Happy Birthday, Carole King

Today, Carole King turned 80 years – wow, it’s hard to believe! Admittedly, I would have completely missed the occasion, had it not been for a Facebook post I saw earlier this evening.

Ignoring the 80th birthday of one of my longtime favorite singer-songwriters simply wasn’t an option. Carole’s defining solo album Tapestry holds a special place in my heart. I devoted an entire series to this record around its 50th anniversary in February of last year.

Carole King & James Taylor

Not only is Tapestry a timeless gem, but it also was one of the very first vinyl music records I heard back in Germany when was about eight years old. This album became an essential part of what marked the start of my journey into the beautiful world of music, a journey I’m so glad I embraced, and a journey that continues to this day.

If you’re looking for a recap of Carole’s life and her impressive accomplishments, there’s a great bio on her website. Frankly, I probably couldn’t do better than that. Instead, I’d like to celebrate the happy occasion with some of the great music Carole has written.

I’m going to do this in the form of a Spotify playlist that is focused on Carole’s solo career. In case you’d like to read about her songwriting partnership with Jerry Goffin, you could check the aforementioned bio or this post I published in November 2020.

Let’s get to some music. The following career-spanning playlist is in chronological order, starting with Carole’s solo debut album Writer from May 1970 and going to Tapestry: Live in Hyde Park, released in 2017.

Happy birthday and many happy returns!

Sources: Wikipedia; Carole King website; Spotify

Three Ladies Who Did It Twice

Tina Turner and Carole King have now joined Stevie Nicks as only female music artists inducted twice into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

On Saturday night, Tina Turner and Carole King were officially inducted for the second time into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Prior to them, only one other female music artist had accomplished that feat: Stevie Nicks.

I fully realize many music fans are highly critical of the Rock Hall, some to the point where they no longer care, as do certain artists based on what they’ve said. Debates about the secretive selection process and who’s in the Rock Hall and who’s not are certain to continue.

Instead of rehashing controversy, I’d like to celebrate these three amazing women, Stevie Nicks, Tina Turner and Carole King, and their great music. All three are among my longtime favorite artists and very deserving inductees, IMHO.

Stevie Nicks

Nicks was first inducted as a member of Fleetwood Mac in 1998, together with former and current band members Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, Lindsey Buckingham, John McVie, Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan and Christine McVie.

From Rock Hall website: After forming as a British blues band in the late ’60s, Fleetwood Mac evolved into one of the most influential rock groups of the ’70s. Not only did they write some of the decade’s most indelible songs—and release one of the best-selling albums of all time, 1977’s Rumours—but the troupe created a distinctive “California sound” that endures today as a sonic touchstone for countless bands.

Here’s one of my favorite tunes written by Nicks for Fleetwood Mac from the band’s second eponymous album that appeared in July 1975: Landslide. I really dig her singing and Buckingham’s acoustic guitar playing.

Nicks’ induction as a solo performer happened in 2019. From Rock Hall website: Stevie Nicks’ life and career have always had a touch of magical enchantment. Tonight represents a crowning validation of her spellbinding gifts as a rock & roll icon, as she becomes the first woman to be twice inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – with Fleetwood Mac in 1998, and now as a solo artist.

Following is Stand Back, a tune from Nicks’ sophomore solo album The Wild Heart, which appeared in June 1983. Also released as a single, the song became one of her highest-charting, climbing to no. 5 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at no. 10 in Canada, and reaching the top 40 in various other countries, including The Netherlands, Germany and Australia. It’s definitely a child of its time!

Tina Turner

Tina Turner was first inducted into the Rock Hall in 1991 as part of Ike & Tina Turner. From Rock Hall website: A charismatic bandleader and an unbridled whirlwind of sexual energy formed one of the most formidable live acts in history. Ike and Tina Turner were such a presence onstage that even their own albums don’t do them justice. The explosive duo made such enduring hits as “River Deep–Mountain High,” “Proud Mary” and “Nutbush City Limits.” Ike Turner was a talented songwriter and guitarist. Unfortunately, his physical and psychological abuse of Tina Turner will forever diminish him. Here’s the amazing Nutbush City Limits, which actually was written by Tina Turner – I always mistakenly had thought Ike had penned it! The tune was the title track of Ike & Tina Turner’s studio album from November 1973 and became a signature song.

