Library of Congress press release announcing the 2013 Registry.
Click on an underlined title to hear an audio sample.
Audio montage for the 2013 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:
George W. Johnson was the first African American to make commercial records; he began in 1890. Born near Wheatland, Virginia, Johnson made his living as a street singer during the 1870s, busking in New York City. “The Laughing Song” was Johnson’s most famous and long-lived number. This familiar sounding and uncomplicated tune was sung by Johnson in a down-home, gruff baritone and completed with his infectious laughter, all remarkably free of the caricature and forced dialect that marked most African American-themed material of the period. “Laughing Song” was tremendously successful, with versions released in the US and Europe. With its ragtime-imbued accompaniment, its stature is inestimable: here is perhaps the most popular recording of the 1890s, and probably the first “hit” sung by an African American.
Elegant, charming and unexpected, Jerome Kern’s “They Didn’t Believe Me” was a late arrival—or interpolation—into the musical “The Girl from Utah.” Its appearance marked a turning point in American theater music and popular song. Its melody has been described as “natural as walking,” free from the formal-sounding, stilted phrases and form that typified most show music of the period. The song quickly became an enormous hit and greatly accelerated Kern’s career. This recording by Macdonough and Green (nee Olive Kline) is the first known recording of the song and represents well its forward-looking informality. Although the song” is in standard eight-measure phrases, the melody and words (by Herbert Reynolds) fall into delightful anacrusis, and the singers create a relaxed, free-flowing effect.
"Brother, Can You Spare a Dime." Bing Crosby; Rudy Vallee. (both 1932)
Composed by Jay Gorney and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” was the show-stopping number of the 1932, Depression-era musical “American Revue.” The minor-key melody, according to Gorney, was inspired by a Yiddish lullaby. The song’s lyrics underscored the irony of Depression-era American working class who had once built railroads and fought wars only to now find themselves waiting in bread lines. With its bittersweet melody and bold, unsentimental lyrics, this arresting anthem to America’s “forgotten man” became a major hit. Recordings by Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee—both issued the same year—were best sellers and emphasized the song’s strengths in different ways. Crosby’s nuanced baritone played to the song’s drama; his use of rubato during the verse being especially effective. On the other hand, Vallee’s light tenor is more emotionally removed and allows the song to stand more on its own merits.
Franz Boas is considered the father of American anthropology and is the founder of both the American Anthology Association and the American Folklore Society. In 1938, Boas and his former student, ethnomusicology pioneer George Herzog, recorded 22 aluminum discs of the Kwakwaka’wakw (sometimes spelled “Kwakiutl”) chief Dan Cranmer. Cranmer had been jailed in Canada in the 1920s for carrying on his people’s potlatch traditions, which were still being suppressed in the 1930s. Cranmer’s recordings for Boas and Herzog documented the tribe’s native language and the songs, speeches, games, feasts and ceremonies of the potlatch. Today, only about 5,500 Kwakwaka’wakw tribespeople remain in British Columbia with only about 250 of them still fluent in the tribe’s original language.
"Were You There." Roland Hayes. (1940)
Lyric tenor Roland Hayes was the child of former slaves and from an early age sang spirituals in church. As a young man, he studied European concert vocal techniques and refined his approach to spirituals as a member of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. In recitals, he regularly performed a mixture of spiritual and classical repertoire, eventually garnering considerable fame. Hayes recorded extensively, but his 1940 unaccompanied rendition of the spiritual “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)” may be his finest moment on record, and remains hauntingly moving over seventy years later.
"The Goldbergs." Sammy Goes into the Army. (July 9, 1942)
This pioneering, classic radio program was created, written, produced by and stared Gertrude Berg in the role of Molly Goldberg. It is the second longest running program in radio history (1929-1946) and was later transferred to television. “The Goldbergs”—mother Molly, husband Jake, children Sammy and Rosie—concerned a Jewish immigrant family’s struggle in adapting to the perplexities of American life while also charting their upward progression which mirrored many American families. Along the way, Molly’s malapropisms became famous along with her “yoo-hoo” greeting, her gentle meddling, and her common sense. This episode deals with the shared sacrifices all Americans were making during World War II, and was broadcast live from the middle of New York’s Grand Central Station. As her son, Sammy, boards a train for the Army, Molly comforts another anxious mother with wartime wisdom and touching humanity.
