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.
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.
Long before Carole King launched her solo career in 1970, she was part of one of the most successful songwriting partnerships in pop music history with lyricist Gerry Goffin. The two met in New York’s Queens College in 1959 where Carole Klein (her birth name) had begun writing songs as Carole King. They started collaborating soon thereafter, with Carole composing music and Gerry writing lyrics.
The songwriting partnership quickly led to romance, pregnancy and marriage in August 1959. King was 17 years old while Goffin was 20. That same year, she composed Oh Neil for her high school friend Neil Sedaka who recorded the tune as a single. He co-wrote the lyrics with Howard Greenfield and Goffin. The B-side A Very Special Boy was a Goffin-King composition.
The single flopped. But it resulted in professional contracts for King and Goffin with Aldon Music, a Manhattan-based music publishing company founded by Don Kirshner and a significant force in what became known as the Brill Building sound.
Goffin-King’s breakthrough occurred in 1960 with Will You Love Me Tomorrow, which was recorded by The Shirelles and came out in November that year. The tune climbed all the way to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the first no. 1 in the U.S. by an African American all-girl group. King would later record a version of the song for her iconic Tapestry album.
The next big Goffin-King hit is another ’60s classic: Take Good Care of My Baby, recorded by Bobby Vee and released in July 1961. It became the second no. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 for the young songwriting couple.
Another great ’60s tune written by Goffin-King is The Loco-Motion, which was first recorded with Little Eva (born Eva Narcissus Boyd) and came out in June 1962. Boyd was Goffin’s and King’s babysitter. Originally, the song had been written for R&B singer Dee Dee Sharp who turned it down. The tune has been covered by many other artists, including Grand Funk Railroad (1974), who like Little Eva took it to no. 1, as well as King herself on her 1980 album Pearls: Songs of Goffin and King.
And the hits kept coming for Goffin-King. In May 1963, it was One Fine Day by the The Chiffons. The tune peaked at no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. And it’s yet another song King recorded herself many years later, in 1980, giving her a no. 12 on the U.S. mainstream chart.
I’m Into Somethin’ Good is another of my favorite ’60s pop tunes. The best known version is by Herman’s Hermits, who released the song as their debut single I’m Into Something Good in August 1964. It topped the UK Singles Chart and reached no. 13 in the U.S. The tune was first recorded earlier that year by Earl-Jean. Her original climbed to no. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100, not too shabby either.
Let’s do three more Goffin-King compositions. First up: Don’t Bring Me Down released by The Animals in May 1966. While it gave the British band a hit in the UK and the U.S. where it reached no. 6 and no. 16, respectively, they preferred a more straightforward R&B sound and as such were lukewarm about it.
No Goffin-King post would be complete without Pleasant Valley Sunday, which became an international hit for The Monkees in 1967, reaching no. 1, no. 2, no. 3 and no. 10 in Canada, New Zealand, the U.S. and Australia, respectively.
The last tune I’d like to highlight is (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. Aretha Franklin first recorded and released this gem in September 1967. The song was inspired by Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler who received a co-credit. It’s yet another tune King also recorded herself for the Tapestry album.
While the Goffin-King songwriting partnership lasted for 10 years and yielded remarkable success throughout that period, their personal relationship hit the rocks in 1964 when Goffin fathered a daughter with above singer Earl-Jean (full name: Earl-Jean Reavis, née McCrea). King and Goffin remained together until their divorce in 1969.
King went on to launch a successful solo career and released her debut album Writer in May 1970, followed by the career-defining Tapestry in February 1971. Goffin began working with other composers and also had a solo album in 1973, though it did not become successful. In 1987, Goffin and King were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll of Fame in 1990. Goffin passed away in June 2014 in Los Angeles at the age of 75.
From the first to the last note Tapestry beautifully shines, truly making it a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.
Carole King’sTapestry set a new standard in the singer-songwriter category. The benchmark has yet to be surpassed, almost 46 years after the album’s release in February 1971.
Apart from its great music, I will always connect Tapestry with the time in the mid-70s when I started to get into music. My sister had the record and was playing it all the time. Recently, I got a vinyl copy of this gem as well. I had owned it on CD for many years, but nothing beats the vinyl experience!
While Tapestry brought Carole King on the map as a solo artist, at the time of its release she already had been a successful songwriter for other artists for more than a decade. Together with her lyricist and first husband Gerry Goffin, Carole had written a number of major hits during the 60s, such as The Loco-Motion (Little Eva), Take Good Care of My Baby (Bobby Vee), One Fine Day (The Chiffons), Pleasant Valley Sunday (The Monkees) and, not to forget, (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman (Aretha Franklin).
But back to Tapestry, which was Carole’s second studio release. Her debut, Writer, did not receive much initial attention, though that changed after Tapestry became popular. It’s one of those rare albums where I almost find it impossible to point out obvious highlights – each of its 12 tunes is simply outstanding, making it worthwhile to listen from the first song to the last song.
The opener I Feel The Earth Move is one of only a few up-tempo tunes on the album with a dose of rock and blues. Another great song in this category is Smackwater Jack. It is also one of three tunes from the ’60s Goffin-King songwriting era. The other two are the beautiful ballads Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? and Natural Woman.
If I would have to choose my favorite from Tapestry, it would be You’ve Got A Friend, both musically and in terms of its exceptionally beautiful lyrics. It is one of various tunes featuring James Taylor, whoalso recorded his own version, which became one of his signature songs.
Another tune I’m particularly fond of is Way Over Yonder. In addition to great lyrics, Carole’s singing and piano-playing are outstanding. But what’s really giving me the goose bumps is the background vocal (Merry Clayton) and the tenor sax solo (Curtis Amy).
Speaking of additional musicians, Tapestry features numerous of them, though most of the songs are dominated by Carole’s powerful voice and piano. Additional instrumentation is oftentimes in the background, especially for the ballads, which gives the songs great dynamic. Some of the fantastic musicians include Danny Kootch (acoustic and electric guitar), Russ Kunkel (drums) and Charles Larkey (bass), Carol’s second husband at the time. Oh, and there is Joni Mitchell, who shares background vocals with James Taylor on Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?
Tapestry has sold over 25 million copies worldwide, including more than 10 million in the U.S., making it one of the most successful albums of all time. It is No. 36 on Rolling Stone’s500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Here’s another gem: It’s Too Late.
This post was updated with images and clips on November 28, 2020.