album), Various (1996)
This album contains cello concertos by two generations of award-winning American composers: Richard Danielpour, Leon Kirchner and Christopher Rouse. They are all premiered by ASCAP member Yo-Yo Ma in this recording. The album won two Grammy Awards in 1997—Best Classical Album and Best Instrumental Soloist Performance with an Orchestra. Ma is considered the best living cellist in the world. He has made over 100 recordings and won 18 Grammy Awards.
To see the official Library of Congress story on the National Recording Registry announcement, visit loc.gov.
To read more about the National Recording Registry and the work of the National Recording Preservation Board, click here.