Tuesday, April 18, 2006

National Recording Registry Has Daydream, Falls Asleep at the Post

Thanks to Joshua, who pointed out the list.

Move over, Rolling Stone Magazine and VH1. Everybody knows that there's a holy, unassailable canon of popular music. But the National Recording Registry, everybody's favorite archivists, has just upped the ante by publishing its new list of the audio recordings deemed most worthy of saving for posterity. Associated with the U.S. Library of Congress, the National Recording Registry selects recordings that "are culturally, historically or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States" (editor's note: and apparently the UK since it includes The Beatles, but we'll wink and look the other way on that one). The only new recording this year? Sonic Youth's 1998 album Daydream Nation, which joins Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's "The Message," Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet, and Nirvana's Nevermind as the only popular music from the past 25 years that has been added to the list.

So let me kvetch. Sonic Youth? As one of the four most significant recordings of the past 25 years? Why not, oh, The Psychedelic Furs or Kylie Minogue or someone else equally ridiculous? Look, Sonic Youth is a good band and Daydream Nation is a good album. But when you're compiling what appears to be an attempt to formulate the ultimate list of audio artifacts for future generations, or the aliens, or whoever is supposed to enjoy this stuff, don't you have an obligation to consider overall cultural impact, innovation, musical genius -- *something* that suggests some overarching critical importance beyond "a pretty good post-punk album"? It's not like Sonic Youth were the first to do what they do (or anywhere close to the first), that they carved out a whole new musical genre, or that they had a massive impact on the culture. So ... what is it? I don't get it.

And sorry, but if you're compiling a list for the aliens, you ought to be able to get the names of the songs right. What are the Venutians going to think? That should be "Whipping Post," not "Tied to the Whipping Post," as it's identified in the blurb on the 1971 album The Allman Brothers at Fillmore East. Check the album cover, ye most distinguished archivists. Unless the goal is to confuse the aliens. But Orson Welles' 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds should already have that angle covered.


danthress said...

"It's not like Sonic Youth were the first to do what they do (or anywhere close to the first), that they carved out a whole new musical genre, or that they had a massive impact on the culture."

Oh, the irony. Having been in NYC from 87-97, no band had more of a massive impact on culture than Sonic Youth. Second would be Public Enemy, third would have been WuTang Clan.

C'mon Andy, first X and Led Zepplin in the same post, now this? Ha!

Andy Whitman said...

Sorry Dan, but you and your NYC musician friends are not representative of "cultural impact." I have no doubt that Sonic Youth impacted you. But Michael Jackson is not on that list, and Sonic Youth is? Now it's my turn to say "Come on!" Aside from his personal issues (and they are many), from a purely musical standpoint how can you ignore a guy who issued great, critically lauded albums in the early '80s, sold eighteen gazillion copies in the process, and truly (as opposed to impacting a small niche group) changed the face of popular music? This list is goofy. Certainly it has some very worthwhile music on it, but it also has this:

"Okeh Laughing Record (1922)
-- This odd Okeh record label recording of a bad cornet solo interspersed by a laughing woman and man was one of the most popular discs of the 1920s. The laughing was infectious to listeners, so much so that the disc was re-recorded several times and imitated by other record companies."

It sounds like a bad night at the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church. And we're preserving this for posterity?

danthress said...

Andy, no one is doing anything today in the wake of the cultural impact of Michael Jackson. I'm not sure my middle shoolers (born in 1993) even know who he is. The cultural impact of Sonic Youth, demonstrated in both noise and fashion, lives on in every high school in America.

MJ's "critically lauded albums?" Critics don't drive culture, musicians do. MJ was pure entertainment, nothing more.

Andy Whitman said...

Sorry, Dan, but I think you're nuts on this one.

danthress said...

No worries mate.