From Rock Hall press release announcing 2021 inductees: …Tina Turner is known as the Queen of Rock & Roll, a title she earned not just once but twice. The first time, she rose to fame in the 1960s as part of the duo Ike and Tina Turner, belting out soulful rock songs in a non-stop stage show where she danced the audience into a frenzy. But all of that is backstory to the most successful and triumphant rebirth in the history of rock…

The most important album of Turner’s solo career is Private Dancer from May 1984, which not only turned her into a viable solo artist but an international superstar. Here’s the title track, written by Mark Knopfler. While it’s obviously a radical departure from the R&B sound of Ike & Tina Turner, I still love that tune!

Carole King

Carole King’s initial induction into the Rock Hall occurred in 1990, together with her ex-husband and former lyricist Jerry Goffin. From Rock Hall website: Gerry Goffin and Carole King wrote much of the soundtrack of the Sixties. Chances are, you have danced around to a hit single by the dynamic songwriting duo. Goffin wrote the lyrics and King wrote the music for such hits as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “One Fine Day” and “Don’t Bring Me Down.”

After their breakthrough Will You Love Me Tomorrow, which The Shirelles took to no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1961, Goffin-King became a hit machine. There are so many tunes I could have picked here. I decided to go with Chains, first recorded by American girl group The Cookies in 1962, climbing to no. 6 on Billboard’s R&B Singles chart and reaching a respectable no. 17 on the mainstream Hot 100. The tune was also covered by The Beatles and appeared on their UK debut album Please Please Me.

This brings me to Carole King’s second induction as a solo artist. From Rock Hall website: After writing the soundtrack of the 1960s, Carole King wove a tapestry of  emotion and  introspection as a singer-songwriter in the 1970s.  Her solo work was a clarion call to generations of female artists and  millions of  fans  –  giving  them voice and confidence.  King has too many accolades to list – six Grammys,  the  2013  Library of Congress Gershwin Prize,  a  2015 Kennedy Center Honor,  and beyond.

As somebody who has loved Carole King’s music since his childhood days, I’m very happy she also finally got the Rock Hall’s well-deserved recognition as a solo artist. It was also great to read that she was able to attend Saturday’s induction ceremony – unlike Tina Turner who is turning 82 on November 26 and sadly not in good health. You can watch King’s performance of You’ve Got a Friend here, featuring Danny Kortchmar (guitar) and Leland Sklar (bass), among others – probably King’s last major public performance, since she has said she’s no longer touring.

Similar to Goffin-King, there were so many songs I could have picked from King’s solo career, including pretty much any track from Tapestry. Instead, I decided to highlight Hard Rock Cafe, a song from her eighth album Simple Things that appeared in July 1977. I’ve always liked this happy song, which also was released as a single and charted in the top 30 in the U.S., Canada, Australia and various European countries, including Austria, Belgium and Switzerland.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rock Hall website; YouTube

Is Monkee-Mania Still Alive?

Yesterday, I coincidentally listened to a new live album by The Monkees. And, nope, this isn’t some old material somebody had dug out from an archive. It was actually recorded in March 2019 from the so-called Mike & Micky Show and is the first live album released by Michael Nesmith and Micky Dolenz, who toured as The Monkees in 2018/2019. No matter how you feel about what initially was a fictitious band created for an American television show in the mid-’60s, listening to the 24 tracks isn’t only fun but also vividly illustrates how many great songs The Monkees have had. Plus, let’s not forget that Nesmith and Peter Tork had instrumental skills from the beginning and Davy Jones was a capable vocalist, while Dolenz eventually learned how to play the drums.

