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The 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century

Throughout the year 2000, NPR presented the stories behind 100 of the most important American musical works of the 20th century. These special features cover music from a wide variety of genres -- classical, jazz, rock'n'roll, country, R&B, musical theatre and film scores. NPR 100 stories aired on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and NPR's weekend news magazine programs.

Below you'll find on-demand audio of three NPR feature stories -- one from Morning Edition and two from All Things Considered -- on the NPR 100, plus the complete NPR 100 list arranged alphabetically with the air date and the original audio of each piece. You can also view a condensed list without descriptions or audio, the original "NPR 300" -- the preliminary list of works, or you can find out in text form how we put it all together.

All Things Considered: The First Feature
Several listeners and musicians involved in the voting discuss the songs they chose and the reason behind their decisions.
Hear how the NPR 100 was created

Morning Edition: Creating the NPR 100
Host Bob Edwards talks with Murray Horwitz, NPR's Vice President for Cultural Programming, and NPR 100 series producer Elizabeth Blair about the process of building the list. They discuss some great songs that didn't make the cut. Originally aired in February, 2001.
Hear how the NPR 100 was created

All Things Considered: Unclaimed Property
NPR 100 series producer Elizabeth Blair reports on the package of information she received from a listener alerting her to unclaimed checks and other property for musicians and others being held by the California Comptroller's office. She details the contents of the the $2.8 billion fund and what efforts, if any, are being made to let people know about it. Originally aired in February, 2001.
fund holds musicians' unclaimed money

The NPR 100

A | B | C | D | F | G | H | I | K | L
M | N | O | P | R | S | T | V | W

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"Adagio for Strings"
March 13 -- Samuel Barber wrote this classical piece for string quartet, and it was first performed in 1938. Now a standard short piece for orchestra, "Adagio for Strings" endures in part due to its appearance in two well-known film soundtracks -- Platoon and The Elephant Man. All Things Considered host Noah Adams talks with the directors of both films, Oliver Stone and David Lynch, about why they chose Barber's music for their movies.
Adagio for Strings

"Ain't That a Shame"
Fats Domino May 1 -- Music historian Nick Spitzer profiles New Orleans rhythm & blues piano legend Fats Domino and his 1955 hit song. Domino was born and raised in New Orleans and learned to play piano from an older relative. He had a number of hit songs, including "Blueberry Hill," "Blue Monday," and "Walkin' to New Orleans," among others. "Ain't That a Shame" was his first hit not recorded in New Orleans -- it was also the first to crossover from the R&B charts to the mostly white pop charts of the day.
Ain't That a Shame

"Alexander's Ragtime Band"
March 20 -- NPR's Susan Stamberg reports on the Irving Berlin tune that launched the era of American popular song. Originally an instrumental composed by Berlin at the age of 23, the song struggled out of the blocks, so he penned lyrics for it. After superstar Al Jolson sang it on Broadway, it became a huge hit and went on to sell over 1.5 million copies of sheet music.
Alexander's Ragtime Band

"All or Nothing At All"
November 28 -- Frank Sinatra's version of this heartfelt ballad was actually a commercial flop when first released in 1939, selling fewer than 8,000 copies. But when the young singer's career began to overheat in the early 1940s, he re-recorded the tune for his new label, Columbia Records, and it went to number two on the charts. The track proved to be a turning point both for Sinatra and the American popular music. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports, with comments from the song's lyricist Jack Lawrence.
All or Nothing At All

"Appalachian Spring"
Aaron Copland November 13 -- Aaron Copland once confessed that his famous composition -- written for a Martha Graham ballet -- really had very little to do with Appalachia or spring. Many critics contend it is his best work and arguably the best dance composition ever created by an American composer. Jeff Lunden has an appreciation of music from an American master.
Appalachian Spring

"As Time Goes By"
March 15 -- Susan Stamberg reports on this unforgettable ballad, written by a 26-year-old Tin Pan Alley writer named Herman Hupfeld in 1931, and made famous by its central role in the 1942 film Casablanca. Stamberg speaks to songwriter Gerald Marx, an associate of Hupfeld's, and with Murray Burnette, writer of the unproduced play Everybody Comes to Rick's, which eventually became the basis for Casablanca.
As Time Goes By

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"Back in the Saddle Again"
July 24 -- The tune that became "Singing Cowboy" Gene Autry’s theme song was written by Ray Whitley in 1938 for the film Border G-Men, starring George O'Brien. Autry liked it so much that he revived it for his own movies Rovin' Tumbleweeds in 1939, and 1941's Back in the Saddle. Autry then made it part of his regular act on his radio show Melody Ranch, his TV program, and countless personal appearances. All Things Considered host Linda Wertheimer reports.
Back in the Saddle Again

"Blowin' in the Wind"
Bob Dylan's The Freewheelin' October 12 -- Perhaps more than any other song of its era, "Blowin' in the Wind" captured the essence of America's youth in the early 1960s and quickly became an anthem of both the civil rights and anti-war movements. For all of its import, Dylan claims to have written the song in about 10 minutes. Peter, Paul and Mary made it a huge hit, and it remains the songwriter's most often-covered work. NPR's Brian Naylor investigates the song's origins and enduring influence.
Blowin' in the Wind

