2021 NRR Nominees: Macintosh Plus, Carl Sagan, Barack Obama, and More…
Other nominees for this year include Stan Lee, SWV, and Britney Spears
It’s that time of year again, folks. Every year, the Library of Congress selects 25 American recordings to be preserved in its National Recording Registry (NRR), which are historically, culturally, or aesthetically significant to American life. The American public can nominate up to 50 recordings each year for preservation, provided that they are at least 10 years old.
2020 NRR Nominees: “Pulp Fiction”, “Like A Virgin”, “Stan”, And More…
It’s that time of year again, folks.
Last year’s inductees included Kermit the Frog’s “The Rainbow Connection”, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, Nas’s Illmatic, Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World”, Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade”, and an 1878 recording of Thomas Edison’s voice, the oldest playable American recording.
Now, without any further ado, onto the nominees:
Floral Shoppe (album)
Artist: Macintosh Plus (Vektroid/Ramona Xavier)
Label: Beer on the Rug
Year of Release: 2011
While Floral Shoppe is not the first album in the vaporwave genre, it was probably the first one many heard, and remains among its most popular and iconic. Vaporwave is an Internet genre that plays on nostalgia for the 1980s and 1990s. It remixes slowed-down samples of old pop songs, such as Japanese city pop, with tempos which evoke ambience music and elevator muzak. Sound effects from old commercials or computer startups are also thrown in for nostalgic effect. The genre also has a satirical approach towards consumer capitalism, celebrating as well as scrutinizing the excess of advertisements in the 1980s and 1990s.
The artist behind Floral Shoppe, Vektroid (Ramona Xavier), went by the name “Macintosh Plus” for the album, which invokes early computers and the birth of the Internet. The album art itself was an innovator in the vaporwave “aesthetic”, utilizing bright pink colors, Classical Greek sculptures, the Japanese language, and pre-9/11 Manhattan. The music itself has an overriding theme of romantic longing and unrequited passion.
Perhaps the most famous track “リサフランク420/現代のコンピュー” (“Lisa Frank 420 / Modern Computing”). Sampling Diana Ross’ “It’s Your Move”, the song moves at a slow, but relaxing tempo, emphasizing the beat that resembles ticking clock, and a psychedelic ambience. Other tracks on the album are similarly surreal tracks include “花の専門店” (“Floral Shoppe”), which mimics the glitched sound of a skipping record, and “ライブラリ” (Library”) which leans heavily into the 80’s nostalgia. Other notable tracks are “ECCOと悪寒ダイビン” (“Chill Divin’ with ECCO”) which utilizes music from the Ecco The Dolphin video game for a futuristic tune. The track may also be a reference to the seapunk genre. The last track, “て” (“Te”), is very different from others, using the chirping of birds to conjure images of the natural world.
“The Pale Blue Dot (short recording)”
Speaker: Carl Sagan
Date Recorded: 1994 (est)
Carl Sagan was one of America’s most important scientists and educators. Like Dan Q. Posin, Isaac Asimov, and Richard Dawkins, he pioneered the art of explaining the complex mysteries of science to a layman audience. Though far from embodying the stereotype of scientists as cold and unfeeling folk, Sagan imbibed his scientific observations with compassion and poetry.
Nowhere is this better displayed than with his immortal recording “The Pale Blue Dot.” In this speech, Sagan reflects on 1990 photograph taken of Earth by Voyager 1. He notes how small the Earth seems in the vastness of the universe, and that this perspective shows how insignificant our conflicts and our arrogance seem. As well how urgent it is to keep the only planet we live on habitable.
This specific recording of “A Pale Blue Dot” is already a part of the Seth McFarlane Collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive in the Library of Congress.
The pale blue dot : short recording
The Library of Congress has digitized various items from numerous Library of Congress collections to create the online…
“A More Perfect Union”
Speaker: Barack Obama
Year Recorded: March 18, 2008
President Barack Obama is well-known for the many speeches had given over the course of his presidency, such as his 2004 speech at the DNC and his eulogy at Clementa Pickney’s funeral. Though perhaps his most important is a speech he gave in response to the controversial statements made by Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. In this speech, Obama condemns the remarks of his pastor, but contextualizes these remarks by explaining the long history of racism which still affects African-Americans in the United States. He speaks with nuance of Wright, saying that his character represents the very contradictions of the African-American community itself. He ultimately asked Americans to use this opportunity to solve the racial divisions in the country and move towards “a more perfect union.” The speech is widely credited with helping Obama win the presidency in 2008.
