The White House’s Forgotten 1970s Vinyl Record Collection: Talking Heads, Sex Pistols, Captain Beefheart, Donna Summer & More

Though it may not be for everyone, the job of President of the United States of America does have its perks. Take, for example, the ability to screen any film you like at the White House: here on Open Culture, we’ve previously featured lists of movies watched by Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. But for Carter in particular, music seems to have been even more important than cinema. So explains John Chuldenko, stepson of that former president’s son Jack, in the episode of The 1600 Sessions above. In it, he tells of his rediscovery of an institution created under Nixon, greatly expanded under Carter, and packed away under Reagan: the White House Record Library.

“The Library, begun by First Lady Pat Nixon, was curated by a volunteer commission of noted music journalists, scholars, and other experts,” says the White House Historical Association. When it came time to update it at the end of the nineteen-seventies, writes Washingtonian’s Rob Brunner, “the selection process would be headed by John Hammond, a hugely influential figure who had signed Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, and Bruce Springsteen.” Hammond also enlisted genre experts like “Modern Jazz Quartet pianist John Lewis, who was responsible for jazz, and Boston music critic Bob Blumenthal, who led the pop picks.”

The resulting collection of more than 2,000 LPs contains more than a few albums you wouldn’t expect to hear at the White House. These include Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys (which contains “one of the greatest critiques of both Southern and Northern racism,” as Blumenthal recalls), Talking Heads’ More Songs About Buildings and Food, Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, and Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. On the more danceable end of the spectrum, the White House Record Library also includes Funkadelic’s, Earth, Wind, and Fire, and Donna Summer — all of their work selected expressly for presidential use.

Having last been updated in 1981 and summarily carted off to “a secure undisclosed storage facility,” the Library remains a musical time capsule of that era. So Chuldenko discovered when, following a thread of family lore, he managed to track down a curator who could arrange a listening session for him. “There is no rap or hip-hop in there,” he said to Washingtonian. “There’s no electronic music. There are no boy bands, no Madonna or Britney Spears. No Michael Jackson!” Having succeeded in his mission of finding the White House Record Library, he’s set for himself the even more formidable challenge of bringing it up to date. Certainly its geographical purview will have to widen, given how America now listens to so much music from beyond its borders. Would the White House care to hear any K-pop recommendations?

Related content:

Haruki Murakami Announces an Archive That Will House His Manuscripts, Letters & Collection of 10,000+ Vinyl Records

Google Gives 360° Tour of the White House

Listen to James Baldwin’s Record Collection in a 478-track, 32-Hour Spotify Playlist

The Library of Congress Makes Its Archives Free for DJs to Remix: Introducing the “Citizen DJ” Project

David Bowie Lists His 25 Favorite LPs in His Record Collection: Stream Most of Them Free Online

The Internet Archive Is Digitizing & Preserving Over 100,000 Vinyl Records: Hear 750 Full Albums Now

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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Comments (18)
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  • Riley Whitener says:

    I’d love to have that collection!

  • Oscar says:

    Jimmy Carter definitely included the Allman Brothers Band, and the Marshall Tucker Band who both held concerts for Carter.
    Sex Pistols LP includes the single ‘God Save the Queen’ banned by BBC. Even their label refused to release it, Virgin Records picked it up, nearly a #1 song.
    State Dept would be appalled as the Queen was not amused.

  • Jake Forrest says:

    Just another example of Reagan sucking. I was a Ronnie believer at one time but some of the shit he pulled was bad news. He just didn’t get caught.

  • Pete Bellotte says:

    How can I find out which Donna Summer album is the the White House Record Library please.
    Pete Bellotte

  • Klodia says:

    I bet the albums are in better condition than mine. 😀

  • Marvin Washington says:

    These LP’s was perched with tax payers money so if no one else is claiming them I want my albums sent to me asap..Thank You!

  • Marty says:

    I wish I could have that collection I have am a vinyl junkie

  • Robert Mazzella says:

    I wonder if Nixon or Reagan put in any Charley Pride records.

  • Xyster says:

    Yes…looks like there was a big circular one on the front that they have taken off its hinges…

  • Nancy Fernandez says:

    I absolutely want the Dylan albums and any Zeppelin, Who,Queen,Stones,The Band,love the Boss have albums but pretty used,I need those.I love the cool storage for the Vinyl collection!

  • Anthony Silveira says:

    Put the record up for sale !! I would darn sure buy them ……ok !

  • Anthony Silveira says:

    Put the records up for sale !! I would darn sure buy them ……ok ! Put online as well

  • Janet Tait says:

    I would love to be the D.J. and play this vinyl 24/7 in the White House and play for the people too

  • Nancy Fischer says:

    I would love to see the entire list of what albums were found! Any chance that’s available? Thank you.

  • Nicholas Guinan says:

    I’m retired but still do some I.T. work. That’s why I would benefit from having this software.

  • Mats Haglund says:

    I wonder whitch Frank Zappa albums are hidden in the vault? And also intresting : : who bought them? Was it perhaps Ronald Reagan??? Lol. Mats.

  • William says:

    Those two guys talking about the records are as stuffy as a Thanksgiving turkey.

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