"Blue Moon of Kentucky"
September 11 -- Often called "the father of bluegrass," Bill Monroe first recorded this hit in 1946, and the song immediately connected with country music listeners. Eight years later, "the king of rock 'n' roll" was in Memphis' Sun Studios trying to come up with a B side for his first commercial single, "That's Allright Mama." Presley and his band recorded "Blue Moon of Kentucky" and the song reached an even wider audience. While Monroe was grateful for Presley's version, he went back into the studio and recorded a new version that was even faster than Presley's. Paul Brown has the story.
Blue Moon of Kentucky

"Blue Suede Shoes" Elvis Presley
February 7 -- Music historian Nick Spitzer pays tribute to the song which, in 1956, solidified the career of songwriter Carl Perkins. "Blue Suede Shoes" brought him instant success, but also developed a mutating life of its own as the first million-selling, triple-play crossover that moved from the top of the country charts to those of rhythm & blues, and then pop.
Blue Suede Shoes

"Body and Soul"
March 6 -- When jazz saxophonist Coleman Hawkins recorded "Body and Soul" in 1939, it instantly became one of jazz's most influential performances. Hawkins is known as "the father of the tenor saxophone" and for his seamless melodic extensions. Tom Moon, music writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, offers his appreciation of the piece and the art of Hawkins' approach.
Body and Soul

Bruce Springsteen's 'Born to Run' Born to Run (Album)
October 9 -- NPR's Joanne Silberner delivers a true believer's appreciation of this seminal 1975 Bruce Springsteen album. The title track took the 24-year-old Springsteen six months to write and at the time, he described it as his "shot at the title."
Born to Run

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A Chorus Line (Musical)
May 22 -- This 1975 show changed the course of musical theater by dispensing with elaborate sets, costumes, and big stars, and involving a gritty element of realism previously absent on Broadway. The plot tells the story of dancers auditioning for a chorus line, pouring their hearts out to the director about why they should be chosen. NPR's Susan Stamberg focuses on lyricist Edward Kleban, who was the least known member of the show's creative team and, according to collaborator Marvin Hamlish, the man who gave the show its voice.
A Chorus Line

"Coal Miner's Daughter"
April 16 -- This song is country-music star Loretta Lynn's remembrance of her Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, upbringing. Married at 13, she settled in Bellingham, Washington, where her career took off after she performed several times on local radio stations. In 1972, Lynn was the first woman named "Entertainer of the Year" by the Country Music Association. NPR's Liane Hansen talks with Lynn on Weekend Edition Sunday.
Coal Miner's Daughter

"Crazy" Patsy Cline's 'Crazy Dreams'
September 4 -- This 1961 hit, written by Willie Nelson and sung by Patsy Cline, is the number one jukebox single of all time. Cline initially didn't want to sing the slow-torch song -- she preferred the more up-tempo fare that she was used to singing. But her producer, Owen Bradley, convinced her that the song was a good fit for her vocal talents and expressive style. All Things Considered Host Linda Wertheimer speaks with musicians from the original recording session in 1961, Patsy's widower Charlie Dick, country singer Kathy Mattea, and country music historian Paul Kingsburry.
Crazy

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"Django"
October 2 -- NPR's Tom Cole tells the tale of this jazz classic written by pianist John Lewis, leader of The Modern Jazz Quartet. Lewis wrote the tune as a tribute to the late gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, acknowledged as the first European jazz star. Cole profiles both men, revealing how two very different musical personalities crossed paths in the U.S. after World War II, and how each man's music influenced this legendary standard.
Django

"Dream a Little Dream of Me"
March 26 -- The 1968 recording of this song by Cass Elliot and The Mamas and the Papas sold nearly 7 million copies nearly forty years after its composition by two little-known musicians. NPR 100 series producer Elizabeth Blair reports on the tune's provenance.
Dream a Little Dream of Me

Drumming Steve Reich's 'Drumming'
July 17 -- Composed by Steve Reich in 1971, this work is considered a masterpiece of minimalism -- a musical genre that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s and is best described as stripping music down to its most basic elements, like a tone or a pulse, and then reworking it altogether through the repetition and overlapping of that single motif. Drumming is scored for keyboard-percussion instruments, voice, piccolo, and bongos -- and, when performed, can last about 70 minutes. NPR's Mark Mobley speaks to Reich about how the song became a turning point in his career and why it is now considered a touchstone of late-20th-century classical music.
Drumming

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Fiddler on the Roof (Musical)
May 7 -- NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday host Liane Hansen speaks with Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, the team that wrote the lyrics and music for Fiddler on the Roof, which hit Broadway in September 1964. The show, based on the literature of Sholom Alechem, tells the story of Jewish villagers in czarist Russia, was produced by Harold Prince, and directed by choreographer Jerome Robbins.
Fiddler on the Roof

"Fine and Mellow"
Billie Holiday's 'Fine and Mellow' April 10 -- CBS's 1957 broadcast The Sound of Jazz invited a number of famous jazz musicians to perform on live television. The list included Billie Holiday, whose performance of this song lives on in the annals of great jazz and live-performance history. Nat Hentoff, Village Voice writer and one of the show's organizers, explains why he, and so many other jazz enthusiasts, consider this concert ground-breaking.
Fine and Mellow

"Fire and Rain"
June 26 -- This pop standard from singer/songwriter James Taylor's 1970 debut album, Sweet Baby James, was the artist's poignant attempt to deal with a friend's recent suicide and his own struggle with drug abuse and mental illness. In a conversation with NPR's Noah Adams, Taylor revisits his feelings about that troublesome time in his life and shares thoughts on the song's longevity.
Fire and Rain