"Caldonia." Louis Jordan. (1945)
Vocalist and alto saxophonist Louis Jordan left the Chick Webb Orchestra in 1938 and started his own small group devoted to the jump blues style. By the mid-1940s he had achieved unparalleled crossover success. Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five scored national hits in the “race,” country and pop markets with their infectious, driving performances of Jordan’s sharp, witty songs, and were an important influence on early rock and roll. “Caldonia,” one of Jordan’s biggest hits, is a swinging, up-tempo, dance tune which may be best remembered for its comedic, shouted punch line, “Caldonia! Caldonia! What makes your big head so hard?”
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"Dust My Broom." Elmore James. (1951)
Several versions of “Dust My Broom” had been released by 1951 when Elmore James made this landmark 78-rpm recording for the Trumpet label. Though the song wasn’t new, his sound was. James replaced the acoustic, solo blues of Robert Johnson with an electric blues band. James is known to have tinkered with his guitar pickups and fans still argue about how he achieved his signature sound. Whatever combination of guitar and pickup was used in his slide guitar opening, Elmore James created the most recognizable guitar riff in the history of the blues. The influence of “Dust My Broom” has been widespread and long-lasting. Many blues and rock artists has since covered “Dust My Broom” in the Elmore James arrangement, including Hound Dog Taylor, J.B. Hutto, and the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac, featuring slide guitar by Jeremy Spencer. James later recorded “Dust My Broom” for other labels, often under different titles including “Dust My Blues” or “I Believe,” but his signature treatment of the song began with this 1951 Trumpet version.
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"A Night at Birdland" (Volumes 1 and 2) (albums). Art Blakey. (1954)
Art Blakey, through his energetic drumming and inspiring leadership, helped solidify bebop and hard bop’s mid-‘50s takeover of the jazz mainstream. “A Night at Birdland” documents the inspired, high-energy live performances of Blakey and this early incarnation of the Jazz Messengers which included co-leader Horace Silver, Clifford Brown and Lou Donaldson. The momentum that drives these performances comes from Blakey--his flawless timing and energy on the drums which pushes Brown and Donaldson to soar to new improvisational heights on their solos. Meanwhile, Silver’s bluesy approach to piano revolutionized small group jazz playing. All together, the ensemble became the architects of a new, modern musical language, one that is fully captured on this recording.
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"When I Stop Dreaming." The Louvin Brothers. (1955)
The Louvin Brothers were almost defiantly out of step with the country music world of the mid-50s. Ira’s high lonesome leads and Charlie’s high tenor descants were the sounds of an earlier era, but they were well served by modern recording techniques which captured every nuance of their harmonies. “When I Stop Dreaming,” an almost fatalistic song of lost love that they wrote, was their commercial breakthrough, and the first of a series of classic recordings they made over the next eight years, until the termination of their musical partnership in 1963.
"Cathy's Clown. " The Everly Brothers. (1960)
In 1960, the Everly Brothers moved to a new label, Warner Bros., and wanted their first release for them to be a hit. Their first record for Warners would become their biggest success. “Cathy’s Clown” was written by Don and Phil Everly. Its subject matter was inspired by a high school girlfriend of Don’s; its sound by Grofe’s “Grand Canyon Suite.” Recorded in the legendary RCA Studio B in Nashville, engineer Bill Porter used a tape loop on the drums to give the impression of two drummers. Porter got the song’s distinctive vocal sound by having the Everlys sing into one microphone, then feeding that single through a massive plate reverb unit. Porter later admitted, to get the sound he wanted, he tightened the reverb springs to the point of breakage. The Beatles, who had been so influenced by the Everlys’s harmonizing that they once considered calling themselves “the Foreverly Brothers,” cited “Cathy’s Clown” as an inspiration for “Please Please Me.”