The collection spans the entire 50-plus year catalog of The Monkees. Frankly, I had not realized how active the band had remained in more recent years. Their latest studio album Christmas Party appeared in October 2018. And while it has a Christmas theme, it’s not just pop versions of holiday tunes. It also came out only less than two years after Good Times!, their previous studio release from May 2016. By the way, both of these albums were co-produced by Fountains of Wayne co-founder and key song contributor Adam Schlesinger, who passed away last Tuesday from complications caused by COVID-19. It’s kind of crazy how much the coronavirus already has impacted the music industry in less than two months!

Michael Nesmith & Micky Dolenz
Michael Nesmith (left) & Micky Dolenz

Even after The Monkees had become a “real” band, they largely continued to rely on outside writers like the songwriting duos of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart and Jerry Goffin and Carole King. But they also penned some of their songs themselves, especially Michael Nesmith. The album features various tunes he wrote, such as The Girl I Knew Somewhere, Listen to the Band and Papa Gene’s Blues. Two of them, St. Matthew and Auntie’s Municipal Court, the band didn’t perform during their heyday. ‘Nuff talk, let’s get to some music!

The album kicks off with Last Train to Clarksville, the band’s debut single released in August 1966. It’s one of the tunes written by Boyce and Hart. And it’s certainly no coincidence that it sounds very Beatle-esque. Frankly, this is an awesome song that is comparable to some of the mid-’60s tunes by The Beatles, and I say this as a fierce Fab Four fan! Here’s the official video.

Nesmith wasn’t the only member who contributed to the band’s own songs. For Pete’s Sake was co-written by Peter Tork and Joey Richards. The tune appeared on The Monkees’ third studio album Headquarters from May 1967.

A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You, a tune written by Neil Diamond, was the band’s third single released in March 1967. It didn’t quite match the chart success of their previous smash hit I’m a Believer, but still climbed to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, hit no. 1 in Canada, and reached the top 10 in many other countries. It’s a fun tune that reminds me a bit of That’s What I Like About You by The Romantics.

Next up, one of the above noted Nesmith tunes: Papa Gene’s Blues. As Nesmith points out, it’s an acoustic version. Originally, that song appeared on The Monkees’ eponymous debut album from October 1966. Apart from the track, it’s kind of entertaining to listen to the announcement, with Nesmith and Dolenz trading jokes.

Let’s do two more. I’ve always loved these tunes and simply couldn’t skip them. Daydream Believer, written by John Stewart, is a track from the band’s fifth studio album The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees released in April 1968. It’s the perfect sing-along, and not surprisingly, Mike & Micky asked the audience to join them – feel free to follow their lead!

And, of course, no concert by The Monkees would be complete without I’m a Believer. Their second single from November 1966 and biggest hit topping the charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia and numerous European countries is another Neil Diamond composition. It also was included on the band’s sophomore album More of the Monkees, which came out in January 1967.

At the time Nesmith and Dolenz were planning their 2018/2019 tour, Tork was still alive but declined to join. Sadly, he since passed away in February 2019. Jones had died seven years earlier in February 2012. Initially, Nesmith and Dolenz had planned to take their show out on the road again in the U.S. and Canada starting later this month. But given COVID-19, most dates have been pushed back until July and September. The current schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Monkees website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Carole King/New Year’s Day

Everybody makes a dream this time of year
From now on it’s gonna be good for you
All your friends and family
Gather ’round in peace and harmony…

I came across the above clip this morning and felt it was the perfect tune to post on New Year’s Day. Carole King recorded this beautiful song for her holiday album A Holiday Carole, released in November 2011.

The track was co-written by Louise Goffin, the daughter of Carole and Jerry Goffin, and English songwriter, musician and record producer Guy Chambers. Louise, who not only has a striking resemblance to her mother but is a singer-songwriter as well, also produced the album, which received a Grammy nomination.

…And it could be the time of your life
Everything’s gonna turn out alright
It’ll be okay, in every way makin’ it better
It’s New Year’s Day…

Such uplifting words – dig it! Hope you will as well.

Happy New Year!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube