Sunday, January 24, 2021

Carole King Weaves a Tapestry - 50 Years Ago

As a songwriter, Carole King, beside her husband and lyricist Gerry Goffin, penned many of the defining records of the 60s. With Carole on the piano in a small apartment adjacent to the legendary Brill Building, the team wrote hit after hit, from The Shirelles' "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" to Bobby Vee's "Take Good Care of my Baby." "The Loco-Motion" was recorded by the Goffin's babysitter, Little Eva. It would reach No. 1 on the charts, and then rise to the top once again with the Grand Funk Railroad version. Other hits include Herman's Hermits' "I'm Into Something Good," "Goin' Back" by Dusty Springfield, The Monkees' incomparable "Pleasant Valley Sunday," and "(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman" by Aretha Franklin. Even the Beatles took advantage of the couples' "Chains" on Please Please Me.

By the end of the 1960s, composers like King and songwriting padawan Joni Mitchell knew the era of songwriters was waning, Instead, artists like Dylan and, later, The Beatles ushered in the "singer/songwriter." It was then that Carole and Gerry split and King headed to L.A., like the girls "coming to the canyon," prompted by James Taylor.

Carole's debut LP, Writer, was critically well-received but didn’t make a dent in the pop charts. Most notably, the LP featured "Up On the Roof" which Taylor would cover a few years later (it had already been a hit for The Drifters). Then, in February 1971, came Tapestry, the second-biggest seller of 1971 and '72. For several years, it was the best-selling album in the world. The LP's sparse production from Lou Adler and the personal way in which Carole related to her own songs garnered a raw and emotive vocal performance as fresh today as fifty years ago. Tapestry captured the soul of a generation and the attitude of the newly liberated woman in songs like "I Feel the Earth Move" and her subdued version of the Aretha hit "Natural Woman." Tapestry plays like a greatest hits LP with pop ballads "It's Too Late" and "So Far Away," and Carole's "cover" of her own song, "You've Got a Friend," that friend, James, took to the top of the charts.
But let's backtrack a bit to a part you may not know: King pretty much retired to raise her two daughters after her breakup with a cheating husband before heading west to Laurel Canyon in 1967 where she joined progressive-folk band The City with future husband Charles Larkey on bass and Danny Kortchmar on guitar and vocals. With King's sultry vocals and piano, The City's sound was deep and soulful, imperfect but passionate. The LP, Now That Everythings Been Said, was a [very] minor hit and from it, the Monkees covered "A Man Without A Dream," Blood, Sweat and Tears had a hit with "Hi-De-Ho (That Old Sweet Roll)" and the Byrds would famously tackle "Wasn't Born To Follow," on the Easy Rider soundtrack.
"[We] expected it to zoom to the top of the charts within, at most, a few weeks. Individually and together, we optimistically imagined the album’s success as if it had already happened. Danny and Charlie kept telling each other, 'It’s a great album. The City’s gonna be number one with a bullet!'" It wasn't meant to be, and the LP was pulled from production, remaining that way at King’s request for more than 30 years. Few have ever heard of it. Tapestry, instead, released four years later, remains the 2nd longest-charting LP after Dark Side of the Moon. Often available in the $2 bin (because there were so many pressings), you'll be hard-pressed to find one in good condition – the LP was played to death, although one's collection is not complete without it.

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