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Carole King

+ {The City}

One of the planet’s greatest female songwriters of all-time and a soft-rock superstar in her own right, the effervescent CAROLE KING has had her fair share of ups and downs in a colourful lifespan, but no one could deny the compelling craftmanship of her diamond-selling solo set, `Tapestry’. A gifted artist who reeled off a conveyor-belt of Brill Building-type hits for other acts in the 60s (with then hubby Gerry Goffin), the reflective Carole indeed epitomises the role of “A Natural Woman” – the name of one of her many greatest hits and her published memoirs (2012).
Born Carol Joan Klein, February 9, 1942, Manhattan, New York City, she grew up in Brooklyn and was taught to play piano aged only 4; while singing was encouraging by her teacher mother and firefighter father. Having formed a doo wop group, the Co-Sines, her first serious forays into the world of songwriting was in 1958 with her friend PAUL SIMON.
Changing her name to CAROLE KING, anticipating any anti-Semitic reaction, a couple of solo singles appeared for ABC-Paramount Records. Produced by Don Costa, `The Right Girl’ and `Baby Sittin’’, didn’t quite raise pulses, or indeed did her one-off (`Short Mort’) for RCA Victor. During this spell, while she attended Queens College, Carole met budding lyricist Gerry Goffin, whom she married in August 1959; they had a daughter, Louise, and took day-time jobs (Carole as a secretary) so that they could continue in their quest as songsmiths.
A former date of pop star NEIL SEDAKA, a solo CAROLE KING was happy to let husband Gerry co-write a playful riposte (`Oh, Neil!’) to slightly parody the hit-maker’s most recent smash, `Oh! Carol’, but after the single flopped in January 1960, it was down to business for Goffin & King thereafter. Setting up shop across the street from New York’s famed Brill Building (working for Al Nevins and Don Kirshner’s Aldon Music), the newly-weds founded one of the most prolific and successful writing partnerships the music business has ever seen.
The couple scored their first success early in 1961, when `Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ became a chart-topper for The SHIRELLES, the first all-girl group to achieve this feat. `Take Good Care Of My Baby’ by BOBBY VEE, followed it to the No.1 spot on both sides of the Atlantic, while the hat-trick was fulfilled the following August, when their teenage babysitter LITTLE EVA debuted with `The Loco-Motion’, a track they’d also arranged, conducted and produced for the young singer. Overseas, Britain had embraced BILLY FURY’s chart-scaling version of `Halfway To Paradise’, rather than TONY ORLANDO’s homeland Top 40 equivalent.
The hits kept on coming: `Go Away Little Girl’ topped the charts for pop star Steve Lawrence, followed by The DRIFTERS at #4 for `Up On The Roof’, The CHIFFONS at #5 for `One Fine Day’ and The Cookies at #17 for `Chains’ (soon-to-be covered by The BEATLES). Meanwhile, Kirshner (and his Dimension Records) had persuaded KING to release her solo version of `It Might As Well Rain Until September’, which, although only reaching #22 on home-soil, dented the UK Top 3. The song – intended for BOBBY VEE – was a one-off though, as follow-ups `School Bells Are Ringing’ and `He’s A Bad Boy’ stalled; Carole was not to resume her recording career until 1966 when `A Road To Nowhere’ (on Tomorrow Records) flopped.
A relatively lean spell ensued, during which time GOFFIN & KING helped finance a one hit wonder for Earl-Jean (McCrea): `I’m Into Something Good’, a song that soon went to No.1 for HERMAN’S HERMITS. The British Invasion of ‘64/’65 was not amiss to the talents of Goffin & King, the pair scoring hits for The ANIMALS (`Don’t Bring Me Down’) and a few others besides.
Nor were the couple fazed by the onset of psychedelic-pop, as proved by The MONKEES on `Pleasant Valley Sunday’ (the TV four also recorded `Take A Giant Step’) and The BYRDS on a brilliant version of `Goin’ Back’ (they also transformed `Wasn’t Born To Follow’ into a psych-country classic). At the height of the hippy scene in 1967, Goffin, King and columnist Al Aronowitz founded their own imprint, the aforesaid Tomorrow Records, signing up flower-power outfit, The MYDDLE CLASS, while soulstress ARETHA FRANKLIN made `(You Made Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ (penned with producer Jerry Wexler), virtually her own.
The pressures of living and working together while bringing up their two daughters told on the couple, and they were divorced in 1968/9, although they kept the writing partnership going sporadically. KING flitted to the West Coast and found songwriting again therapeutic. She’d already met MYDDLE CLASS bass player Charles Larkey (whom she later married a few years on), and the pair formed their own band, The CITY, alongside guitarist Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar (ex-FUGS); guest Jim Gordon played drums. The short-lived trio released one album, NOW THAT EVERYTHING’S BEEN SAID (1968) {*5}, for producer Lou Adler’s Ode label, but singer/pianist Carole’s reluctance to perform live due to stage fright left the record – despite good vibes for several Goffin-King cuts, including `Snow Queen’, `Wasn’t Born To Follow’ and the title track – floundering in the bargain bins.
