This post has been updated. See note below for details.
Linda Ronstadt’s commercial breakthrough album, “Heart Like a Wheel,” the Everly Brothers’ career-rejuvenating 1960 hit “Cathy’s Clown” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1969 social protest song “Fortunate Son” are among 25 new entries in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, library officials announced today.
The newly inducted recordings span almost a full century of recorded music history and ensure that the selected titles will be preserved for future generations in the Library of Congress in their best existing versions. They span rock, pop, folk, gospel, jazz, blues, Broadway and spoken word recordings, and they run the gamut from No. 1 pop and rock hits to historically noteworthy audio documents such as President Lyndon B. Johnson’s vast archive of recorded phone calls and staff meetings.
Ronstadt, upon learning that her album is now among 400 titles from more than a century of recorded music history elected to the Registry, told The Times with a laugh, “If I’d known that, I would have sung it better. But I’m delighted.”
Other 2014 inductees include George Washington Johnson’s 1896 recording of “The Laughing Song,” believed to be the first recording by an African American. Also inducted are U2’s acclaimed 1987 album “The Joshua Tree,” Isaac Hayes’ 1971 “Shaft” soundtrack album, Bing Crosby's and Rudy Vallee’s separate 1932 recordings of a song that became a theme song of the Great Depression, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?,” and “The First Family” comedy album of 1962 by impressionist Vaughn Meader and a group of sketch actors who affectionately ribbed President John F. Kennedy and his family.
“These recordings represent an important part of America’s culture and history,” Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said in a statement. “As technology continually changes and formats become obsolete, we must ensure that our nation’s aural legacy is protected. The National Recording Registry is at the core of this effort.”
Regarding “Cathy’s Clown,” Don Everly told The Times that he and Phil wrote it after his father and musical mentor, Ike Everly, spoke about a girlfriend he’d once had who caused him to be ridiculed by friends. Don applied the name of his first girlfriend in high school as a way of personalizing the tale, which was the Everly Brothers' first single after switching record labels in 1960 and getting what was reputed to be the first million-dollar contract in the record business. “Cathy’s Clown” spent five weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, becoming one of the biggest hits of the duo’s career.
“I was really worried,” Everly, 77, said about their shift from Cadence to the then-fledgling Warner Bros. Records label. “When you change labels, you don’t have the situation you had before and there’s always the concern that it won’t be as good. But we lucked out with that song.” It was the first of a new run of hits for the Everlys that also included “So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad),” “Walk Right Back,” “Ebony Eyes” and “Crying in the Rain.”
In what he said was his first interview since death on Jan. 3 of his younger brother, Phil, Don Everly said, “I’m still not over it. We had a difficult life together. But I miss him and I think of him every day. It’s almost as if we could read each other’s minds when we sang. We did that all our lives. I’m still very sad.”
Phil’s son, Jason, said Tuesday, “My father would have been amazed and humbled that the Everly Brothers created something that one day would be in the Library of Congress. I wish he were here to learn about it in person. We miss him.”
Don Everly also said that he was honored to be inducted the same year as one of his and his brother’s biggest musical influences, sibling country singers the Louvin Brothers, whose 1955 single “When I Stop Dreaming” has been added to the registry.
Ronstadt’s strongest memory of working on the “Heart Like a Wheel” album with producer Peter Asher was the satisfaction of finally finding someone who would support her desire to record the title track, a heartbreaking song by Canadian singer-songwriters Kate and Anna McGarrigle that she fell in love with the first time she heard it.
“People told me, ‘Naw, it’s corny, it’s never going to be a hit.’ But I thought it was a spectacularly good song,” said Ronstadt, 67, who has stopped singing because of the effects of Parkinson’s disease that began to affect her voice almost a decade ago. “Peter played it and he liked it, and I was delighted. The difference in working with him on that record is that he was trying to help me carry out my whim in a certain kind of way, and that was nice.”
The recordings of Johnson are virtually unprecedented, a trove of 9,400 telephone conversations and 77 Cabinet-room meetings -- some 850 hours in all -- that were recorded for posterity.
Other selections added to the Registry include Elmore James' 1951 blues classic “Dust My Broom,” Buck Owens’ 1966 album “Carnegie Hall Concert With Buck Owens and the Buckaroos,” jazz drummer Art Blakey’s 1954 albums “A Night at Birdland” (Vol. 1 and 2), the 1979 original cast recording of Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Sweeney Todd,” and singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley’s 1994 recording of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” the most recent recording to make the Registry.
The full list of inducted recordings can be seen at the National Recording Registry website, where members of the public can enter nominations for other recordings to be included in the future.
Update at 11:59 a.m.: An earlier version of this post referred to the National Recording Register. The Library of Congress' program of preserving historically and culturally significant audio recordings is the National Recording Registry. Also, the total number of recordings selected for the Registry had been stated as 700. There are now 400 titles in the National Recording Registry.