"Foggy Mountain Breakdown"
April 1 -- Written by banjo picker Earl Scruggs, this song was arguably the first tune that introduced wide audiences to bluegrass music. Popularized in the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde, the song established the leadership role of the banjo. NPR's Paul Brown demystifies the crackling, syncopated style of banjo-playing for which the song, and bluegrass, is now loved.
Foggy Mountain Breakdown

"4:33"
May 8 -- Writer Will Hermes presents the story behind this elusive musical composition written by avant-gardist John Cage. The piece, premiered in 1952, directs someone to close the lid of a piano, set a stopwatch, and sit in silence for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. Musicians and critics alike initially thought the piece a joke. But its premiere pianist, who never played a note, calls it his most intense listening experience. "4:33" speaks to the nature of sound and the musical nature of silence.
4:33

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"Give My Regards to Broadway"
May 29 -- Featured in the 1904 musical Little Johnny Jones, a show which quickly flopped, this tune was penned by George M. Cohan, the successful actor, composer, and musical producer at the turn of the century who also wrote "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "You're a Grand Old Flag." The song found new life in the film Yankee Doodle Dandy, starring James Cagney and based on the life of Cohan. Our story comes from writer/musician Max Morath, who researched and performed vaudeville for over 50 years.
Give My Regards to Broadway

Gone with the Wind (Film Score)
December 17 -- The music from one of the most popular American films of all time had a tremendous impact on movie scores in the decades following its 1939 release. Max Steiner's work is instantly recognized today and is emblematic of both musical scoring and the cinema itself. NPR's Andy Trudeau guides us through a masterpiece of composition.
Gone with the Wind

"Good Vibrations" The Beach Boys' 'Good Vibrations'
June 12 -- Written by Brian Wilson, this song epitomized the sound of garage-band rock and featured a theremin, prototype for the modern synthesizer. All Things Considered Director Bob Boilen speaks to Wilson, who tells that the song was stitched together from hundreds of recording sessions. Hear the hit song in its various stages of development and learn about one of the most influential pop bands of our time.
Good Vibrations

Graceland (Album)
July 10 -- Paul Simon traveled to South Africa in 1985 after hearing a friend's tape of music from the country. His trip would become a cultural, political, and personal journey. After 10 days of working with local musicians, Simon returned to New York with several South African artists to produce an extraordinary juxtaposition of rhythm and story-based lyrics. NPR's Elizabeth Blair talks to Simon about the making of the album.
Graceland

Grand Canyon Suite
October 29 -- Born in New York, Ferde Grofe quit school at 13 and set off across the country on a series of odd jobs. He first saw the Grand Canyon on a 1916 trip with other workers and completed the Grand Canyon Suite in 1931. Theresa Schiavone profiles Ferde Grofe's classical masterpiece.
Grand Canyon Suite

"Great Balls of Fire"
November 3 -- Record producer Don Dixon (REM, The Smithereens) reveals the true roots of "the Devil's music" in this hit by the great Jerry Lee Lewis. Dixon traces the path that led Lewis into Sam Phillips' famous Sun Records studio in Memphis, where conversational outtakes from the "Great Balls of Fire" sessions reveal a tortured soul on the verge of stardom.
Great Balls of Fire

"The Great Pretender"
December 2 -- NPR's Loretta Williams reports on the second in a string of chart-topping hit songs for The Platters, the first black act to garner popularity from white audiences. Managed by the legendary Buck Ram, who also wrote "The Great Pretender," The Platters were, for a time, the most successful vocal group in the world.
The Great Pretender

Guys & Dolls (Musical)
November 25 -- Based on Damon Runyon's short story The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown, this musical centers on the character of Nathan Detroit, the organizer of the oldest-established, permanent-floating crap game in New York. Guys and Dolls opened at the 46th Street Theatre on November 24, 1950, and enjoyed a run of 1,200 performances. Listen as Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon explores the story behind the musical.
Guys & Dolls

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"Hellhound on my Trail"
June 5 -- NPR's Peter Breslow talks about the profound impact this song had on his life. Breslow's first exposure to the blues, "Hellhound on my Trail" was written by Robert Johnson and appeared on vinyl in 1937. A somewhat mysterious figure among of Mississippi Delta blues musicians, Johnson only recorded a few songs and very little biographical information on him exists. There are plenty of myths, however, including the story that he sold his soul to the Devil to play the guitar better.
Hellhound on my Trail

"Hello, Dolly"
July 30 -- Louis Armstrong thought so little of the song when he recorded it in late 1963, that when fans first clamored for it at his shows concerts year later, he had to ask a sideman what they were talking about. Armstrong rarely listened to popular radio, much preferring tapes he carried with him everywhere. By May 1965, the song had pushed The Beatles out of the top spot on the pop charts for the first time in three months and at 63, Armstrong had become the oldest artist to produce a number one hit. Murray Horwitz, NPR's Vice President for Cultural Programming, offers an appreciation of the biggest hit of Armstrong's long career.
Hello, Dolly

"His Eye is on the Sparrow"
September 3 -- By the mid-1950s, a woman with "a voice like an angel" had emerged as a leading light of American gospel music. Mahalia Jackson fashioned a string of hit songs out of gospel standards, from "Move on Up a Little Higher" to "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands." Deborah Williams offers an appreciation of Jackson's definitive rendition of the spiritual "His Eye Is On The Sparrow."
His Eye is on the Sparrow

"Hoochie Coochie Man"
April 3 -- When it came out as a single in 1954, this song, written by Willie Dixon and tracked by Muddy Waters, hovered near the top of the R&B charts for 13 weeks. Over the course of his long career, Waters re-interpreted the song numerous times, each one capturing the changes in the blues. NPR's David Welna reports.
Hoochie Coochie Man

