Tapestry Turns 50

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Carole King – Tapestry

Released February 10th, 1971 on Ode Records

Produced by Lou Adler

Peaked at #1 US, #4 UK

Singles:

“It’s Too Late/I Feel The Earth Move” (#1)

“So Far Away/Smackwater Jack” (#14)

Fifty years ago Carole King was already a legend. At fifteen, in that long-ago year of 1957, she had landed her first songwriting contract. By seventeen she was pregnant and married, to her lyricist Gerry Goffin. At 18 she wrote “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, which the Shirelles took to #1. The two of them would write a stellar list of classic Sixties songs, including “The Loco-Motion”, “Up On The Roof”, “I’m Into Something Good”, Arethra’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, and King’s own hit, 1962’s Top 40 hit “It Might As Well Rain Until September.” They were such a successful team that Lennon and McCartney originally wanted to be the English version of Goffin-King (which, I suppose, they ended up nailing pretty well).

By the tumultuous end of the Sixties she had divorced Goffin and decamped to L.A., leaving the New York stage of her career behind to embrace the breezy California lifestyle of the canyon. The first album of this period, Writer, didn’t make much of a splash and is something of an underrated entry in her catalog. Tapestry was her second album, though, and it was the one that re-cemented her legacy as one of the top songwriters of the rock ‘n’ roll era. It adopts that sunny California disposition common to the era with effortless grace, as though she’d grown up in the wilds of L.A. all along. Running under that, though, is the crisp snap of autumn in Brooklyn, a certain precision to the rhythm and a bite to the recording that belies the author’s New York origins. Most importantly, it presents Carole King in a particularly human fashion; she had never considered herself much of a singer and the production on Tapestry plays to that strength. As Christgau pointed out in his contemporary review, men have been able to be less than perfect as a singer since forever; Lennon famously hated his voice and Hendrix was never that sure of it either. Bob Dylan made his name on a woodsy, folksy voice that could never and will never be accepted as technically correct. To be clear: Carole King has a better voice, technically speaking, than any of the three men I’ve named. It’s not perfect, however, and that’s a major strength; as Leonard Cohen once said, there’s a crack in all of us and that’s how the light gets in.

Of final note is the inclusion of a pair of massive hits written for other people that are included here: King’s quieter, more uncertain, intensely personal versions of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Their relationship to her marriage cannot be overlooked: the former was the first big hit of the Goffin-King team, and the latter was the last. The way she sings them – stripped of the big wall-of-sound power of their more famous Sixties versions – brings out the wrought honest power in them. “Natural Woman” in particular sounds as though Ms. King is just pounding it out on the piano, letting all that bullshit flow out through her singing and playing; you can imagine her needing a nap just to recover from the sheer catharsis of it.

In the fifty years (!) since its release, Tapestry has been cited by any number of singer-songwriters who popped up in its wake like mushrooms in the rain. Her subsequent career would be solid, with hits like 1972’s Rhymes & Reasons and 1974’s Wrap Around Joy; by the late 1970s, though, she was getting increasingly diminished critical returns and by the Eighties diminished commercial returns as well. Tapestry was the peak of her powers, and although she would go on to do many things, both in and out of music, it remains her highwater mark.

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