Last week, the National Recording Registry — the audio equivalent of the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry — announced its 25 new inductees. (The full Registry list — 300 items — is here.) The Registry’s stated mission is to “maintain and preserve sound recordings and collections of sound recordings that are culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” That explains the presence of stuff like field recordings of the Marines fighting in Guam during World War II alongside more obvious fare, such as Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning,” Bill Cosby’s debut, the second album by the Band, Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger, Patti Smith’s Horses, R.E.M.’s “Radio Free Europe,” and 2Pac’s “Dear Mama.”
Clearly we love lists at Flavorwire, so we’ve decided to offer our own selection of culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant recordings that should be in the Registry, stat. (Anybody who wishes can nominate up to 50 items; instructions are here.) Most of these are pretty obvious, but we’ve added notes for further explanation. And of course, we’re eager to hear your own choices in the comments. Which recordings helped shape American culture as we know it today — or knew it yesterday? Here are 25 that have impacted us all, whether we know it or not.
1. Pauline Kael, KPFA reviews (late 1950s)
America’s greatest film critic (and one of the last century’s great writing stylists of any sort) reigned at The New Yorker for a quarter-century, starting in 1967, but she first earned notice as the sharp-tongued (and pleasantly-voiced) commentator on Berkeley’s Pacifica Radio station. Many of these commentaries were collected in Kael’s first book, I Lost It at the Movies (1965).
2. Bo Diddley, “Who Do You Love?” (1956)
Probably the greatest rock and roll record of the 1950s — and if you said “of all time,” we couldn’t disagree.
3. The Everly Brothers, “All I Have to Do Is Dream” (1958)
Probably the greatest rock and roll ballad of the 1950s — and if you said “of all time,” we couldn’t disagree.
4. Henry Mancini, “Theme From Peter Gunn” (1959)
The greatest TV theme of all time, and the musical definition of noir.
5. Barrett Strong, “Money (That’s What I Want)” (1959)
The first indisputable Motown classic, co-written by Berry Gordy, this uber-American anthem has been covered by everyone from the Beatles to the Flying Lizards, but the original remains singularly ferocious.