"Hound Dog" & "Don't be Cruel"
January 10 -- First released in 1956 on opposite sides of one 45-rpm record, Elvis Presley's two hit singles shot to top of the popular-music charts and fostered the birth of rock and roll. NPR 100 series producer Elizabeth Blair reports on Presley, Mike Leiber, Jerry Stoller and Otis Blackwell -- the people behind the music.
Hound Dog

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"I Got Rhythm"
May 28 -- Art Hilgart, host of the public radio series Broadway Revisited, looks at the various interpretations of George and Ira Gershwin's classic "I Got Rhythm." In analyzing the version recorded by classical composer William Bolcom, Hilgart explores jazz composition, songwriting, and the 12-bar blues.
I Got Rhythm

"I Walk the Line"
December 23 -- NPR's Alice Winkler has the story of Johhny Cash's first big hit. Songwriter Rodney Crowell, who was married for a time to Cash's duaghter Rosanne, talks about how the song affected him the first time he heard it. Cash himself, in an archival interview from Fresh Air® with Terry Gross reveals how was first playing gospel music, until he realized that legendary Memphis record producer Sam Phillips wouldn't record that style, so Cash changed up to country.
I Walk the Line

"I Wanna Be Sedated"
The Ramones' 'Greatist Hits [Live]' December 4 -- The debut album by The Ramones, one of America's first widely recognized punk rock bands, contained 14 songs, the longest of which clocked in at a breezy 2:35 -- the entire disc was less than 30 minutes. The band's short, fast and loud songs, of which "Sedated" is the prototype, became their trademark sound, a very different approach to rock music in 1976. Village Voice rock critic Robert Christgau wrote "It blows everything else off the radio...just perfect, a minor classic." All Things Considered Director Bob Boilen offers this appreciation for the band and their song.
I Wanna Be Sedated

"I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"
April 24 -- NPR's Noah Adams tells the story of this Hank Williams song which, recorded in 1949, foreshadows Williams' death at age 29. Adams travels to Oak Hill, West Virginia, where Williams was found dead in the back of a sky-blue Cadillac on New Year's day in 1953. Adams speaks with music historian John Lilly.
I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry

"In the Mood"
July 29 -- NPR's Alice Winkler discovers a few interesting coincidences about "In the Mood," Glenn Miller's 1939 recording of the swing classic. She speaks with DJ and swing authority David Miller (no relation) about the difficulty of nailing down the real writer of a song from that era.
In the Mood

"(Goodnight) Irene"
August 19 -- This sentimental tune was a favorite of the folk and blues artist Leadbelly. In the 1930s, the fabled enertainer used it to open and close most of his concerts, in a conscious attempt to soften his rough-hewn image. In 1950, Pete Seeger revived the song and turned it into a major pop hit. Hannah Lord reports.
(Goodnight) Irene

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Kind of Blue (Album)
January 24 -- Critics and jazz fans alike consider Miles Davis' Kind of Blue an improvisational tour de force. Davis cultivated an atmosphere of creative instability by rolling tape his ensemble's first takes and refusing to rehearse. They turned out a collection of tunes that changed jazz history with an uncompromising sense of grace and invention. Critic Tom Moon offers his appreciation.
Kind of Blue

"King Porter Stomp"
October 16 -- Jelly Roll Morton wrote "King Porter Stomp" back in the early 1900s, when he was just a teenager playing piano in the clubs of his hometown, New Orleans. The composition incorporates a wide range of musical and cultural elements that were part of that scene, from ragtime and blues to classical and parlor songs, and to African and Caribbean music. Music historian Nick Spitzer reports that Morton was the first to use "riffs" as musical building blocks.
King Porter Stomp

"Koko"
August 27 -- Charlie Parker and his group were attempting a cover of the popular jazz tune "Cherokee" when the session producer asked Bird to do a different song due to copyright issues. His variation became "Koko," a song that almost single-handedly gave rise to bebop. Tom Vitale has an appreciation of Parker's breathless, breakneck jazz classic.
Koko

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"La Bamba"
The Ritchie Valens Story July 15 -- An old Mexican wedding dance with African roots, the song was given a rock and roll twist by Richie Valens and was released in 1958 on the flip side of the 17-year-old's second hit, "Donna." The B-side recording was messy and expected to be used only as filler and forgotten. But "La Bamba's" unexpected success made it the first Latin crossover hit in rock and roll history. NPR's Rolando Arrieta reports the story behind the song that catapulted Valens to stardom.
La Bamba

"Let's Stay Together"
June 4 -- When a young Al Green met with Hi Records producer Willie Mitchell, Mitchell realized the great potential in Green's seductive voice (while all Green wanted was to be liberated from his only big hit, "Back Up Train"). They turned the idea of soul music on its head in 1971, with the release of "Let's Stay Together" (after more than 100 takes). Green's career then took off and, for years, Mitchell remained his producer. NPR 100 series producer Elizabeth Blair speaks to Green and co-writer/producer Mitchell.
Let's Stay Together

"Light My Fire" The Best of the Doors
August 28 -- In 1965, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Robbie Krieger, and the late Jim Morrison came together in Venice, California, as The Doors. Their sound drew from a variety of influences, including jazz, blues, classical, British psychedelic rock, and the surf music of Southern California. Two years later, they recorded "Light My Fire," a seven-minute opus that many in the music industry were convinced could never achieve success at that length. But by July 1967, it was the number one song in America. NPR's Guy Raz talks with the three surviving members of The Doors.
Light My Fire