“Voices of Marvel”
Speakers: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, Don Heck, Flo Steinberg, Sam Rosen, Art Simek, etc.
Date of Release: 1964–1965 (est)
In the 1960s, the Silver Age of Marvel comics had produced popular characters such as the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The Avengers, Doctor Strange, and the X-Men. During this time, from 1964 until 1969, Marvel readers could join a fan club known as the Merry Marvel Marching Society (M.M.M.S.). Those who joined this club received various items such as T-shirts, certificates, and most memorably, a record labeled “The Voices of Marvel.” On this record, we can hear the rare voices of those who worked on Marvel, such as Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Artie Simek, Flo Steinberg, Don Heck, and Wally Wood, as they humorously introduce themselves to the fans. The secretive Steve Ditko, of course, jumps out window before his voice can be recorded. This track remains a valuable record of America’s pop culture history.
The Voices of Marvel Comics - courtesy of the Merry Marvel Marching Society.
espite my uncanny knowledge of the recording industry and its history, I was until recently unaware that, in the 1960s…
“Right Here (Human Nature Remix)”
Album: It’s About Time
Date Recorded: 1993
Date Released: July 10, 1993
SWV’s 1993 remix of their earlier R&B hit “Right Here”, famously utilized a sample from Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.” Jackson’s vocals provided a lovely backdrop for the harmonious vocals of SWV. It proved to be far more popular than the original, with Billboard eventually naming it as the 17th greatest girl group song of all time. It is a great example of sampling and female vocal talent in 90’s R&B. The song also features the voice of a young Pharrell Williams.
“…Baby One More Time”
Artist: Britney Spears
Album: …Baby One More Time
Date Recorded: May 1998
Date Released: September 28, 1998
“…Baby One More Time” was the debut single of Britney Spears, who went to become one of the most famous pop stars of the 1990s and early 2000s. The song remains one of the most popular and influential debuts of all time, highlighting Spears’ vocal talent and sex appeal, in what is a quintessential teen pop hit.
Full 2021 NRR Nominee List
- Pulp Fiction (soundtrack) (1994)
- “Like A Virgin” (1984)
- “Stan” (2000)
- “The Ballot or the Bullet” (1964)
- “The Whisper of AIDS” (1992)
- “Sunshine Of Your Love” (1968)
- “Ohio” (1970)
- “Juicy” (1994)
- “White Rabbit” (1967)
- Boston (album) (1976)
- “Freebird” (1974)
- The United States of America (album) (1968)
- Relentless (album) (1992)
- “The Perils of Indifference” (1999)
- “Chop Suey!” (2001)
- “Black Hole Sun” (1994)
- “Wake Up” (1992)
- “Three Skeleton Key” (1950)
- “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” (1995)
- “Eight Miles High” (1966)
- “Shapes of Things” (1966)
- “Pokemon Theme” (1999)
- Floral Shoppe (album) (2011)
- “The Pale Blue Dot (short recording)” (1994 est.)
- “A More Perfect Union” (2008)
- “Voices of Marvel” (1964–1965 est.)
- “Right Here (Human Nature Remix)” (1993)
- “…Baby One More Time” (1998)
Previous NRR Nominee Justifications
- Pulp Fiction (soundtrack)
Artist: Various, including Dick Dale and Samuel L. Jackson
Release Date: September 27, 1994
The soundtrack for the film Pulp Fiction is a watershed mix-tape of American pop culture. The song features hip-hop “Jungle Boogie”, classic rock and roll “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon”, country throwback, “Son of a Preacher Man,” and surfer rock, “Misirlou”/”Surf Rider.” The album also contains some of the best dialogue ever recorded, in particular, Samuel L. Jackson’s famous “Ezekiel 25:17” speech.
2. “Like A Virgin.”
Album: Like A Virgin
Release Date: November 6, 1984
Label: Sire, Warner Bros.
Alongside Michael Jackson and Prince, Madonna was one of the premiere pop artists of the 1980’s. “Like A Virgin” is the single that helped propel the pop star into the mainstream. Controversial on its release for its sexually-charged lyrics which have been debated and discussed (most famously in Reservoir Dogs), Madonna helped redefine the image of women in American music, as well as in American culture.
