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2022 NRR Nominees: Coolio, Ween, and Green Day

Gangsta’s Paradise, The Mollusk, and American Idiot

“American Idiot — Final NYC Performance.” Photo by Jax40. Some rights reserved. Source: Flickr.

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.

The inductees for 2021 Registry included Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” Andy Williams’ “Moon River,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, “Don’t Stop Believin” by Journey, Buena Vista Social Club (album), “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole, “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” by the Four Tops, Songs in A Minor (album) by Alicia Keys, The Low End Theory (album) by A Tribe Called Quest, Marc Maron’s WTF podcast episode with Robin Williams, and many more.

Now, without any further ado, here are my nominees:

“Gangsta’s Paradise”

Artist: Coolio, feat. LV

Album: Gangsta’s Paradise

Year of Release: 1995

Label: Warner Bros, Tommy Boy, MCA

The original Gangsta’s Paradise music video.

Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” is one of the most iconic and moving and hip-pop songs of the 1990s. Sampling Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise,” the song cleverly reverses the meaning of the original, describing a vicious cycle where black youths are left abandoned by a racist system to fight for themselves, often dying young with dreams left unfulfilled. The song is a resonant a cry for help, to quote the song: “Tell me why are we so blind to see/That the ones we hurt are you and me?”

Coolio, L.V., and Stevie Wonder perform “Gangsta’s Paradise” live at one of the hip-hop best performances of the 1990s at the Billboard Awards.

The Mollusk (album)

Artist: Ween

Year of Release: 1997

Label: Elektra

The song “Mutilated Lips” by Ween.

Taking inspiration from sea shanties (“The Blarney Stone”) and psychedelic rock (“The Mollusk”), Ween’s sixth studio album, The Mollusk, unlike their previous albums, Gene and Dean Ween, did not only record this album by themselves, but also with drummer Claude Coleman. The Mollusk has a unique variety of hits, from the surreal “Mutilated Lips” to the comedic “Waving My Dick In The Wind” to the poetic “Cold Blows The Wind” to the catchy “Ocean Man.” To quote Neva Chonin’s review of the album for Rolling Stone: “Stuffed with an inventive assemblage of analog keyboards, found sounds and brogue-encrusted folk songs, The Mollusk is a satirical (and curiously subtle) pastiche of the current musical landscape.”

The album was also directly responsible for influencing Stephen Hillenberg’s cartoon Spongebob Squarepants. He asked Ween to create the song “Loop de Loop” for show, and “Ocean Man” also famously served as the ending song for The Spongebob Squarepants Movie.

“Ocean Man” in the end credits of the Spongebob Squarepants movie.

American Idiot (album)

Artist: Green Day

Year of Release: 2004

Label: Reprise

American Idiot music video.

Much like The Who’s Tommy or David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Green Day’s American Idiot is a coming-of-age rock opera which came to be one of the defining hits of the 2000s. American Idiot, especially the title track, is a political critique of the Iraq War and the U.S. media coverage throughout the War on Terror. Although drawing from the pop punk genre, American Idiot is also emblematic of the emo genre which flooded pop culture throughout 2000s.

To tell its operatic tragedy, the tracks on American Idiot blend into each other, like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon or Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. The songs such as “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Homecoming” demonstrate the range of styles and musical shifts. “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” captures the loneliness and sadness that made up much of 2000s emo music. The most personal song on the album, “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” became has symbolic of the victims of both 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

Music video for “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day.

Full 2022 NRR Nominee List

  1. Pulp Fiction (soundtrack) (1994)
  2. “Like A Virgin” (1984)
  3. “Stan” (2000)
  4. “The Ballot or the Bullet” (1964)
  5. “The Whisper of AIDS” (1992)
  6. “Sunshine Of Your Love” (1968)
  7. “Ohio” (1970)
  8. “Juicy” (1994)
  9. “White Rabbit” (1967)
  10. Boston (album) (1976)
  11. “Freebird” (1974)
  12. The United States of America (album) (1968)
  13. Relentless (album) (1992)
  14. “The Perils of Indifference” (1999)
  15. “Chop Suey!” (2001)
  16. “Black Hole Sun” (1994)
  17. “Wake Up” (1992)
  18. “Three Skeleton Key” (1950)
  19. “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” (1995)
  20. “Eight Miles High” (1966)
  21. “Shapes of Things” (1966)
  22. “Pokemon Theme” (1999)
  23. Floral Shoppe (album) (2011)
  24. “The Pale Blue Dot (short recording)” (1994 est.)
  25. “A More Perfect Union” (2008)
  26. “Voices of Marvel” (1964–1965 est.)
  27. “Right Here (Human Nature Remix)” (1993)
  28. “…Baby One More Time” (1998)
  29. “Gangsta’s Paradise” (1995)
  30. The Mollusk (album) (1997)
  31. American Idiot (album) (2004)

Previous NRR Nominee Justifications

  1. Pulp Fiction (soundtrack)

Artist: Various, including Dick Dale and Samuel L. Jackson

Release Date: September 27, 1994

Label: MCA

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.”

Artist: Madonna

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.

3. “Stan”

Artist: Eminem

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 the LGBT 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”

Artist: Cream

Album: Disraeli Gears

Release Date: January 1968

Label: Atco

“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.

7. “Ohio”

Artist: Crosby, Stills, Nash, And Young

Release Date: May 4, 1970

Label: Atlantic

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.

8. “Juicy”

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)

Artist: Boston

Release Date: August 25, 1976

Recorded: October 1975 — April 1976 at Foxglove Studios in Watertown, MassachusettsCapitol Studios in Hollywood, CaliforniaThe Record Plant in Los Angeles, California.

Label: Epic

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.

11. “Freebird”

Artist: Lynryd Skynryd

Release Date: November 1974

Recorded: April 3, 1973 at Studio One, Doraville, Georgia

Label: MCA

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

Label: Columbia

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

Label: Rykodisc

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

Album: Toxicity

Recorded: February 2001 — March 2001

Released: August 13, 2001

Label: American

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”

Artist: Soundgarden

Album: Superunknown

Recorded: July–September 1993

Release Date: May 13, 1994

Label: A&M

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

Label: Epic

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

Program: Escape

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

Label: Columbia

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

Label: Columbia

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

Recorded: 1998–1999

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.

23. Floral Shoppe (album)

Artist: Macintosh Plus (Vektroid/Ramona Xavier)

Label: Beer on the Rug

Year of Release: 2011

While Floral Shoppe is an iconic album of vaporwave genre, an Internet genre that plays on nostalgia for the 1980s and 1990s. The album invokes early computers, the birth of the Internet, and a satirical approach towards the excesses of consumer capitalism. 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.

24. “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. 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.

25. “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.

26. “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.

27. “Right Here (Human Nature Remix)”

Artist: SWV

Album: It’s About Time

Label: RCA

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.

28. “…Baby One More Time”

Artist: Britney Spears

Album: …Baby One More Time

Label: Jive

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.

Make Your Own Nominations to the National Recording Registry here:

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Sansu the Cat

Sansu the Cat

I write about art, life, and humanity. M.A. Japanese Literature. B.A. Spanish & Japanese. email: sansuthecat@yahoo.com