"Like a Rolling Stone"
November 9 -- Bob Dylan's raucous performance of this song on an electric guitar with The Band at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival made Joni Mitchell say "The American folk song has grown up." Marcie Sillman of member station KUOW profiles this 1960s hit.
Like a Rolling Stone

A Love Supreme (Album)
October 23 -- NPR's Eric Westervelt has the story of this classic 1964 recording by John Coltrane. Trane's four-part jazz masterpiece was a soul-searching attempt to express his faith in God through music following a long battle with drug and alcohol abuse.
A Love Supreme

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"Mack the Knife"
October 22 -- The swinging tune made popular in the United States by Louis Armstrong and Bobby Darin is actually an import from a rather bleak German musical, The ThreePenny Opera. Kurt Weill provided the music with lyrics by playwright Bertolt Brecht. The song's dark and graphic lyrics were softened for American audiences. Murray Horwitz, NPR's Vice President for Cultural Programming, has the full story.
Mack the Knife

"Maybellene"
July 2 -- Chuck Berry's 1955 song was recorded the first time he entered a professional studio, while he was working at his father's construction company and training to be a hairdresser. His daring mix of blues, R&B, and country led to a rock n' roll song, and "Maybellene" became a tremendous crossover hit. Jesse Wegman reports on the making of the song, revealing the racial tensions behind Berry's success and shows him to have been the first real all-in-one entertainer: singer, songwriter, musician, and choreographer.
Maybellene

"Mood Indigo"
November 6 -- Duke Ellington was a master at creating an element of surprise in his compositions. The unique voicing of instruments on "Mood Indigo" is an example of the composer's subtle sophistication. Lou Santacroce, host of NPR's At the Opera, tells the story behind this classic hit tune.
Mood Indigo

My Fair Lady (Musical)
July 15 -- NPR's Jeff Lunden reports on Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's "perfect musical," which opened on Broadway in 1956. The piece includes remarks from actor Rex Harrison, Alan Jay Lerner and Kitty Carlisle Hart, wife of the show's director, Moss Hart.
My Fair Lady

"My Funny Valentine"
February 14 -- With the music of Richard Rodgers and the lyrical wit of Lorenz (Larry) Hart, this song orginally came from the 1937 musical Babes in Arms. A perennial favorite come Valentine's Day, the analysis of its words, however, shows that they don't exactly evoke a sappy ode to love. NPR 100 series producer Elizabeth Blair charts the song's scope and reports on the troubled, talented man who penned the phrases familiar to couples the world over.
My Funny Valentine

"My Girl"
June 4 -- This 1964 song is so universally popular that when the Temptations tried to cut it from their standard concert set a few years ago, audiences booed them. R&B legend Smokey Robinson wrote it specifically for the group in collaboration with Barry Gordy, head of Motown Records. NPR 100 series producer Elizabeth Blair has the story.
My Girl

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"Night and Day"
June 25 -- One note, repeated 35 times over eight bars of music. That's the unlikely beginning to one of the greatest love ballads ever written. Cole Porter once claimed to have referenced a Moroccan prayer call when writing the song, or the melody might have come one night at New York's Ritz-Carlton hotel, the lyrics working themselves out on a Newport, Rhode Island, beach, the next day. NPR's Melissa Block tells the story of a song written for Fred Astaire that gets "under the very hide" of our feelings about passionate -- and even obsessive -- love.
Night and Day

"A Night in Tunisia"
September 3 -- Straddling swing and bebop, trumpet sensation Dizzy Gillespie "lived in a dream for a moment" during a break from a 1942 New York performance. The melody he knocked out at the piano became "A Night in Tunisia" and marked the arrival of Afro-Cuban rhythms in American jazz. Margot Stage reports that "Tunisia" became Gillespie's most popular and enduring works.
A Night in Tunisia

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Oklahoma! (Musical)
April 29 -- The Broadway musical Oklahoma!, premiered in 1943, and was expected to flop. Richard Rodgers wrote it without his long-time lyricist Lorenzo Hart (its librettist, Oscar Hammerstein, was only, at that time, famous for his failures). As NPR's Jeff Lunden tells it, however, the show did a little better than expected: it launched a revolution in American musical theater and turned a huge profit.
Oklahoma!

"Once in a Lifetime"
March 27 -- From the 1980 Talking Heads album, Remain in Light, this song marks a change in the way bands wrote songs: jamming in the studio, recording the product, and creating tunes around improvised minimalistic riffs which caught their ears on the playback. NPR's Rick Karr talks to the band members and producer Brian Eno about Talking Heads'songwriting revolution.
Once in a Lifetime

"One O'Clock Jump"
August 21 -- Tom Vitale reports on this tune, recorded in 1937 by the Count Basie Orchestra. With its driving rhythm section, "Jump" became Basie's signature theme, and the band played it at the end of their performances for more than 50 years.
One O'Clock Jump

"Oye Como Va"
September 25 -- Written by the late Latin jazz percussionist Tito Puente, "Oye Como Va" reached its widest audience when it was recorded by the San Francisco rock band Santana. Their 1970 album Abraxas spent six weeks at the top of Billboard's Album Chart and thirty weeks in the Top Ten. "Oye Como Va" got significant Top 40 airplay, helping solidify Carlos Santana's place in history as one of the fathers of Latin rock. NPR's David Welna reports.
Oye Como Va