"Texas Sharecropper and Songster" (album). Mance Lipscomb. (1960)
Mance Lipscomb, was born in 1895 in Navasota, Texas. His father was a former slave who took up the fiddle after the Civil War, his mother, a half Choctaw gospel singer. Lipscomb played guitar and wrote songs from his teens, but never recorded until this 1960 session, done in his kitchen, that resulted in this album, the first LP released by Arhoolie Records. A proud man, Lipscomb disliked the term “sharecropper,” preferring to think of himself simply as a farmer, and the word was later dropped from the title of CD reissues. Although he was influenced by such artists as Blind Willie Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lipscomb didn’t consider himself a blues musician and preferred the term “songster” which better conveyed his wide-ranging repertoire of over 300 songs. After the success of this album, Lipscomb became a regular on the folk festival circuit. On this album, Lipscomb plays fingerstyle guitar, except for when he uses a jackknife to play slide guitar on Jefferson’s “Jack O’ Diamonds.”
"The First Family" (album). (1962)
Written by Bob Brooker and Earle Doud and performed by comic impressionist Vaughn Meader and a small cast, “The First Family” (recorded in October, 1962) presented a series of comedy skits about President John F. Kennedy and his family. The album broke new ground in political humor and was, at one time, the industry’s fastest and best selling comedy album. The recording was a gentle parody which poked fun at the Presidential family, the family’s famous football games, and Mrs. Kennedy’s White House redecoration project. Previously, hit comedy albums tended to be recordings of live stand-up performances. Following the success of “First Family,” many producers began to create studio albums of comedy sketches. Unfortunately, the album’s legacy and ongoing success (and Meader’s career) was cut short by the President’s assassination in November of the following year. Following the assassination, all copies of the disc were withdrawn.
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Lawrence Ritter's Interviews with Baseball Pioneers of the Late 19th and Early 20th Century. (1962-1966)
It was Lawrence Ritter’s great love and reverence for baseball that prompted him to travel for five years and over 75,000 miles interviewing professional ballplayers from the early years of the game. His 1966 book, “The Glory of Their Time: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It,” was based on interviews Ritter conducted with such greats as Smoky Joe Wood, Chief Meyers, Sam Crawford, Rube Marquard, Babe Herman, and Bill Wambsganss, among others. These 26 oral histories offer a rare glimpse into the early days of baseball and the men who played the game. Ritter, a professor of economics and finance at New York University, had an “open-end” interview style giving players a comfortable space to recollect about their careers. A true fan, he split all the royalties from his book with the players and their survivors for 20 years after its publication.
While every president from Roosevelt to Nixon have recorded some of their conversations, Lyndon Johnson’s were the only ones to comprehensively cover his complete term of office. A master deal maker, Johnson left little on paper to document his political prowess but his recorded conversations over the telephone--his favored instrument of communication--allow listeners today to witness him cajole and cogitate in real time. The 9,400 telephone conversations and 77 cabinet room meetings captured here for posterity comprise nearly 850 hours, documenting both major and minor policy initiatives. The tapes cover Johnson’s efforts for civil rights legislation, his maneuvers for Vietnam military action, and his efforts to initiate the War on Poverty. The LBJ recordings, as professor Guian A. McKee has written, uniquely present “a record of the president’s words and thought, direct, unmediated, and unfiltered, at least by anyone other than himself.”
"Carnegie Hall Concert with Buck Owens and His Buckaroos" (album). Buck Owens and His Buckaroos. (1966)
By the mid-1960s, Buck Owens was known for a number of hits and as the progenitor of the Bakersfield sound. This new sound sought to move country music away from the lush arrangements characteristic of most Nashville artists and to return it to traditional bands (without orchestration) playing honky-tonk and proto-rock and roll. Allaying Owens's initial fear that New Yorkers would dislike his music, the band sold out their 1966 Carnegie Hall show. The program featured rollicking versions of “Act Naturally” and “Love’s Gonna Live Here Again,” each enhanced by guitarist Don Rich’s crisp percussive licks and drummer Willie Cantu show-stopping raucousness. The tear jerkers, “In the Palm of Your Hand” and “Cryin’ Time,” allowed steel player Tom Brumley to add soulful accents while Owens’s vocals edged dangerously close to melodrama. The audience offered a standing ovation and a later critic astutely observed that they had witnessed “an inspired man render[ing] the greatest performance of his life.”
