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The Stories Behind 'Y.M.C.A,' 'Cheap Trick At Budokan' & 'Wichita Lineman'

The VIllage People
Courtesy of Harlem West Entertainment

The Village People

The creators behind three new National Recording Registry entries look back.

With the nation largely hunkered down amid the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Library of Congress hopes the Wednesday (March 25) arrival of the 2020 National Recording Registry -- which includes Tina Turner’s Private Dancer, Cheap Trick at Budokan, Whitney Houston’s rendition of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” Dr. Dre’s debut album The Chronic and the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” -- is right on time to inspire a stay-at-home playlist.

“Music is an art form that has a unique power to bring people together and inspire people,” Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden tells Billboard. “We hope people will enjoy this music from their own homes. Even when we have to stay apart due to the pandemic, our music can bring us together.”

The new slate of 25 recordings spans 1920-2008 and brings to 550 the total number of titles preserved under terms of the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000 in conjunction with the Library’s Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation to ensure availability for future generations.

A strong trend in this year’s class is recordings created and/or performed by women. Aside from Turner and Houston, works by Selena, Dusty Springfield and Memphis Minnie are included. Maria Schneider’s Grammy-winning album Concert in the Garden marks the first addition from a female jazz composer, and the most recent addition, 2008 album Percussion Concerto, was composed by Jennifer Higdon.

“We have some powerhouse female vocalists on this registry this year, additions that make our registry much richer,” Hayden says.

The eclectic list also includes music from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Russ Hodges’ play-by-play of the 1951 National League tiebreaker between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, the original 1964 Broadway cast recording of Fiddler on the Roof and the original version of “Wichita Lineman,” written by Jimmy Webb and recorded by Glen Campbell in 1968.

We got the story behind some of the recordings below.

Of its genesis, Webb says he got a call from Campbell, who was looking for a “geographical” song to follow Campbell’s hit “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” “I started writing right away and wrote that whole afternoon,” he tells Billboard. “It was a little song that wasn’t really finished and when Glen recorded it, he finished it for me with his big Marlboro Man guitar he put on it.”

The song unfolded, Webb says, as he drew on his childhood in Northwest Oklahoma. “It’s a flat part of the country, and about the only thing you see are highways and the telephone poles and every once in a while a truck and a guy climbing up one of the poles. And I got this crazy idea about writing a song about one of these guys. There was something about the loneliness of that picture, and something also very cinematic to it -- I could see the shot.

“And there’s something about Glen’s version that just goes down so smooth,” Webb notes. “It was obvious from the first, as Glen used to say, we just fit -- talking about me and him. And there was never a record that quite captured me and Glen as well as 'Wichita.'"

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers had released three albums in quick succession but failed to gain traction except in Japan, where they’d opened for Queen in early 1977. “Queen was huge in Japan, and all of a sudden we started getting all this fan mail and became really popular there,” says bassist Tom Petersson.

A promoter hired Cheap Trick to play a show at the Budokan arena to be taped as a Japanese TV special. The ensuing concert -- in which the band lit up songs including “Surrender,” “Ain’t That a Shame” and “I Want You to Want Me” -- took on a life of its own. “The audience is almost entirely young girls, so it has that Beatle-mania sound to it,” Petersson says. “Sometimes we get accused, ‘Oh they goosed up the audience to make it sound more exciting.’ But it was exactly the opposite. The audience sound was so prevalent we were having a hard time getting it out of the recording.”

The show quickly was released as a live album in Japan and after it became a hot commodity on the import circuit, Budokan got its worldwide debut. “It didn’t need to be released worldwide, because nobody knew who the hell we were,” he says. “It was like, 'Here’s an album of our greatest hits except no one has ever heard of them.' It was a backward kind of a thing. People think, what a fantastic master plan you must have had. Well, there was not a master plan. It just kind of fell into our laps. We were prepared, because we’d been playing at nightclubs and bars for years, but we had no idea something like that would happen.”

The album joins only a few other musical/popular song live recordings on the registry, among them Johnny Cash's At Folsom Prison, The Audience with Betty Carter and Judy Garland’s Judy at Carnegie Hall.

“Over the years it’s the one that everybody seems to love,” Victor Willis, lead singer and writer, tells Billboard. “It’s a people song, people meaning all people -- young, old, any race, creed or color. And it’s a happy song, about a place that could be a stepping stone to get you where you want to go in life.”

Willis says the idea sparked after French producer Jacques Morali passed by a YMCA location and asked what it was. “I explained the acronym was for Young Men’s Christian Assn., and expressed to him how growing up in San Francisco I frequently visited the YMCA and played basketball with my boys and ran around the track,” Willis says. “I thought it would be nice to be able to express gratitude for the place I hung out in my youth that kept me off the streets and helped me become who I am now.”

And those universally automatic accompanying arm movements? “That came about once when we were performing it on Dick Clark. The youth in the audience were imitating what we were doing on stage, the initials YMCA, which was just a natural thing to be doing along with the song,” Willis says. “It was off the cuff and the audience picked up on it immediately. From there we decided to use it continually. And that’s how we developed the ‘Y.M.C.A.’ dance.”

Here’s the complete list of the 2019 National Recording Registry:
1. A Feather on the Breath of God (album), Gothic Voices; Christopher Page,
conductor; Hildegard von Bingen, composer (1982)
2. Cheap Trick at Budokan (album), Cheap Trick (1978)
3. Concert in the Garden (album), Maria Schneider Orchestra (2004)
4. Dusty in Memphis (album), Dusty Springfield (1969)
5. Fiddler on the Roof (album), original Broadway cast (1964)
6. “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” (single), Allan Sherman (1963)
7. Hiromi Lorraine Sakata Collection of Afghan Traditional Music (1966-67;
1971-73)
8. Holst: Suite No. 1 in E-Flat, Suite No. 2 in F / Handel: Music for the Royal
Fireworks / Bach: Fantasia in G (special edition audiophile pressing
album), Frederick Fennell and the Cleveland Symphonic Winds (1978)
9. “I Will Always Love You” (single), Whitney Houston (1992)
10. “La Chicharronera” (single), Narciso Martinez and Santiago Almeida
(1936)
11. Lights Out! episode: The Bathysphere (June 29, 1943)
12. “Make the World Go Away” (single), Eddy Arnold (1965)
13. “Me and My Chauffeur Blues” (single), Memphis Minnie (1941)
14. Mister Rogers Sings 21 Favorite Songs From ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ (album), Fred Rogers (1973)
15. Percussion Concerto (album), Colin Currie (2008)
16. Puccini: Tosca (album), Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano, Angelo Mercuriali, Tito Gobbi, Melchiorre Luise, Dario Caselli, Victor de Sabata (1953)
17. Private Dancer (album), Tina Turner (1984)
18. “Protesta per Sacco e Vanzetti,” Compagnia Columbia; “Sacco e Vanzetti” Raul Romito (1927)
19. The Chronic (album), Dr. Dre (1992)
20. Ven Conmigo (album), Selena (1990)
21. WGBH broadcast of the Boston Symphony on the day of the John F.
Kennedy assassination, Boston Symphony Orchestra (1963)
22. “Whispering” (single), Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra (1920)
23. “Wichita Lineman” (single), Glen Campbell (1968)
24. “Y.M.C.A.” (single), Village People (1978)
25. The 1951 National League tiebreaker: New York Giants vs. Brooklyn
Dodgers - Russ Hodges, announcer (Oct. 3, 1951)