Encouraged to eventually pen her own lyrics by fellow Laurel Canyon singer/songwriter JAMES TAYLOR (for whom Carole had played piano on his debut Apple Records album, Sweet Baby James), CAROLE KING’s first hesitant results came in the shape of debut solo set, WRITER (1970) {*6}. Underrated at the time for its under-par production techniques and some re-arrangements of older songs (`Up On The Roof’, `Goin’ Back’ and `I Can’t Hear You No More’ among several fresh Goffin-King cues), Larkey, Kootch and TAYLOR (on acoustic guitar/backing vocals) helped make it a worthwhile experience, albeit a little undeveloped.
Her deserved breakthrough came through TAPESTRY (1971) {*10}, a multi-million seller that became the biggest album in recording history up to that point. From the opening shimmy of `I Feel The Earth Move’, to the melancholy reflection of `So Far Away’, `Home Again’ and chart-topper, `It’s Too Late’, KING sounded more confident and self-possessed, her unpretentious vocal style and straight talking, confessional lyrics, proving a winning combination. The record also benefitted from the Midas touch of Adler’s production and the backing of “The Section”, the semi-legendary session team of Kootch, Leland Sklar (bass), Russ Kunkel (drums) and Craig Doerge (keyboards), creating a highly commercial pop/rock/white soul fusion, making up in melody (e.g. `Smackwater Jack’) what it lacked in earthiness. The album not only set the tone for the MOR-dominated American music of the 70s, but initiated a slew of similar releases by songwriters desperate to get out from behind the desk. While glorious re-arrangements of `Will You Love Me Tomorrow?’ and `(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ redefined Carole as one hell of an emotive singer, sales of the LP were further boosted when buddy JAMES TAYLOR had a No.1 that summer with a cover of `You’ve Got A Friend’.
With a short intake of breath, while Tapestry was still weaving its magic in the Top 10, CAROLE KING chalked up her second chart-topping album, MUSIC (1971) {*7}, a self-penned record almost free of the Goffin connection (but for `Some Kind Of Wonderful’: their early 60s hit for The DRIFTERS), she was once again helped out by occasional lyricist Toni Stern on `Too Much Rain’, `Sweet Seasons’ (a Top 10 entry), and `It’s Going To Take Some Time’ (a subsequent hit for CARPENTERS).
Although peaking at No.2, RHYMES & REASONS (1972) {*6} slightly failed to match its predecessors in a competitive global market, and it seemed that Carole’s sentimental, soft-rock love songs were passe among a buoyant, post-hippie Laurel Canyon scene (JONI MITCHELL, LAURA NYRO, CARLY SIMON et al). But for the beautiful `The First Day In August’, `Goodbye Don’t Mean I’m Gone’ and solitary hit, `Been To Canaan’, her opening four compositions with Toni Stern didn’t register with the public.
1973’s wholly self-penned song-cycle of-sorts, FANTASY {*7} – featuring double-header hit `Believe In Humanity’ and `You Light Up My Life’ (not the Debby Boone smash), plus `Corazon’ – and 1974’s chart-scaling WRAP AROUND JOY {*7}, carried on in much the same fashion. Going gold, the latter spawned such reliable AOR fare as `Jazzman’ (#2) and `Nightingale’ (#9), while it employed the lyric-writing services of Dave Palmer (ex-MYDDLE CLASS; now of STEELY DAN). Neither one of these records, however, achieved the consistency of “Tapestry”, although they did cement KING’s position as a fully paid-up superstar member of the L.A. elite.
When REALLY ROSIE (1975) {*6} – an animated children’s TV soundtrack with lyrics by author/director Maurice Sendak – only scraped into the Top 20, CAROLE KING was fast-falling into the trap she could sing a phonebook and it’d sell. Despite, the telling of Brooklynite Rosie and her chums, Pierre, Chicken Soup, Kathy, Johnny and an alligator, her heartfelt sincerity and motherly experience was more or less how all ages could enjoy the likes of eponymous character tracks.
Carole partly reconvened with Gerry in 1976 for THOROUGHBRED {*6}, her final album for Ode. Featuring her usual suspects as backing and roping in harmony from DAVID CROSBY, GRAHAM NASH and J.D. SOUTHER, she once again strolled into the Top 3 on the strength of relaxing soft-rock numbers, `Only Love Is Real’ (a Top 30 entry), `High Out Of Time’ and `Still Here Thinking Of You’.
