First it became the basis for an Oscar-nominated movie. Now, "Straight Outta Compton" — the groundbreaking album from rap group N.W.A. and a one-time flashpoint in the nation's culture wars — has been selected for the prestigious National Recording Registry.
The album was one of 25 additions to the registry announced Wednesday by the Library of Congress, and it wasn't the only one with a Los Angeles connection. Baseball play-by-play from Vin Scully, who retired last year after calling Dodgers games for 67 years, will also join the national library's trove of recordings, which are selected for their historical, artistic or cultural significance.
The library chose Scully's call of the final meeting between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants at Manhattan's Polo Grounds in 1957. Both teams would depart for California after that season.
"It's a rather imposing call to realize that something that you have done would technically live forever in the Library of Congress," Scully, 89, told The Associated Press from his home in Hidden Hills, California. "It was a particularly meaningful game for me anyway, so to have it picked up and put for posterity is rather humbling and, at the same time, overwhelming."
Plenty of standards are joining the registry too, including Judy Garland's version of "Over the Rainbow," the Eagles' 1976 greatest-hits collection and Don MacLean's elliptical 1971 folk song "American Pie."
Released in 1988, "Straight Outta Compton" influenced a generation of rappers with its raw lyrics about gang violence and the drug trade in south central Los Angeles. It achieved platinum sales without radio airplay and captured the attention of white America. The incendiary track "F--- tha Police" was denounced by right-wing politicians and prompted a warning letter from the FBI to the group's record label.
The album was also one of the first to receive a parental advisory label for explicit content, the outgrowth of a group started by Tipper Gore, then-wife of future vice president Al Gore. But the controversy has long since faded and critics consistently rank it as one of the best hip-hop albums ever made.
While N.W.A. brought the L.A. sound to the world of rap, Scully is an L.A. transplant who moved west with the Dodgers. He was 29 years old when he called his last game at the Polo Grounds, which was about 20 blocks from his grammar school, and he captured the melancholy of the moment.
"I wanted that game to take forever, which is a little different. Today, everyone talks about, and maybe not the fans, but certainly those of us broadcasting and writing, we're always talking about how long the game is. Baseball is now trying to see if they can't speed things up," Scully said. "But as a kid way back, and even as a broadcaster, I remember saying, 'Take it easy fellas, be slow, let's squeeze all of the juice out of this game before we finally close the curtain on it.'"
Recordings picked for the registry are preserved at the library's vast audio-visual vault in Culpeper, Virginia. If they have already been preserved elsewhere, the library collaborates with those studios or archives to ensure they will be available to future generations.
This year's selections date back as far as 1888. That's when Col. George Gouraud, a Civil War hero and friend of Thomas Edison, used his newly acquired wax-cylinder phonograph to record the voices of prominent poets, scientists, musicians and politicians, including William Ewart Gladstone, the future prime minister of Britain, and Sir Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert & Sullivan.
Other additions to the registry include Barbra Streisand's 1964 recording of the song "People," from the musical "Funny Girl"; the late David Bowie's 1972 concept album "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars"; the original-cast recording of the musical "The Wiz" (1975); and Sister Sledge's inclusive anthem "We are Family" (1979).
"I believe 'People' touched our common desire to relate to others with love and caring, and I've always tried to express this in my renditions of this magical song," Streisand said in a statement.
Garland, too, felt the magic of "Over the Rainbow," which was released as a single in 1939 after she sang the ballad in "The Wizard of Oz." The song won an Academy Award, and she continued singing it throughout her career, crediting its "childlike, wistful quality" to composer Harold Arlen.
The Eagles, on the other hand, weren't too enthusiastic about "Their Greatest Hits," which was released in 1976 against the band's wishes. But it became their biggest success and remains one of the top-selling albums of all time. The California soft-rock group was also recognized at last year's Kennedy Center Honors.
Also joining the ranks of the National Recording Registry is the inaugural episode of NPR's "All Things Considered."
Below, take a listen to a piece from the debut of "All Things Considered," which focused on May Day protests against the Vietnam War on May 3, 1971, roughly one month after NPR itself got its start.
"It is such an honor and a privilege to be brought into this distinguished company," said Susan Stamberg, who has been with NPR since the very start, and had a 14-year run as host of "All Things Considered," beginning in 1972.
"For the sounds that we made on the first day to be right up there with Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have a Dream' speech or Neil Armstrong's first words spoken by a human being on the moon — that's very lofty company for us."
"These sounds of the past enrich our understanding of the nation's cultural history and our history in general," Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said in a statement. The release also notes that these titles have been inducted for "their cultural, artistic and historical importance to American society and the nation's audio heritage."
To see more about the induction, and what NPR eminences have to say about it, head right here. And find the rest of the new inductees below the slideshow of NPR through the years.
- The 1888 London cylinder recordings of Col. George Gouraud (1888)
- "Lift Every Voice and Sing," by Manhattan Harmony Four (1923) and Melba Moore and Friends (1990)
- "Puttin' on the Ritz," by Harry Richman (1929)
- "Over the Rainbow," Judy Garland (1939)
- "I'll Fly Away," The Chuck Wagon Gang (1948)
- "Hound Dog," Big Mama Thornton (1953)
- "Saxophone Colossus," Sonny Rollins (1956)
- The Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds, announced by Vin Scully (September 8, 1957)
- "Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs," Marty Robbins (1959)
- "The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery," Wes Montgomery (1960)
- "People," Barbra Streisand (1964)
- "In the Midnight Hour," Wilson Pickett (1965)
- "Amazing Grace," Judy Collins (1970)
- "American Pie," Don McLean (1971)
- "All Things Considered," first broadcast (May 3, 1971)
- "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars," David Bowie (1972)
- "The Wiz," original cast album (1975)
- "Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975)," Eagles (1976)
- "Scott Joplin's Treemonisha," Gunter Schuller, arr. (1976)
- "Wanted: Live in Concert," Richard Pryor (1978)
- "We Are Family," Sister Sledge (1979)
- "Remain in Light," Talking Heads (1980)
- "Straight Outta Compton," N.W.A (1988)
- "Rachmaninoff's Vespers (All-Night Vigil)," Robert Shaw Festival Singers (1990)
- "Signatures," Renée Fleming (1997)