At first glance, The Chronic — Dr. Dre’s groundbreaking rap album — doesn’t belong in the same category as the original-cast recording of the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof or the Village People’s disco anthem “Y.M.C.A.”
But these disparate works are linked as among the newest inductees to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, designated as “treasures worthy of preservation.”
Each year, the library adds 25 recordings deemed culturally and aesthetically important to America’s recorded-sound heritage to the registry. The 2020 titles, chosen by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden with advice from the National Recording Preservation Board, are at least 10 years old. Hayden describes the registry as “the evolving playlist of the American soundscape.”
The Broadway hit Fiddler on the Roof fits squarely within that soundscape, even though the play’s action takes place in an early-20th-century Russian village. With music and lyrics by the American songwriting duo Jerry Block and Sheldon Harnick, Fiddler tells the story of Tevye, a father of five daughters who tries to maintain his Jewish religious and cultural traditions as outside influences encroach upon his family.
At the conclusion of Fiddler, a government edict has evicted the Jewish residents from their village. Tevye and most of his family prepare to set sail for America, joining the stream of immigrants who will help to weave the tapestry of the young country.
Shaping a nation’s culture
Hayden also includes Whitney Houston’s 1992 rendition of Dolly Parton’s classic song “I Will Always Love You” and country music legend Glen Campbell’s 1968 version of songwriter Jimmy Webb’s haunting “Wichita Lineman.”
Houston’s treatment transformed a lilting country tune into a blockbuster torch song. During a 2018 radio interview, Parton commented on “the way [Houston] took that simple song of mine and made it such a mighty thing.”
Steve Leggett, curator for the National Recording Registry, says “Wichita Lineman’s” lyrics resonate with people who feel lonely and desire to be near those whom they love. The song’s refrain — “And I need you more than want you/And I want you for all time” — is sung from the heart and captures “emotions we all feel,” Leggett says.
Among other recordings that make the cut this year are Fred Rogers’ 1973 album of comforting songs from his children’s TV show, Russ Hodges’ thrilling play-by-play sportscast of baseball’s 1951 National League tiebreaker game between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, and London-born singer Dusty Springfield’s career-defining 1969 album of American soul/pop standards, Dusty in Memphis.
Hayden dubs the registry’s newest additions the “ultimate stay-at-home playlist.”