The White House Record Crate

As Barack Obama and family are no doubt discovering, moving into the big white mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue comes with lots of perks. After all, how many houses do you know that have a bowling alley, a tennis court, a jogging track, a swimming pool, a putting green, a movie theatre and 35 bathrooms?

Did you know the president’s new pad also comes with a kick-ass record collection?

Rolling Stone’s David Browne writes that the official White House Record Library is a music lover’s dream come true and includes:

“…several hundred LPs that include landmark albums in rock (Led Zeppelin IV, The Rolling StonesLet It Bleed), punk (the Ramones’ Rocket to Russia, the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols), cult classics (Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, the Flying Burrito Brothers’ The Gilded Palace of Sin) and disco. Not to mention records by Santana, Neil Young, Talking Heads, Isaac Hayes, Elton John, the Cars and Barry Manilow.”

Photo: AP Photo
Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y.

So how exactly did the White House wind up with an official music library? Well, in a departure from their normal fuzzy thinking, the folks at the RIAA decided that the presidential library should include sound recordings in addition to books.

“In 1973, the organization donated close to 2,000 LPs. The bad news: The selection was dominated by the likes of Pat Boone, the Carpenters and John Denver. In 1979, legendary producer John Hammond convened a new commission to update the list for the hipper Carter administration. ‘They felt they needed to redress some of the oversights that might have taken place the first time around,’ says Boston music critic and author Bob Blumenthal, who was put in charge of adding 200 rock records to the library.”

Blumenthal tested the waters to see exactly what kind of albums might be accepted, using Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys to gauge reactions. After he was told it was one of the president’s favorites, he and a panel that included then Rolling Stone reviews editor Paul Nelson set to work upping the coolness factor, adding albums like The KinksArthur and David Bowie’s Hunky Dory.

Photo: Tony Bonyata /
David Bowie flashes those million-dollar choppers at Illinois’ Rosemont Theatre.

In an amazingly ill-timed move, the new collection, housed in slick protective sleeves bearing a presidential seal, was unveiled during a presentation ceremony on January 13, 1981. That’s right, one week before the Gipper moved in.

Remember all the fuss over Nancy Reagan’s redecoration of the White House? Guess what else didn’t fit into her design plans.

“When Ronald Reagan took office that year, the LPs were moved to the basement. Depending on the source, the reason was Nancy Reagan’s distaste for shelves of vinyl, or the edgy choices themselves.”

Photo: AP Photo
Rose Garden Arena, Portland, Ore.

So will our 44th commander-in-chief, who carries a Blackberry and an iPod and admits a fondness for Dylan and Springsteen, move the collection back to a place of prominence and update it again? A spokesman told Rolling Stone it was too soon to tell.

Here’s hoping the Obamas’ Wednesday night cocktail parties (another long-lost White House tradition they’ve revived) will soon be rockin’ to hits from the ’80s and ’90s. Just imagine Washington’s Who’s-Who getting down to Prince’s 1999, The B-52’s Cosmic Thing, The PretendersLearning to Crawl or Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing’s Shocking.

Read Rolling Stone’s complete story here.