That first collection of more than 1,800 LPs was presented to the White House in 1973. But it’s the second volume, put together at the end of that decade, that’s most intriguing. Once again curated by the RIAA, it was intended to bring the record library up to date. This time, the selection process would be headed by John Hammond, a hugely influential figure who had signed Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, and Bruce Springsteen. Hammond enlisted experts to oversee each genre, including Modern Jazz Quartet pianist John Lewis, who was responsible for jazz, and Boston music critic Bob Blumenthal, who led the pop picks. “The idea of helping choose the pop records for the music library at the White House just seemed like a gas, an enormous amount of fun,” says Kit Rachlis, then music editor at the Boston Phoenix, who was one of Blumenthal’s advisers on the project. “Who wouldn’t want to do that?”
Things kicked off with a celebratory lunch at the White House hosted by Rosalynn Carter. Blumenthal recalls that he took the opportunity to feel out the President’s staff. “I remember having visions of putting some fairly transgressive stuff on the list,” he says. “There was an album by Randy Newman at the time called Good Old Boys, and there’s a song on there, ‘Rednecks,’ which is one of the greatest critiques of both Southern and Northern racism. I wanted to put that in. His staff person said, ‘Oh, the President loves that album.’ I thought, Okay! That sort of gave me license to make choices I thought would be a good, representative sampling rather than having to censor myself.”
The list was hashed out during sessions in a Manhattan conference room, and true to Blumenthal’s vision, the selection was decidedly more adventurous this time around: soul, punk, salsa, gospel, funk, disco, and more. There were obvious picks representing rock-and-roll’s history, with entries from the likes of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley. And popular tastes were well represented by artists such as Donna Summer, Fleetwood Mac, and Earth, Wind & Fire. Blumenthal pressed for a Latin-music section that had records from Beny Moré, Joe Bataan, and Johnny Pacheco, among others.
There were also plenty of left-field LPs—music whose inclusion, Rachlis says, offered “a certain kind of subversive joy.” Funkadelic’s Hardcore Jollies made the cut, as did Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols and Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica. A Gil Scott-Heron compilation. Talking Heads’ More Songs About Buildings and Food. The Ramones’ Rocket to Russia. And this time around, there were no selections from Don Ho, although Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits did lend an easy-listening note to the proceedings. (“I don’t know whether I would have included that if I were doing it today,” says Blumenthal.)