National Recording Registry “Lets the Sunshine In” on 12 Classic ASCAP Recordings
March 20, 2019
The classic radio western Gunsmoke; the revolutionary 1968 Broadway musical Hair; and Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1978 song “September” are the newest recordings inducted into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden today named these and 22 other recordings as aural treasures worthy of preservation because of their cultural, historic and aesthetic importance to the nation’s recorded sound heritage. 12 of them were performed and/or written by ASCAP’s global family of songwriters and composers.
“The National Recording Registry honors the music that enriches our souls, the voices that tell our stories and the sounds that mirror our lives” said Hayden. “The influence of recorded sound over its nearly 160-year history has been profound and technology has increased its reach and significance exponentially. The Library of Congress and its many collaborators are working to preserve these sounds and moments in time, which reflect our past, present and future.”
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.
The new recordings to the National Recording Registry bring the total number of titles on the registry to 525, a small part of the Library’s vast recorded-sound collection of nearly 3 million items.
Here is a chronological list of the 12 inducted recordings made by ASCAP members, or featuring music written by ASCAP members. Scroll down to hear them on Spotify.
ASCAP Recordings in the 2018 National Recording Registry
“Memphis Blues” (single), Victor Military Band (1914)
Though he would eventually be acclaimed as “The Father of the Blues,” ASCAP composer W.C. Handy was only a moderately successful bandleader in 1912 when he published “The Memphis Blues” in sheet music form. It caught on quickly and was soon being performed by bands around the country, introducing Handy’s style of 12-bar blues to a wide audience. With the help of bandleader James Reese Europe, the dancers Vernon and Irene Castle used it to promote their version of the emerging popular dance, the foxtrot. No recording of the music was made, however, until July 15, 1914, when the Victor Military Band cut its hit version, helping to pave the way for the jazz and blues craze that would sweep the country within a few years. “Memphis Blues” was soon standard repertoire and was re-recorded as late as 1942 by swing era bandleader Harry James.
“Minnie the Moocher” (single), Cab Calloway (1931)
By 1931, songs about dens of iniquity were nothing new, but one so deliberate, not to mention as entertaining, as ASCAP member Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” was indeed remarkable. “Minnie” bears more than a slight resemblance to a 1920s ditty titled “Willie the Weeper,” a song about a “chimney sweeper” with a drug addiction. In the song, Minnie is characterized as both “rough and tough” and big-hearted, and one who associated with types as disparate as “Cokey Joe” and the King of Sweden. An equally unlikely pairing was the wild abandon, yet perfect control, with which Cab Calloway sang this minor-keyed fable. Calloway sang “Minnie” throughout his long career, including the rousing version he performed in the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers,” when he was an agile septuagenarian.
Bach Six Cello Suites (album), Pablo Casals (c. 1939)
Casals’ role in rediscovering the Bach cello suites has tended to be somewhat overstated, in a way that both exaggerates and denigrates his real accomplishment. The cello suites were fairly well-known among cellists and composers during the 19th century. Where Casals (also an ASCAP composer) differed from his predecessors was in understanding and cultivating the musical nature of the suites themselves. He seemed to grasp intuitively the intense depth of the music and gives it the study that it demanded. Although his approach to the music appears quite romantic, his realization of the value of the music for concert performance (in contradiction to hundreds of years of tradition among cellists) was a profoundly modern gesture and one that helped change the reputation of the cello and modified not just cello performance but the nature of string playing generally.
Gunsmoke — Episode: “The Cabin” (Dec. 27, 1952)
Thanks to the arrival of television, radio drama was on the endangered list by early 1952, but CBS president William Paley was still eager to take a chance with an idea for a hardboiled, adult-oriented western he’d been nursing for several years. Writers John Meston and Norman MacDonald gave him Gunsmoke, a weekly half hour featuring Marshall Matt Dillon, a dedicated lawman who often found himself embroiled in complex moral dilemmas in the violent, frontier town of Dodge City, where he fought stagecoach robbers and cattle rustlers, but also dealt with domestic violence and discrimination. Radio’s Gunsmoke was a hit, probably the last new radio drama to make an impact. It ran for nine seasons on the radio and during that time the legendary Gunsmoke TV series was launched. In the episode “The Cabin,” Matt Dillon, played by William Conrad, near death in a blizzard, seeks shelter in a cabin where two psychotic outlaws are holding a young woman hostage. Like many Gunsmoke radio episodes, this episode was later adapted for the television series. The original Gunsmoke radio show theme music, called “Boothill,” was written by ASCAP member Rex Koury.
Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America, Vol. 1: The Early Years (album), Stan Freberg (1961)
Rumble, rumble, rumble … “Why does history have to be so incredibly boring?” Stan Freberg asked. The subject he failed in high school became a most enviable satirical target in this 1961 album. A uniquely American collection of off-the-wall historical anachronisms, clever puns and wacky tunes, ASCAP member Freberg was first a skilled radio hit-maker, but also an actor and real-life “Mad Man,” credited with bringing polished humor to the world of advertising. Whether he was selling prunes (“today the pits, tomorrow the wrinkles”) or skewering American history, Freberg’s limber vocal impressions were aided and abetted by notable actors such as Paul Frees, June Foray, Jesse White and others. United States of America, Vol. 1 tweaks the early years from Christopher Columbus (singing petulantly of a “Round, Round World”) through George Washington’s victory at Yorktown (a victory due to sound-effect trickery). In Freberg’s universe, absurdity abounds: Betsy Ross does alterations, Washington bargains for boats on the Delaware, and a hep-cat revolutionary war drummer has some complaints about the Yankee Doodle fife-man (“I got a bandage around my ears, but it doesn’t help much.”). Slyly subversive, this album has an enduring comic effect that presages Mel Brooks’ “History of the World” and groups like Firesign Theatre and National Lampoon. It nearly became a David Merrick musical, but instead Freberg released Volume 2 35 years later, using many of the same cast … Mutiny, mutiny, mutiny.
War Requiem (album), Benjamin Britten (1963)
PRS/ASCAP affiliate Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” was commissioned for the 1962 consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral, after the original 14th-century building was destroyed during World War II. The ambitious work combined text and elements from the traditional Latin Mass for the Dead with nine poems written by Wilfred Owen, a World War I soldier who died seven days before the Armistice. The Decca label had intended to record the “War Requiem” premiere at Coventry Cathedral, but there were numerous issues with the production that instead led producer John Culshaw to consider a studio recording under more ideal conditions. Britten himself didn’t regard any of his recordings as definitive, but because of having his choice of singers, conducting the work himself and having great recording quality — even by Decca standards — it has been the benchmark for every other recording or performance of the “War Requiem.” The recording sales exceeded all expectations, in Europe and globally. Decca then had the confidence to record his operas and Britten’s reputation as a great composer was fully acknowledged.
“Mississippi Goddam” (single), Nina Simone (1964)
Written by ASCAP songwriter Nina Simone in response to the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers in Mississippi and the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four young African-American girls, “Mississippi Goddam” is one of the most vital songs to emerge from the Civil Rights era. Though surprisingly upbeat in tempo (Simone said of it, “This is a show tune, but the show hasn’t been written for it yet”), the message of “Mississippi” is brutally clear and addressed racial strife in music without the safety of abstraction and metaphor. Simone often said when introducing the song in concert, “And I mean every word!” Simone’s lyrics and impassioned vocal performance lays out her outrage and though the curse word in its title immediately limited the recording’s radio airplay, the meaning and musicianship of this work has ensured its fame and endurance.
Hair (original Broadway cast recording) (1968)
Hair, the self-proclaimed “Tribal Love-Rock Musical,” was essentially sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in a Broadway show, with the Vietnam War and racial prejudice thrown in for good measure. Given the cultural division of 1968, depending upon which side of the divide one was on, it was, surprisingly or naturally, a hit, running for 1,750 performances. The book and lyrics were written by ASCAP members James Rado and Gerome Ragni, who appeared in the Broadway cast as Claude and Berger, respectively. Galt MacDermot (SOCAN/ASCAP) composed the music. Even leaving politics aside, the Broadway show received some criticism despite its considerable success, such as the complaint that it didn’t have much of a plot or that it was more of a revue than a musical. However, such criticisms are less pertinent to a cast album and they ignore the fact that the songs from Hair are extremely catchy. The musical’s original Broadway cast recording was enormously successful. During 1969, The 5th Dimension (“Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In”); The Cowsills (“Hair”); Three Dog Night (“Easy to Be Hard”) and Oliver (“Good Morning Starshine”) all had major hits with covers of songs from the show. The original LP release omitted a few songs, which were later restored on the CD reissue.
