Carole King – Tapestry

Carole King – Tapestry
Released February, 1971

Carole King was born in Manhatten, New York, in 1942. She was born into a middle-class Jewish family and from the early age of 4 took up the piano. While still in school, she sang in a girl group called the Co-Sines, and also befriended Gerry Goffin. Goffin and King married in 1959. Their partnership was not only nuptial, for 9 years before they married they also worked as song-writing partners under label Aldon Music and together, penned some of the most successful pop hits the music world has seen.

I don’t proclaim to be an expert on Carole King, my knowledge of her was previously very limited, but I have always related to her music in the same way that I relate to Joni Mitchell’s; I feel the meaning and the emotion behind the lyrics and I relate to those emotions. Along with many other musicians and music fans alike, I have an enormous respect of her prolific talents as a songwriter. I do know enough about King to tell you that she (sometimes with Goffin) has penned over 100 hits that have made the Billboard 100, and that she and fellow musician James Taylor – also one of my all-time musical heroes – have enjoyed a long and fruitful working relationship. In fact King co-wrote much of the material on one of my favourite albums of all time, James Taylor’s ‘Sweet Baby James’.

Released in 1971,  “Tapestry” was Carole King’s second solo album, and was an overnight success, selling 25 million copies internationally, earning 4 Grammy’s, and holding the record for sales until Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was released in 1982. To me, “Tapestry” is a strangely apt title for the album, because it is the perfect description for what the album represents – a beautiful collection of stories and concepts woven into one lovely artwork. It’s one of the most solid albums we have covered throughout ‘afyccim’. As far as I am concerned, the song writing is succinct and the album goes from strength to strength. There is plenty of dynamic; from soft vulnerable Carole, to strong and independent Carole. People who are allergic to cheesy songs will struggle, but those who know me will already be aware that I enjoy a bit of corny from time to time. As Kate Winslet says in “The Holiday”, “I’m looking for corny in my life”.  Take ‘You’ve Got a Friend’, for example (YouTube James Taylor’s version, too), or ‘Where You Lead’, which later became the title track for one of my favourite corn fests, ‘Gilmore Girls’. These are great examples of lovely, honest, heart-on-your-sleeve song writing that verges on corn but is oh-so-heart-warming and just a pleasant change to listen to from time to time.

Listen to ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ and you will see that King’s voice is far from perfect, it’s a far cry from the sultry tones of some of the ladies who would cover it in future years.  But in my opinion, Carole King is much more a songwriter and story teller than she is a performer. She’s more of a muso’s muso. Of course, her musical abilities are far from average, but I feel like some of her best work has been the creations she has contributed to for other artists, such as Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, James Taylor and The Monkees (YouTube the ‘Porpoise Song’, this one is amazing and could easily be in the charts today!).

Now aged 71, Carole King has enjoyed a long and prosperous career, working on many collaborations with all kinds of artists, releasing solo albums, making cameo appearances in film and TV, and touring with the likes of Mary J Blige,  James Taylor, Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas and more. As I alluded to earlier, I feel that Carole King’s work is timeless and this, in a way explains how she has been able to not only collaborate with, but also tour with, such a wide range of artists. Although her music has a folk edge, her writing style is classic and her songs will remain ageless, forever.

Carole King was eighteen years old when she co-wrote The Shirelles’ hit song ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ with her then husband Gerry Goffin. Over a decade later King recorded her own version, beautifully stripped back and slowed down to enhance the track’s sense of melancholy. This is just one of the reasons that makes “Tapestry” such a classic album. King wrote, or co-wrote, all these songs and there’s not a bad cut here. I’m sure many people of my generation grew up listening to their parents’ copy, but I got into it late; I was in my early twenties. I dug ‘It’s Too Late’ and ‘Beautiful’ immediately, but songs like ‘So Far Away’ and ‘Tapestry’ have taken a few years to reveal their brilliance to me. King’s voice is unlike that of her contemporaries at the time, and while she may not be technically perfect, her passion more than makes up for it. Her performance of ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ benefits from the simple piano and vocal arrangement, allowing the song to stand on its own without relying on schmaltzy production to draw out the emotion. King’s songwriting talent is the heart and soul of the album with such classics as ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ and ‘I Feel Earth Move’ making their first appearance. James Taylor would go on to enjoy a hit with ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ shortly after the release of “Tapestry”, and his vocal contributions on the album are wonderful. This is one of my favourite records to chill out to. I tap my foot to ‘Smackwater Jack’, I sigh with heartache during ‘So Far Away’ and I believe that your attitude influences the people around you in ‘Beautiful’. This album is a timeless work from one of the masters of her craft.

Carole King and the album “Tapestry” has been loved by many a person over the last four decades. King is worthy of her place on this list not just for this album alone though. She started out her career as a very successful songwriter in the 60s, which was no mean feat for a woman of that time. By the early 70s King had started to pen her own lyrics and sing her own melodies, thanks to some encouragement by friend James Taylor. Enter stage left “Tapestry”. Here King leaves behind the 60s and its manufactured pop hits and delivers a solid album of introspective songs. The strength in the album lies in its cohesiveness. King knows her limits and abilities and if okay with it. At the time of release she was a 29 year old, divorced woman with two children. She had something to say of substance and she does so eloquently. At a time when men dominated the singer-songwriter scene the world was ready for someone like King, and contemporaries such as Joni Mitchell. Fellow singer-songwriter Cynthia Weil has said of King – “Carole spoke from her heart, and she happened to be in tune with the mass psyche.  People were looking for a message, and she came to them with a message that was exactly what they were looking for, were aching for.” It took me awhile to sink my teeth into this album and to understand it. On the first few listens it felt to me to be a little hollow. It was after a night of insomnia where I put it on headphones that it clicked. There is a fragility in King’s voice that is very relatable. It’s easy to connect to these songs because they are emotions we all experience. A beautiful and soulful album worthy of its place here.

The kids love Carole King, don’t they? “Tapestry” is always mentioned with the best albums of all time. And after a good few listens, I can kind of see why. It’s much softer than the kind of music I normally listen to, but now I dig it. Tapestry opens with the well known track ‘I Feel The Earth Move’. I didn’t realise how dynamic the song is, with a cool guitar solo and driving piano. The upbeat style of the first track is juxtaposed immediately with the second track, ‘So Far Away’, which seeks to showcase King’s voice and piano skills. (I’ve been over my love for those who can play piano and sing well at the same time before, no need to do it again!) But the part I like most about this track is the intermittent bass runs, and the cool flute outro. ‘Smackwater Jack’ is a song that had my attention from the title, and it worked out. It’s a musically fun song, despite the incongruent lyrics about murdering a bunch of people. I love the line “It was a very good year for the Undertaker”. The live version is also very good. ‘Where You Lead’ seemed very familiar to me, but I couldn’t figure out why… After a quick google, it turns out the track was rerecorded by King with her daughter Louise Goffin to use as a TV theme. A theme I rather embarrassingly recognised. The Gilmore Girls. I didn’t know that King co-wrote ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’. I think King and Aretha do the song differently, but both very impressively. Now I know why “Tapestry” is so celebrated. Carole King was truly an artist of exceptional skill and talent. Backing vocals by Joni Mitchell is a handy little cameo too!

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