Her first release for Capitol Records, SIMPLE THINGS (1977) {*4} saw the mother-of-four hooking up with backing band Navarro, who numbered Carole’s soon-to-be third husband, Rick Evers (guitarist and co-lyricist) among their ranks. This fresh phase didn’t result in anything stimulating, although the Top 30 set duly furnished her with an equally upbeat hit, `Hard Rock Café’. However, the following March, the troublesome Evers died of a heroin overdose; unveiled much later as a rocky relationship that made her in fear for her life under a constant barrage of domestic abuse. Pictured with Evers on the front sleeve of May 1978’s WELCOME HOME {*3}, it suggested otherwise in a rose-tinted album that was finished a few months prior to his death. The public were less impressed with the gimmicky `Venusian Diamond’ and the marketable `Disco Tech’, and she paid the price with an album that only reached #104. A number also of her despairing 1979 set, TOUCH THE SKY {*3}.
It marked the beginning of a relatively barren period for Carole, only her PEARLS: SONGS OF GOFFIN AND KING (1980) {*7} album making any impact on the Top 50; and even that consisted of re-hashed past glories such as `One Fine Day’ (now a near Top 10 for CK), `Oh No, Not My Baby’ (their hit for MAXINE BROWN in ’64), `Hey Girl’ (FREDDIE SCOTT’s version went Top 10 in ’63), `The Loco-Motion’, `Chains’, etc., etc.
A brief move to Atlantic Records under the guidance of friends Kortchmar and Larkey for ONE TO ONE (1982) {*3} failed to resurrect her career critically or commercially, although her daughter Louise and ex-hubby Gerry contributed `Life Without Love’. On a positive front, the co-authored title track (penned with former rival Cynthia Weil) garnered Carole with her farewell Top 50 single. That August, she also married for the fourth and final time, although this too ended in the divorce courts several years later. SPEEDING TIME (1983) {*3} – showcasing one song with said hubby Rick Sorensen (`Chalice Borealis’) and four with ex Goffin – reunited her with producer Lou Adler, but as a mainstream concern she’d lost the faith of her once-loyal fanbase.
Fast-forward to 1989, after a 6-year hiatus, CAROLE KING remained a respected figure within the music business, however, comeback set CITY STREETS {*4}, couldn’t pull her flagging career out of the doldrums. Despite the presence of ERIC CLAPTON (on `Ain’t That The Way’) and jazz saxophonist BRANFORD MARSALIS – and Goffin – (on `Midnight Flyer’), the album only bubbled under the Top 100.
Maintaining her long-running working liaison with producer/guitarist Rudy Guess, and finally receiving the dubious honour of being inducted into the Rock’n’roll Hall of Fame in 1990, Carole clawed back some moral support for 1993’s COLOUR OF YOUR DREAMS {*5}. Mixed reviews from Rolling Stone and others not so keen, left the record standing still among the hard-rock/grunge brigade; but then again it did feature SLASH on guitar, while `Now And Forever’ (as featured on the comedy-drama A League Of Their Own) received a Grammy nomination. A year on, the all-encompassing IN CONCERT (1994) {*6} restored some confidence back into herself, and her audience.
At nearly 60 years-old, but looking radiant as ever, CAROLE KING returned with a millennial comeback of sorts in the shape of LOVE MAKES THE WORLD (2001) {*5}, a partly successful attempt at recapturing the singer-songwriter grace of yore (another Carole: Bayer-Sager, helped out alongside BABYFACE and Mark Hudson). Pared-down ballad fare such as `You Will Find Me There’ and `This Time’ came closest to realising that early 70s magic, while guest spots from the likes of k.d. LANG and WYNTON MARSALIS, CELINE DION and AEROSMITH’s Steven Tyler, kept things interesting.
2005’s THE LIVING ROOM TOUR {*7}, interestingly enough, didn’t do what it said on the tin, but it was an intimate double-set, with KING in surprisingly spry vocal form against a sparse backdrop of piano and acoustic guitar. Taking stock of her expansive legacy and reaching right back to the early 60s, the record was emblematic of her multi-generational appeal, strong enough to lift her into the Top 20 for the first time since ‘77.
An inspired but typically modern-day team up of So-Cal past-masters, CAROLE KING and JAMES TAYLOR unveiled the much in-demand release of a November 2007, L.A. concert CD/DVD package, LIVE AT THE TROUBADOUR (2010) {*6}. A Top 5 gold disc for the long-time friends (backed by Kortchmar, Sklar and Kunkel, of course), the duo took turns on their own seminal songs, including the aptly-placed and poignant `You’ve Got A Friend’. After her festive A HOLIDAY CAROLE (2011) {*4}, the question was if she’d ever release another self-penned solo set. Honoured many times over at the Grammy’s and from other performing arts patronage, it seems unlikely, but she still performs live at Democratic Party conventions.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD-BG/MCS // rev-up MCS Mar2016

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