“September” (single), Earth, Wind & Fire (1978)
ASCAP band Earth Wind & Fire’s guitarist Al McKay remembers waking one morning “feeling really good” and picking up his guitar to have the central guitar groove of “September” roll out effortlessly “piece by piece.” When he showed it to Maurice White, the band’s leader and co-writer on the track, White wrote the opening lyric after only a few repetitions. The immediate, buoyant and upbeat mood of this beginning remained imprinted on the track through the final mix and these attributes explain much of its enduring appeal. White also singles out Thomas “Tom-Tom” Washington’s Latin-tinged horn arrangement with opening fanfare and the nonsense “ba-dee-ya” vocalization as contributing to the “feel-good, anthemic qualities” that the band strove for in their songs of the time. The pioneering multi-track techniques employed on this recording sustained the deep groove for which the band was noted. The synthesis of funk, falsetto and forward-driving momentum of just a few chords are powered by the clarity of the individual channels and the punctuation of the horns.
“You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” (single), Sylvester (1978)
Disco was at its peak of popularity in late 1978 when ASCAP member Sylvester (aka, Sylvester James, Jr., The Fabulous Sylvester) released “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).” His urgent falsetto reflected his childhood background in both African-American gospel music and his work as a drag performer in San Francisco. To some, “You Make Me…” was evidence that disco was just a mass-produced sound, lacking in depth or personality although, to others, Sylvester’s highly personal and emotional performance gave it gravitas while also pushing gender-bending (which Sylvester reveled in) further into the musical mainstream. Patrick Cowley’s production anticipated later developments in electronic dance music. Together, the result was an anthem that has since been successfully covered many times.
Schoolhouse Rock!: The Box Set (1996)
Schoolhouse Rock is well remembered as a series of short animated programs that aired on ABC television starting in 1973. They featured infectiously catchy songs cleverly explaining important educational concepts such as multiplication and grammar. The recordings began as an experiment by advertising executive David McCall to help his son remember his multiplication tables as easily as he remembered the lyrics to his favorite pop songs. McCall then enlisted ASCAP jazz pianist Bob Dorough’s songwriting and singing talents and the result was the song “Three is a Magic Number.” Partnering later with ASCAP songwriters Tom Yohe and George Newall, a series of song and animations were crafted on various subjects for Saturday morning broadcasts, including “I’m Just a Bill,” “Conjunction Junction,” “Elbow Room” and “Interjections!” The programs aired for 12 years. They might have fallen off the radar if not for the reissues produced by Kid Rhino Records in the 1990s followed by a complete box set of the songs in 1996. Parents who grew up watching the cartoons could play the songs for their children in the car, keeping the music alive and relevant for another generation.
The Blueprint (album), Jay-Z (2001)
As ASCAP hip-hop superstar Jay-Z’s fame and mainstream popularity grew, he became a tempting target for other hip-hop artists and his credibility came under threat. He was also facing charges relating to assault and weapons possession that could have dramatically affected his life and career. There was a lot riding on the success of his sixth album, The Blueprint, when it was released on Sept. 11, 2001, the same day as the devastating terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Critics recognized it as a signature achievement. Neil Strauss, writing for Rolling Stone, believed “personal and legal problems have provoked Jay-Z to write what may be his most personal, straightforward album, but also his most self-aggrandizing work.” The Blueprint demonstrates Jay-Z’s range, from battle raps throwing shade on his lyrical adversaries such as Nas and Prodigy of Mobb Deep, to triumphant anthems about life at the top, to heartfelt examinations of his personal history.