WASHINGTON — U2’s classic album “The Joshua Tree,” Linda Ronstadt’s “Heart Like a Wheel” and an early, influential Christian rock album will play on forever, or at least as long as the Library of Congress is around.
These albums from the 1970s and 1980s are among 25 recordings selected for long-term preservation in the library’s National Recording Registry, chosen for their cultural, historical or aesthetic importance. Among the seminal sounds of the 20th century announced Wednesday are Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” and the Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown.”
Librarian of Congress James Billington said the recordings represent part of America’s culture and history.
“As technology continually changes and formats become obsolete, we must ensure that our nation’s aural legacy is protected,” he said.
U2’s 1987 album with hits like “Where the Streets Have no Name” and “With or Without You” was chosen after the library received many public nominations. Its inclusion coincides with the addition of Larry Norman’s Christian 1972 album “Only Visiting this Planet,” the first Christian rock album chosen for the registry.
Curator Matthew Barton said U2’s sound, though not explicitly religious, has influenced and been combined with Christian rock in some churches, including the song, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”
In the decade earlier, it was Linda Ronstadt who helped define a musical era. She interpreted other people’s compositions, crossed genres and sold millions of records. Ronstadt was a tastemaker, Barton said, choosing an eclectic mix of early rock and country music for “Heart Like a Wheel” that could evoke what was happening in 1974.
“You can hold up that album for someone. If you want to get an idea of what’s happening, start here,” he said.
Ronstadt, whose hits include “You’re No Good” and “When Will I Be Loved,” is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 10. In an interview, she said she didn’t think about making a hit album with “Heart Like a Wheel” and was naive about the business of music.
“In retrospect, I don’t think I realized it at the time how precarious my situation was in terms of my career where if I hadn’t had a success with that particular record, I think it would have been game over,” she told The Associated Press.
Ronstadt said she was surprised to learn the album had been selected for safekeeping at the library, but that it’s nice to have a distinction.
“I just wish I had done a little better job singing,” she said. “If I listened to that record now, it would probably kill me. I never listen to my own stuff.”
She grew up listening to Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, and she didn’t feel like an anomaly by signing the works of others in the era of the rising singer-songwriter. “I felt that I was just reinterpreting the next edition of the great American songbook,” she said.
Being in the company of the Everly Brothers in the library’s recording archive is a special thrill, she said. Ronstadt’s hit “When Will I Be Loved” was written by Phil Everly.
“They were a huge influence on all of us,” Ronstadt said. “They had a sound like no other and a way of crafting and weaving harmonies that was like nobody else could do.”
Last year, Ronstadt revealed she’s been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She said the progressive effects of the disease have taken away her singing, and she misses it.
“You wake up in the morning and go ‘Well, can I still walk? Does this leg work? Does that leg work?” Ronstadt said. “But something’s going to get ya. So that got me.”
For the first time, the recordings being preserved this year also include extensive White House recordings, capturing the era of President Lyndon B. Johnson. The set includes 9,400 telephone conversations, 77 cabinet-room meetings totaling nearly 850 hours. Barton said the Johnson recordings represent a dramatic time in history and a colorful character.
“This was not a boring person,” Barton said. “He was certainly very direct and very earthy but also very interesting.”