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"Fortunate Son." Creedence Clearwater Revival. (1969)
Released in 1969, during the height of the Vietnam War, “Fortunate Son” wasn’t a protest against the war itself but against the system that determined who would fight it. CCR’s John Fogerty got the title from the term “favorite son,” a phrase often used at political conventions. Fogerty said, “I wrote the music for the song that I was calling ‘Fortunate Son’ without actually knowing what the lyrics were. I rehearsed the band for a few weeks and, at some point, realized I was ready to write the words. I went into my bedroom…and wrote the whole song in twenty minutes.” Since then, the wars may have changed but the resonance of “Fortunate Son” has not, as evidenced by a version Fogerty recorded with the Foo Fighters in 2013, a full 40 years after the original. In a “Rolling Stone” 40th anniversary review, critic Barry Walters gave Fogerty credit for writing “…a protest song that makes you wanna dance.”
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"Theme from 'Shaft'" (album). Isaac Hayes. (1971)
After several years behind the scenes as a writer and producer at Stax Records in Memphis, Isaac Hayes broke through as a solo artist with a series of albums that featured his lengthy, multi-layered compositions and distinctive speaking and singing styles. In 1971, after the Hollywood recording sessions for his soundtrack to “Shaft,” a groundbreaking film about an African-American private detective caught between the mob and the police, Hayes returned to Memphis and created this double album. Hayes enhanced and expanded his earlier work as he saw fit, and created a listening experience as innovative and exciting as the film itself, leading off with an unforgettable opening theme highlighted by Charles Pitts’s wah-wah guitar and Hayes’s sexy banter with a female chorus.
"Only Visiting This Planet" (album). Larry Norman. (1972)
“Only Visiting This Planet” is the key work in the early history of Christian rock. Norman was a veteran of the American rock scene of the 1960s (as well as a street corner evangelist) and his songs were musically assured and socially aware. Many earlier efforts in this genre concentrated on joyful affirmations of faith, but Norman also commented on the world as he saw it from his position as a passionate, idiosyncratic outsider to mainstream churches. “Only Visiting This Planet” was recorded at George Martin’s AIR studio in London with a group of top studio musicians that included John Wetton of King Crimson (and, later, Asia) on bass. The album set new production standards for Christian music. For some, Norman and his work are still controversial, but, regardless, his influence remains strong.
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"Celia & Johnny" (album). Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco. (1974)
Cuba’s Celia Cruz was a dominant artist in the Afro-Cuban scene of the 1950s, when she sang with the great Sonora Matancera band. She came to America in 1962, and did well initially but, by the early 1970s, Latin styles nurtured in the US were dominant, and her career entered a slump. For this mid-‘70s album, rather than recreate the large orchestras that Cruz usually fronted, New York based bandleader and co-founder of the Fania Records label Johnny Pacheco assembled a small group that included pianist Papo Lucca, tres player Charlie Martinez, and several percussionists, including himself. This proved to be the perfect setting for Cruz to reach a newer and younger audience while simultaneously remaining true to her roots. And she responded with some of the most inspired singing of her career, especially in “Celia & Johnny’s” many improvised passages. The album’s opening rumba, “Quimbara,” was a huge dance floor hit and Cruz was soon acclaimed as the Queen of Salsa.
"Copland Conducts Copland: Appalachian Spring" (album). Aaron Copland. (1974)
In 1942, with funding from the Coolidge Foundation, Martha Graham commissioned Aaron Copland to write a score for a ballet that told a story set in 19th century rural Pennsylvania. Because of space limitations at the intended venture—the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress—Copland had to score the work for a chamber orchestra of only 13 instruments. Throughout the composition process, Copland thought of the work as “Ballet for Martha.” Shortly before its 1944 premiere, Graham, inspired by a Hart Crane poem, renamed it “Appalachian Spring.” In 1945, Copland reconfigured the ballet into an orchestral suite of which numerous recordings have been made, and which have been hailed for its rich symphonic vision of early America. But this 1974 release, with the composer conducting the Columbia Chamber Orchestra, was the first commercial recording of the original version, and is memorable for restoring the intimacy and charm of the 13 player score, as well as for the vibrant and haunting textures that Copland and the smaller ensemble achieved.