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"Papa's Got a Brand New Bag"
July 29 -- James Brown was a concert sensation in the black America during the early 1960s. But until "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" climbed the charts in 1965, he was largely unknown to white fans. The song, Brown's first Top Ten hit, was a metaphor for the changing times. It also represents Brown's first attempt to capture the rhythms of his live performances in a studio recording. All those breaks in the melody gave him a chance to execute his intricate dance moves. Dan Bindert of member station WCPN in Cleveland has the story behind this ground-breaking hit from the "Godfather of Soul."
Papa's Got a Brand New Bag

"Peggy Sue"
December 8 -- NPR's David C. Barnett reveals that Buddy Holly's classic tune "Peggy Sue" didn't begin life as a keeper at all. It wasn't until the Crickets added a few paradiddles and changed the chorus from "Cindy Lou" to "Peggy Sue" that the song finally made it out of the studio onto the charts.
Peggy Sue

Porgy & Bess (Opera)
October 8 -- NPR's Jeff Lunden has an appreciation of this classic Gershwin brothers opera. Based on a story by DuBose Heyward, it was first performed in October 1935 and was orinally met with mixed reviews. Its tunes have developed such acclaim, however, that often virtuosos like violinist Jascha Heifetz transcribed them as instrumental encores, and people still whistle them today.
Porgy & Bess

Psycho (Film Score)
October 30 -- In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho created an entertainment sensation: no one could be seated after the film began, the star of the movie was killed ten minutes into the story, and the stark black-and-white images served to heighten the film's chilling plot. Using only strings due to a tight production budget, composer Bernard Hermann created a soundtrack to accompany the horror on screen that was equally terrifying. NPR's All Things Considered host Robert Siegel talks with critics, composers, and Hermann's biographer about the musician and his unforgettable score.
Psycho (Film Score)

"Purple Haze"
September 18 -- Guitarist Jimi Hendrix wrote Purple Haze on December 26, 1966, during a gig at a club in London. He said that the lyrics were based on a dream he had after reading a science fiction novel. Jesse Wegman reports on how the Jimi Hendrix Experience came together and recorded the hit song.
Purple Haze

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"Rapper's Delight"
December 29 -- Elizabeth Blair, series producer for the NPR 100, reports on this unforgettable rap classic. Tracing the history of the hit, she spoke with members of Sugar Hill Gang -- Big Bank Hank, Wonder Mike and Master Gee -- and other major players in the earliest old school days of rap, including Kurtis Blow, Kurtis Brown (aka Grandmaster Caz, who wrote many of the rhymes for "Rappers Delight"), and Village Voice reporter Harry Allen.
Rapper's Delight

"Respect"
November 26 -- Commentator Evelyn C. White describes the life-affirming effect Aretha Franklin's powerful anthem had on her and other young black women growing up in the turbulent 1960s. The song was written and first recorded by the late Otis Redding.
Respect

"Rhapsody in Blue"
February 13 -- NPR's Jeff Lunden tells the story of George Gershwin's most identifiable masterpiece. At age 25, Gershwin took only three weeks to compose one of the most enduring pieces of American music. Used for the film score to Woody Allen's Manhattan, this episodic and jazzy one-movement piano concerto evokes the hustle-bustle of New York's grand metropolitan aura.
Rhapsody in Blue

"Rock Around the Clock"
July 1 -- Bill Haley was a Swiss yodeler from the Philadelphia suburbs who, at the very least, made an unlikely rock star. But after this song was written -- with dubious authorship -- Haley seemed destined for fame. Unfortunately, his group The Comets, ran into endless problems with clueless musicians, bad blood with various recording studios, lack of studio time, and shoddy recordings. When the song was finally released in 1954, it received attention only after it was included in the soundtrack for the popular movie Blackboard Jungle and went on to sell over a million copies. NPR's David C. Barnett uncovers the trials and tribulations behind what has been called the very first rock n' roll song.
Rock Around the Clock

"'Round Midnight"
November 20 -- Thelonious Monk probably composed this song in 1938, though no one knows for sure as it comes early in Monk's career when he worked in relative obscurity. Monk soon became known as a great jazz innovator, one of a small group of musicians who were part of the bebop revolution of the 1940s. His piano playing and compositions were challenging and inspiring to peers like Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and John Coltrane. He was known for angular melodies with odd stops and starts and dissonant clusters of notes.
`Round Midnight

"Route 66"
May 6 -- Bobby Troup wrote it, Nat King Cole sang it, and it became a classic. Route 66 is the most famous highway in American transportation history. But its representation in this hit song is only one part of the song's musical success. NPR's Hannah Lord reports.
Route 66

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"St. Louis Blues"
January 16 -- W.C. Handy, a middle-class African American, wrote "St. Louis Blues" in 1914, a time when Tin Pan Alley's popular songs began to fuse with folklore to explore the blues, the form that led to the full-fledged birth of American jazz. NPR's Margaret Howze reports on the song's background and its definitive 1925 recording by Bessie Smith with cornet accompaniment by Louis Armstrong.
St. Louis Blues

Showboat (Musical)
April 17 -- Written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, Showboat opened on Broadway in 1927 and presented a challenge to the average musical, which, at that time, was little more than frivolous entertainment. Kern and Hammerstein conceived of a musical hybrid -- a show that marries opera and musical comedy with songs that function as narratives and themes both dramatic and comedic. NPR's Jeff Lunden reports.
Showboat (musical)

"Sing, Sing, Sing"
January 31 -- On January 16, 1938, Benny Goodman and his musicians took to the Carnegie Hall stage for the first swing music concert in the hall's history; for scholars, the concert would eventually mark the birthplace of the genre's legitimacy. "Sing, Sing, Sing," was the program's last number and what Goodman called a "killer diller." Goodman biographer Ross Firestone references the song's first recording with the comments of audience member Turk van Lake and Goodman himself.
Sing, Sing, Sing

"Singin' in the Rain"
July 16 -- Here at NPR, we're certain that Metro Goldwyn Mayer's signature song, "Singin' in the Rain," deserves to be on the NPR 100 list. The song appeared in a total of seven MGM musicals, including an Academy Award-winner and a movie in which it was the title song. The question that remains, however, is one about the song's origins, which are shrouded in folklore. When the song was actually written, and for what purpose, remains unknown, even though it is sometimes called Hollywood's finest work. The only definite information is about the composer and lyricist, both of whom are long dead. Surrounded by myth, mystery, and long-forgotten memories, Tony Sarabia of member station WBEZ in Chicago investigates the origins of this American classic.
Singin' in the Rain

"Sittin' On the Dock of the Bay"
September 17 -- Steve Cropper, guitarist with Booker T & the MG's and co-writer of "Dock of the Bay", tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Liane Hansen about the creation of Otis Redding's last and biggest hit and the struggle to finish it after the singer's untimely death.
Sittin' On the Dock of the Bay

"Smells Like Teen Spirit"
May 15 -- NPR's Guy Raz profiles the 1991 song that shot Seattle rock band Nirvana to the top of the charts. Written by Nirvana frontman the late Kurt Cobain, its quick popularity marked the rising appeal of so-called "grunge" music, which, produced over the synthesized sounds of late-1980s pop, changed the direction of rock and significantly influencing the "alternative" culture of the 1990s.
Smells Like Teen Spirit

"Stand By Your Man"
October 28 -- Sometimes it's hard to be a woman...and sometimes it's hard to figure out how a song will affect the public. Tammy Wynette and producer Billy Sherrill cut "Stand By Your Man" in just a few minutes to wrap up a 1968 album. Wynette, who wrote the song, never really liked it all that much, even though it became her signature tune. Feminists didn't like it, either, and the artist had to defend the song the rest of her life. Anita Bugg of member station WPLN in Nashville has the story.
Stand By Your Man

"Star Dust"
December 11 -- NPR's Susan Stamberg has the story of "Star Dust," written by Hoagy Carmichael in 1927 while he was attending Indiana University. The song started off as an up-tempo dance instrumental but later, as its popularity grew, lyrics were added and the rhythm of "Star Dust" slowed to a ballad. By the end of the 1930s, the tune was a certifiable American classic.
Star Dust

"Symphony of Psalms"
December 24 -- Igor Stravinsky wrote his "Symphony of Psalms" in 1929 for the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony. In 1999, Time magazine named it the best piece of the century. Like most of Stravinsky's music, it created a fresh kind of beauty while stretching the boundaries of the genre. NPR's Anya Grundmann tells the story of this inspirational work.
Symphony of Psalms

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"Take Five"
November 19 -- The best-selling jazz single of the century came very close to not getting released at all, but "Take Five" by the Dave Brubeck Quartet turned out to be one for the ages. The song's catchy, syncopated melody has lured countless music lovers to jazz. Tony Sarabia of Chicago Public Radio has the story of this ground-breaking track.
Take Five

"Take My Hand, Precious Lord"
Jauary 17 -- Gospel's most-recorded song held an important place in the culture of black Americans -- it was played at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. All Things Considered host Linda Wertheimer speaks with Dr. Michael Harris, Professor of History at Manhattan's Union Theological Seminary, whose book, The Rise of Gospel Blues, The Music of Thomas Andrew Dorsey in the Urban Church, tells the story of the song's author.
Take My Hand, Precious Lord

"Take the 'A' Train"
June 12 -- In 1938, Billy Strayhorn, a Pittsburgh soda jerk, drugstore delivery boy, and composer in his free time, knocked out this classic. When he swung a meeting with jazz great Duke Ellington, however, a professional composing career finally became a reality. With vision, Ellington turned his song, about one of New York's unreliable subways to Harlem and Sugar Hill, into a famed jazz standard. NPR's Brooke Gladstone talks to Strayhorn's biographer, who tells the story of a bold kid who dared to challenge the great Duke Ellington and, in turn, became one of his closest friends.
Take the A Train

Talking Book (Album)
December 29 -- NPR's Deborah Williams explores the story behind this transformational Stevie Wonder album, a touchstone for the artist that he has often referred back to throughout his long career. It represents Wonder's professional and musical coming of age in the early 1970s when he abandoned the Motown hit-making formula that had defined his sound and witnessed the emergence of his more holistic approach to making records as a singer, writer and producer.
Talking Book

Tapestry (Album)
August 24 -- NPR 100 series producer Elizabeth Blair reports on Carole King's album Tapestry. With her husband, Gerry Goffin, King started out as a songwriter in the Brill Building, penning hits for artists Little Eva, Aretha Franklin, and others. King didn't sing her own songs until after her divorce, but when she did, she sold 15 million copies.
Tapestry