Album: Marshall Mathers LP
Release Date: December 9, 2000
Label: Aftermath, Shady, Interscope
Eminem was one of the first white artists to breakthrough in the rap genre. “Stan” is a song about obsessive fans and demonstrates Eminem’s expert lyricism. The song also brilliantly samples Dido’s “Thank You” for contrast, which helped bring her to fame in the United States. The song was selected by The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock And Roll.
4. “The Ballot or the Bullet”
Speaker: Malcolm X
Recording Date: April 3, 1964
Recorded At: Cory Methodist Church
One of Malcolm X’s most profound speeches that he gave after breaking from the Nation of Islam. Malcolm wanted to show his willingness to work with the Civil Rights Movement, despite their disagreements, but also spoke to the continued frustrations of black people after the March on Washington. Malcolm, perceived as more radical than King at the time, urged Congress to pass the civil rights bill, with threats implicit that racial chaos would unload if it didn’t. Malcolm’s speech spoke to the anger and complexity of racial discrimination in the United States.
5. “The Whisper Of AIDS”
Speaker: Mary Fisher
Recording Date: 1992
Recorded At: 1992 Republican National Convention
Mary Fisher’s call to the Republican Party to be more open about the reality of AIDS is a landmark point in the shifting views on AIDS among conservatives, and most Americans more broadly. Fisher, a straight, white woman who became HIV positive from her husband, became a symbol, alongside Ryan White, who challenged the stereotype that AIDS only afflicted promiscuous gays or black users of heroin. The speech has been a popular point of analysis for its rhetorical skill, such as challenging the “American family” rhetoric by saying, “we do the President’s cause no good if we praise the American family but ignore a virus that destroys it.”
6. “Sunshine Of Your Love”
Album: Disraeli Gears
Release Date: January 1968
“Sunshine Of Your Love” is among the finest examples of Cream’s psychedelic rock music, which drew upon the rhythm and blues for composition, but ultimately stands out it on its own due to the outstanding guitar solo in the middle.
Artist: Crosby, Stills, Nash, And Young
Release Date: May 4, 1970
A protest song written in response to the shootings of anti-war activists at Kent State University, “Ohio” eloquently captures the troubled times of the Vietnam War era. The song is also a showcase of the best talents of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young.
Artist: Notorious B.I.G
Album: Ready To Die
Release Date: August 9, 1994
Label: Bad Boy, Arista
Perhaps no other gangsta rapper rivaled Tupac Shakur during the 90’s as well as Notorious B.I.G. (Biggie Smalls). In “Juicy” Biggie chronicles his rags-to-riches success, and is a great example of sampling in a hip-hop, as well as Biggie’s own rapping finesse. Even now, it is considered one of the best hip-hop singles of all time.
9. “White Rabbit”
Artist: Jefferson Airplane
Album: Surrealistic Pillow
Release Date: June 24, 1967
Label: RCA Victor
Alongside “Somebody To Love” remains one of Jefferson Airplane’s most popular songs, probably because it so poetically draws on Lewis Carrol’s Alice In Wonderland to speak about the drug culture of the 1960’s. The song is also a great demonstration of Gracie Slick’s haunting vocals.
10. Boston (album)
Release Date: August 25, 1976
One of the defining progressive rock albums of the 70’s, Boston is unique in the sense that it was technological creation. The music was almost exclusively done by multi-instrumentalist, Tom Scholz, and vocalist Brad Delp, who mixed the various tracks together in his basement. The album captures old memories “More Than A Feeling” and aspirations of fame “Rock & Roll Band.” The tracks have become staples of any rock radio station.
Artist: Lynryd Skynryd
Release Date: November 1974
Regarded as one of the most requested songs in American history, the popular “Freebird” is an outstanding example of Lynryd Skynryd’s southern rock style. Its aesthetic significance lies with its powerful guitar solo and its expression of the restless American spirit.
12. The United States of America (album)
Artist: The United States of America
Release Date: March 6, 1968
Recorded: December 7 to 23, 1967
One of the great zeitgeist pieces of the 1960’s, the album is essentially the sound of America during that tumultuous decade. The album is very experimental, using electronic synthesizers and a variety of instruments including classical ones. Much of the album is enthused in the psychedelic rock music that dominated times with its unconventional directions and poetic lyricism, as heard in “Hard Coming Love” or “The Garden Of Earthly Delights.” “Cloud Song”, in particular, takes its lyrics from a poem in A.A. Milne’s Winne The Pooh. The very leftist political air is also touched upon in “Song For The Dead Che.”
