By Ray McDonald
James H. Billington, I salute you. Mr. Billington is the United States Librarian of Congress, and among his duties is the annual selection of 25 recordings for the National Recording Registry. Recognized for their cultural, artistic, and historic importance, they run the gamut from the earliest recorded sounds to magnificent musical achievements.
Being a rock fan, I’ve always been impressed with Mr. Billington’s wide-ranging tastes, but this month he’s outdone himself. In cooperation with the National Recording Preservation Board — a panel consisting of musicians, musicologists, archivists, and others within the recording industry — the 83-year-old academic has anointed some of my favorite recordings. First — and I’m going chronologically here — comes Simon & Garfunkel’s breakout single “The Sound of Silence.” Written in response to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, it topped the U-S pop singles chart in 1966. Perhaps the ultimate folk-rock song, it captured the zeitgeist of its time – and was used to great effect in the equally era-defining movie “The Graduate.” Art Garfunkel has some nice things to say about its selection here.
In 1973, Pink Floyd released what I consider its greatest album, “The Dark Side Of The Moon.” Its selection in the Registry is especially fitting, as the album celebrates its 40th birthday this month. Stunning in every respect — lyrically, musically, and sonically — it has sold around 50 million copies worldwide, and remained on the United States album chart for from 1973 to 1988: 741 weeks! If you want to know all there is to know about “The Dark Side Of The Moon,” then head here.
If “The Sound of Silence” captured a particular cultural moment in 1966, then 1977 belonged to “Saturday Night Fever.” Premiering in December of that year, this cinematic look at the urban disco subculture grossed more than 200 million dollars worldwide, and transformed John Travolta’s white disco suit into a fetish object. The soundtrack sold more than 40 million copies and catapulted the Bee Gees to superstardom.
There’s so much more to explore in this year’s list: the 1976 debut album from punk pioneers The Ramones; Chubby Checker’s dance hit “The Twist”; multi-instrumentalist Ornette Coleman’s trailblazing “The Shape Of Jazz To Come,” and the recently departed Van Cliburn’s 1958 rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Head here for a full list of these audio treasures – and pause to thank Mr. Billington while you’re at it.