"Theme from Shaft" Shaft Soundtrack
December 18 -- In 1969, Isaac Hayes was the top songwriter for soul label Stax Records in Memphis when an opportunity came to audition for the lead role in a new movie about a tough black police detective. At first, he patiently waited for a call-back, but finally telephoned the production's casting agent who kindly told him the bad news -- Richard Roundtree had been chosen for the part. The good news was that Gordon Parks wanted Hayes to score the film, resulting in his number one hit. NPR's Karen Michel has the story.
Theme from Shaft

"This Land is Your Land"
July 3 -- Woody Guthrie was originally from Oklahoma, but he loved traveling: he walked, hitch-hiked, and rode the rails all around the country. He was also a prolific writer, and scribbled the words to "This Land Is Your Land" down on a loose-leaf sheet of paper in 1940. Guthrie recorded the song for Mo Asch, founder of Folkways Records, in New York City in 1944, but the song wasn't released until 1951. By that time, "This Land Is Your Land" had become something of a leftist national anthem, sung at rallies, political events, and in schools. Folklorist Nick Spitzer pays tribute to Guthrie and his quintessentially American song.
This Land is Your Land

"Tom Dooley"
July 31 -- This traditional folk song was made a hit by The Kingston Trio in 1958, but its roots hail from North Carolina nearly a century earlier. The title character was hanged for the murder of a woman named Laura Foster. All Things Considered host Noah Adams traveled to western North Carolina, where the real Tom Dooley lived and died, to investigate the origins of the song. His report includes a version of the song as sung by Frank Profit Jr., whose great-grandmother witnessed the hanging of Tom Dooley when she was a child in the town of Statesville.
Tom Dooley

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The Velvet Underground and Nico (Album)
November 12 -- Critics have long marveled at how the influence of this 1967 album is so remarkably out of proportion with its sales figures. NPR's Rick Karr profiles the radical debut LP of the group led by rock pioneer Lou Reed and pushed toward fame by pop art legend Andy Warhol.
The Velvet Underground and Nico

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Warner Brothers Cartoon Music
November 27 -- The musical scores of Carl Stalling, who worked for Warner Brothers during the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, were fast, complex, and adventurous, and borrow from a variety of genres including classical, pop, folk, and jazz. In her report, Linda Wertheimer speaks with Greg Ford, who compiled a 2-disc anthology of Stalling's music.
Warner Brothers Cartoon Music

"We Shall Overcome"
NPR's Noah Adams reports that "We Shall Overcome" began life as a work song and was then adopted by organized labor before becoming a civil rights anthem in the early 1960s. The piece is presented here in two parts.
We Shall Overcome - part one

(Part 1)

We Shall Overcome - part two

(Part 2)

"West End Blues"
August 6 -- NPR's John Burnett travels to the Crescent City of New Orleans in search of the jazz masterpiece "West End Blues." Joe King Oliver wrote the song, but it was Louis Armstrong's 1928 recording that put the it in the jazz pantheon.
West End Blues

West Side Story (Musical)
August 14 -- The work of four men, West Side Story married popular jazz and Latin rhythms with a classical score. Composer Leonard Bernstein, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, director and choreographer Jerome Robbins, and playwright Arthur Laurents all had a hand in the 1960s Broadway smash. NPR music critic Tom Manoff spoke with Laurents and actress Chita Rivera, who created the role of Anita, to tell the story of this extraordinary collaboration.
West Side Story

"What'd I Say"
February 21 -- All Things Considered host Robert Siegel talks to pianist/composer Ray Charles about his famous 1959 song which, Charles maintains, is really "about nothing" -- the lyrics "don't make sense," he says, and reduce to a call-and-response exercise between soloist, singers, and audience. Improvised on stage one night while on tour in 1959, the song is still played as an encore by Charles for most of his concerts and he considers it his trademark song.
What'd I Say

"What's Going On"
August 7 -- This 1971 song begins with the friendly, bustling sounds of a Vietnam veteran's homecoming party, but, all the while, an uneasy vibe lurks beneath the good times. The veteran was Marvin Gaye's much-changed brother Frank and "What's Going On" reflected a similar change in the singer's career. His personal life and the nation's struggle to come to grips with divisive social issues made Gaye realize that singing simplistic love songs for Motown Records was something he could no longer do. Music reviewer Tom Moon reveals how the song marked a resurrection of sorts for Gaye and influenced Motown to allow other artists in their stable to take creative liberties in their work.
What's Going On

"White Christmas"
December 25 -- NPR's Jeff Lunden speaks with Jody Rosen, who is writing a book about this Irving Berlin classic, and the composer's daughter, Linda Emmit. Rosen reveals that a big part of the song's success was its inclusion on the 1942 playlist of Armed Forces Radio and suggests that it ushered in the era when performers became more popular than songwriters as the main creative vehicle for American pop music -- Tin Pan Alley had passed into history.
White Christmas

"Wildwood Flower"
December 14 -- Dick Spottswood, a former record producer and current radio host at WAMU in Washington, D.C, recounts the history of "Wildwood Flower". The song, like many recorded by the country music group The Carter Family, was passed down from generation-to-generation, without the benefit of written lyrics. Though its words are peculiar, its melody has kept the song popular and it has been recorded by many artists over the years.
Wildwood Flower

The Wizard of Oz (Film Score)
December 18 -- NPR's Noah Adams talks with John Fricke, author of several books on The Wizard of Oz, about the film's songs, written by Harold Arlen and lyrics were by Yip Harburg, and the score, written by Herbert Stothart. Fricke reveals inside details about the material, including the fact that "Over the Rainbow" was almost taken out of the film after several test screenings.
The Wizard of Oz





   
   
   
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