Holy listicle, Batman.
Beginning in 2002, the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress has been adding 25 new titles to its official listing of recordings it hails for "showcasing the range and diversity of American recorded sound heritage." The most recent batch of nominees offers insight into the breadth and depth of the Registry, with recordings by the likes of Sonny Rollins, Big Mama Thornton, Wes Montgomery, David Bowie, Wilson Pickett, Talking Heads, and Renee Fleming, among others, getting the nod.
Taking in the entire registry in a single pass, one feels strangely humbled and detects a feeling resembling pride. Strange, this feeling, since the reader of the list did nothing to earn it. And yet, when you look at these 15 years' worth of inductions into the National Registry, you can’t help but be struck by the enormity of artistic actualization that is being represented. You are offered an image of an America that is vast, variegated, and strengthened by its creative diversity. You also realize that many of the recordings inducted here weren't made by Americans, exclusively. And yet, we have opened our arms and our hearts to them. We've adopted them. They're part of our cultural fabric.
Lists being lists, and 21st century human nature being what it is, the temptation to criticize and editorialize when reading the Registry is great. I'm an under-my-breath-mumbler when I read, and I had much to mumble about when I scrolled through the Registry.
How can Barbra Streisand's "People" be in there, and Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" not?
Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" single has been venerated, but Big Star's '#1 Record' is nowhere to be found?
Metallica's "Master of Puppets" is there, rightly, but nothing from Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath?
And zero Led Zeppelin? Really?
That said, a particularly virulent strain of Troll-ism would be necessary to truly find fault with a Registry that includes John Coltrane, the Velvet Underground, Ray Charles, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Radiohead, and a recording of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. If you made a playlist out of all 375 recordings in the Registry to date, you would have an audio cross-section of American culture.
The good news for music lovers is that your vote truly matters to the Registry folks. All members of the public are not only allowed, but actively encouraged to join in the nomination process. So if, for example, you believe that the obscure Skip Spence of Moby Grape's freak-folk solo album "Oar" belongs in the Library of Congress Registry, you can make your voice heard here. The only requirements are that the recording be at least 10 years old, and that it actually exists – i.e., no "lost recordings" are eligible. (Note to my boss, if he's reading this: Please do not exercise your right to nominate Ray Parker Jr.'s "Ghostbusters." Step away from the keyboard, slowly ... )
While this hardly qualifies as a redress of grievances, here are 10 recordings I plan to nominate for the 2017 Registry induction.
Miles Davis, Bitches Brew (1970, Jazz)
A game-changer. Influenced everything that came after it, not just jazz.
Bill Evans Trio with Symphony Orchestra (1966, Jazz)
The most elegant jazz pianist of them all, working with arranger Claus Ogerman. Truly beautiful stuff.
Grateful Dead, American Beauty (1970, Rock)
Even people who "hate the Dead" acknowledge the soulful majesty of this record.
Muddy Waters, Electric Mud (1970, Blues)
This is acid blues of the first order, and Pete Cosey's guitar playing is just plain spellbinding throughout.
The The, Mind Bomb (1989, Rock)
This album is eerily prescient, on top of being just plain awesome. A snapshot of the end-days of the Cold War, with a sinister hint that worse was to come.
Little Richard, Here's Little Richard (1957, Rock)
Richard has only a single song in the Registry. This whole album deserves inclusion.
Sam Cooke, Night Beat (1963, R&B)
The voice. Just ask Steve Perry. Or anyone else with a pair of ears and a heartbeat.
Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffitti (1975, Rock)
I mean, duh!
Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Inner Mounting Flame (1971, Jazz-Fusion)
This will still peel the paint off your walls, and maybe your neighbors' walls, too.
Tool, Lateralus (2001, Rock)
For me, the ultimate in heavy progressive music.