"Heart Like a Wheel" (album). Linda Ronstadt. (1974)
In the 1970s, a decade which saw the ascendance of singer-songwriters, Linda Ronstadt was a bit of an anomaly. Primarily an interpreter, she was blessed with excellent taste in song selection and the talent to put her own stamp on each of her covers. Ronstadt’s fifth solo album, “Heart Like a Wheel,” continued her tradition of eclecticism and contained covers of songs by Hank Williams, Paul Anka, and Little Feat’s Lowell George. “Heart” also shows a keen ear for new material, such as the achingly beautiful title track by Anna McGarrigle. What made “Heart Like a Wheel” different from Ronstadt’s previous efforts was the addition of producer Peter Asher, who had been crucial to the career of James Taylor, and the addition of Andrew Gold, who not only arranged the music, but also played several instruments on the album sessions.
"Sweeney Todd" (album). Original cast recording. (1979)
In reviewing the cast album for “Sweeney Todd,” critic John Rockwell characterized Stephen Sondheim’s work as “complex mosaics, built up of bits and pieces of tunes.” The recording, Rockwell suggested, allows a listener a better chance to more fully appreciate such construction than a spectator in the theater, where elements of the production vie with music for attention. A moral tale presented in the form of a horror story--a wronged barber partners with an amoral businesswoman to make meat pies out of clients--the show ultimately dramatizes the value of human life. Thomas Z. Shepard, the record’s producer, stated that he conceived of this work “to a large degree, as re-creating an old-time radio program.... You should be able to close your eyes and get a fairly satisfying dramatic experience.” Known for the meticulousness with which he oversaw recordings of his shows, Sondheim contributed greatly during “Sweeney’s” recording session. Upon listening to the final product, he was moved to tears.
"The Joshua Tree" (album). U2. (1987)
Brian Eno, co-producer and creative guru for this album, has stated that “Joshua Tree” erupted from the creative tension existing in the music of the time--between the “revolutionary form of passionate agitprop art” enacted by punk groups like The Clash and the robotic electronic pop of bands like Kraftwerk. “Joshua Tree’s” passion and engagement were from punk; its overt electronic sounds were from synth pop, but with the latter genre's careful calculation replaced here by “the sound of machinery being pushed to its limits.” In this case, the specific machinery being tortured is The Edge's amplifier on “Bullet the Blue Sky.” It is driven by slide guitar and excessive gain in order to emit controlled feedback which manages aptly to serve the song's melody and anti-colonial lyrics. Elsewhere, most notably on the songs “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “With or Without You,” the guitarist perfects the chiming delayed guitar sound that syncs the rhythm section and complements Bono's impassioned vocals. This combination would henceforth form the band's signature sound and the album on which it gelled remains an enduring classic.
"Hallelujah." Jeff Buckley. (1994)
“Hallelujah” is the rare song that has graduated from being a well-known standard to attaining the status of a cultural phenomenon. Leonard Cohen developed the song over a long period, writing numerous verses, but never creating a fixed version, and Jeff Buckley drew his initial inspiration from a version that John Cale formulated for a Cohen tribute album. He rehearsed the song for years in live performances before engaging in a painstaking recording session that required re-recordings, alternate takes and overdubs to fully satisfy him. The arrangement is a spare one, including just a reverb-drenched Telecaster and Buckley’s closely-mic'd voice. The intimacy of the recording, coupled with Buckley’s quietly dexterous skill at holding and bending notes, has enhanced the song’s deep meaning in both public and private commemorations of grief, piety and celebration. Buckley's version fueled the dispersion of the song widely, and it has been looped beneath news coverage of 9/11, on film soundtracks and in television dramas, as well as for weddings, funerals, disaster benefits and religious services.