Inside the National Recording Registry: 2007
Each year, the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress chooses 25 recordings to be preserved for all time. Inside the National Recording Registry, produced by BMP Audio, highlights some of those selections. Our series receives production support from the Library of Congress.
In 1973, a reggae group on the verge of breaking up released an album — its second that year — filled with militant anthems inspired by life in the Jamaican slums. It turned out to be Bob Marley’s big break.
Burnin’ was the last album the reggae master released under the name “The Wailers,” and it featured the final performances of Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer with the group.
While the band was rhythmically tight, Marley dominates this album. Burnin’ covers a variety of topics and moods, from the militancy of “Get Up, Stand Up” and “I Shot the Sheriff” to the heartfelt rage and poverty-induced despair of “Burnin’ and Lootin’.” The final track, the traditional “Rastaman Chant,” sounds a more redemptive note.
The political stridency of Burnin’ was informed by the slums where Marley lived. Rita Marley, his widow, sees the connection.
“We were grown and raised in the ghetto, so we knew nothing more than a ghetto life,” she says.
But Burnin’ was also a breakthrough for Marley — and for reggae music’s acceptance in the U.S. When Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, sent the record to his contacts in the music industry, Eric Clapton heard something he liked and transformed “I Shot the Sheriff” into a No. 1 hit.
“When he recorded that song, that was probably the biggest break, really, that Bob had had,” Blackwell says. “Because Eric at that time was, literally, like, you know, like God in the music business, and God had gone to Bob Marley for his material. So it pointed towards Bob and gave him the respect that catapulted him really into a whole other level of credibility.”
Independent producer Ben Manilla interviewed Rita Marley, Chris Blackwell and Jim Henke, author of Marley Nation and chief curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, about the album.
Though only a modest hit by his standards, Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” became an anthem of the 1960s civil rights movement, and would come to be heralded as his magnum opus.
Released as a single around the time of Cooke’s death in December 1964, the song became a sensation within the black community.
One of the pioneers of soul music, Cooke began his career in music as a gospel singer. His brother, L.C. Cooke, recalls that Sam always had his heart set on becoming a professional musician.
“He said, ‘I’m preparing myself, ’cause like I told you, I’m going to be a singer — I’m never gonna have a 9 to 5 job,'” L.C. Cooke said. “And believe me, he never had one.”
In 1963, having already scored many hits in the secular pop marketplace, Sam Cooke first heard Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Amid the civil rights movement, Cooke was inspired to create his own protest song, according to Peter Guralnick, Cooke’s biographer.
As a black singer from the South, racial segregation affected Cooke personally. In October 1963, he was arrested and thrown in jail after refusing to be turned away from a Shreveport, La., hotel which had initially accepted his reservation. In December 1963, Cooke recorded “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
Though Cooke didn’t live to see its success and reception, “A Change Is Gonna Come” cemented his reputation as a soul-music legend. The song was covered hundreds of times, including by Aretha Franklin.
“He was one of the greatest male singers of all time,” Franklin says. “You put him in the category with Caruso and Pavarotti and these other great names. Sam Cooke, bar none, was one of the greatest singers of all time.”
Independent producer Ben Manilla spoke with Franklin, Guralnick and L.C. Cooke about Sam Cooke’s masterpiece, added earlier this year to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.
Bob Newhart’s debut album, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, was the first comedy album ever to hit No. 1. It saved the struggling Warner Brothers Records and changed the face of modern comedy.
Newhart and comedian and late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien offer insight on this landmark recording. They discuss how the recording came to be, memorable moments on the album and why it holds up today.
Revisiting Cole Porter’s ‘Top’
What does Cole Porter’s song “You’re the Top” have to do with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the end of Prohibition?
Written in 1934 for the Broadway musical Anything Goes, the song was inspired during a cruise on Germany’s Rhine River. Porter asked people on the cruise liner what were their top experiences? The answers and anecdotes informed the song’s lyrics, including:
“You’re the top… you’re the Tower of Pisa… you’re the smile on the Mona Lisa …”
“You’re the top … you’re Mahatma Gandhi/You’re the top… you’re Napoleon brandy …”
“You’re the National Gallery, you’re Garbo’s salary, you’re cellophane.”
“You’re an O’Neill drama, you’re Whistler’s Mama, you’re Camembert.”
Anything Goes hit Broadway soon after the end of Prohibition and as the nation was beginning to see the first glimmers that it could escape the Great Depression. “You’re the Top” helped lift the nation’s spirits.