13. Relentless (album)
Artist: Bill Hicks
Release Date: 1992
Bill Hicks has been among the most celebrated American comedians, and in Relentless is contained many of his funniest and most intellectual jokes, in which he covers topics as diverse as pornography, smoking, illegal drugs, and the Gulf War.
14. “The Perils of Indifference”
Speaker: Elie Wiesel
Recording Date: April 12, 1999
Recorded At: Washington D.C.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel, was a Holocaust survivor who famously chronicled his experiences in the concentration camps of Buchenwald and Auschwitz in Night. He is remembered for his lifelong advocacy to prevent the occurrence of such horrors once more. In his famous speech before Congress and President Clinton, he critiqued the consequences of apathy towards injustice. The speech remains a strong example of his life philosophy.
15. “Chop Suey!”
Artist: System of a Down
Recorded: February 2001 — March 2001
Released: August 13, 2001
This song is the epitome of System of a Down’s unique musical style, from Serj Tankian’s strong vocals to Daron Malakian’s charging guitar. The song shifts from fast and confrontational in the first half, to being lyrical and moving in the second, with references to the dying words of Jesus Christ.
16. “Black Hole Sun”
Recorded: July–September 1993
Release Date: May 13, 1994
Soundgarden’s most popular single remains a staple of the grunge genre, with surreal, apocalyptic lyrics written by Chris Cornell, and an acclaimed guitar solo by Kim Thayil. No doubt it is a reflective piece of rock music in the 1990s.
17. “Wake Up”
Artist: Rage Against The Machine
Album: Rage Against The Machine
Release Date: November 3, 1992
The rock band Rage Against The Machine is well known for their revolutionary, left-wing politics. Their talents, from Tom Morello’s lead guitar to Zach de la Roca’s vocals, are best displayed in their single “Wake Up”, which served as a protest against the hypocrisies and injustices of American society, particularly Edgar Hoover’s Cointelpro. The song even references Martin Luther King’s famous rhetorical phrase, “How long, not long/ Cause what you reap is what you sow.”
18. “Three Skeleton Key”
Speaker: Vincent Price
Release Date: March 17, 1950
The radio serials such as Escape, Suspense, and Lights Out, were an important part of storytelling in America through acting. By far one of the best segments of these serials was “Three Skeleton Key”, a short story by French author George G. Toudouze about three men trapped in a lighthouse surrounded by rats. This particular episode featured Vincent Prince in the leading role, one of America’s finest vocal talents, who would later go on to do the segment again in 1956 and 1958 for Suspense.
19. “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights”
Speaker: Hillary Clinton
Date Recorded: September 5, 1995
Recorded At: United Nations Fourth World Conference, Beijing, China
Then First Lady Hillary Clinton’s influential speech which put pressure on international powers to make women’s rights a human rights issue, a idea which would later be reflected in her “Hillary Doctrine” as Secretary of State. Clinton’s speech courageously spoke out against the violations of women’s rights in China, against the advice of U.S. officials to soften her rhetoric. The speech has since been an important point in the history of feminism, which inspired leaders around the globe, and the phrase “women’s rights are human rights” has become a common one.
20. “Eight Miles High”
Artist: The Byrds
Album: The Fifth Dimension
Release Date: March 14, 1966
While the Byrds did many covers, “Eight Miles High” remains one of their finest original compositions. The sing also had a role in shaping the psychedelic rock of the 1960’s, which was informed by John Coltrane’s Impressions as well as Ravi Shankar’s sitar genius. “Eight Miles High” was banned on U.S. radio stations for possible drug connotations in its lyrics.
21. “Shapes Of Things”
Artist: The Yardbirds
Release Date: February 25, 1966
What makes the Yardbirds such an influential rock group, is that they provided music with the three of the best guitarists in pop music, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton. The song “Shapes Of Things” captures the anti-war and environmental fervor of the times, with Beck’s particular use of the guitar being influential in the formation of heavy metal.
22. “Pokémon Theme”
Artist: Jason Paige
Album: Pokémon T.B.A. Master
Released: June 29, 1999
Label: Koch Records
Even though Pokémon is of Japanese origin, it has had a strong influence on American pop culture, growing into a cultural phenomenon during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The “Pokémon Theme”, produced for the English dub of the Pokémon anime, is probably one of the most well-known and popular theme songs. At the height of Pokemania, the song was even sung in music classes for elementary schoolers, and the phrase “Gotta Catch Em All” has been cemented as synonymous with the franchise.
Make Your Own Nominations to the National Recording Registry here: