Carole King…Songwriter, then Singer (Updated)

For Carole King, songwriting came first.

Born Carol Klein in February of 1942,  she started playing piano when she was just four years old, and had the ability to correctly identify a note by simply hearing it.  As a young adult in New York, she came in contact with other interesting musical friends.  She made record demos with Paul Simon, and dated Neil Sedaka, who wrote the song “Oh Carol” for her.  Then, at just 17 years old, she married the man who became her songwriting partner…Gerry Goffin.

Carole King (her chosen professional name) and Gerry Goffin had their first real songwriting success in 1961 with “Will You (Still) Love Me Tomorrow”, which was a #1 hit for The Shirelles.  Soon, Goffin and King became what is probably the most famous songwriting couple to come out of the Brill Building “song factory” in New York.  The other team that comes to mind is Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.  It was a time when most performers didn’t write their own songs, but used professional songwriters.  Carole wrote the melodies, and Gerry wrote the lyrics.

Other major songs from Goffin and King are:  “Take Good Care Of My Baby”(#1 for Bobby Vee), “Chains” (#17 for The Cookies, and covered by The Beatles), “The Loco Motion” (#1 for Little Eva, also #1 for Grand Funk Railroad, and #3 for Kylie Minogue), “Go Away Little Girl” (#1 for Steve Lawrence), “Up On The Roof” (#5 for The Drifters), “Hey Girl” (#10 for Freddie Scott and #9 for Donny Osmond), “One Fine Day” (#5 for The Chiffons), “I’m Into Something Good” (#13 for Herman’s Hermits), “Just Once In My Life” (#9 for The Righteous Brothers, Phil Spector got a writing credit too.), “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (#3 for The Monkees), and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (#8 for Aretha Franklin).  Those are only some of the songs they wrote during their 10 years together, and of course their songs were recorded by many more artists.

In 1968, when Carole King split from Gerry Goffin (both personally and professionally) she decided to try performing her own songs.  Back in 1962, she had a minor hit with “It Might As Well Rain Until September” (#22), but it was 1971 when the world would know the singer, Carole King.

It’s hard to overstate how Carole King’s Tapestry album dominated 1971.  It held the #1 spot on the Billboard Top 200 for 15 weeks, then stayed on the charts for over 6 years, for a time, it was second in longevity to Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The MoonTapestry was the biggest selling album in history at its time of release, and has sold over 25-million copies worldwide, according to the Library Of Congress.

Tapestry features the hits “It’s Too Late” (#1), “I Feel The Earth Move”, and “So Far Away”, plus songs that became hits for other artists…”Where You Lead” by Barbra Streisand, and most notably “You’ve Got A Friend” (#1) for her good friend James Taylor.

Taylor and King (and at times Joni Mitchell) had been recording together…on James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James and Mud Slide Slim albums…and doing live performances.  It was during rehearsal when James heard Carole playing “You’ve Got A Friend”.  The professional songwriter in Carole King allowed her to give up the song when James Taylor asked her permission to be the first to release “You’ve Got A Friend” as a single.  Carole King said it’s the only song that came to her in a dream.  Carole also said it was a response to Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” line…”I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend”.

Carole King won four Grammy Awards for Tapestry, including Album Of The Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance (Female), Record Of The Year for “It’s Too Late”, and Song Of The Year for “You’ve Got A Friend”.  Almost all of the songs on the album got FM radio play, and were well known among fans.

My wife told me, when we were in Virginia Beach in 1971, that one of her co-workers always put on “Beautiful” to start her day.  The lyrics are:  “You’ve got to get up every morning with a smile on your face, and show the world all the love in your heart.  Then people gonna treat you better.  You’re gonna find, yes you will, that you’re beautiful, as you feel.”  “Beautiful” is also the title of the Broadway musical and touring show about Carole King’s life.

Carole King had moved from New York to California after her divorce from Gerry Goffin, and somehow fit in with the music on the West Coast.  1971 was a time when peace, love, and the hippie movement were still factors in America.  And, there was Carole King on the cover of her album, holding a tapestry that she had made, she’s in jeans, and she’s barefoot.  She looks natural and relatable, and became the leader of the female portion of the singer-songwriter movement.  

Tapestry featured sparse, intimate arrangements with production by Lou Adler, and songwriting help from Toni Stern.

The song “Where You Lead” got new life, and new meaning in 2000 when Carole King was asked to do the song as the theme for “The Gilmore Girls” TV show.  Carole performed the song with her daughter, Louise, and it became associated with the TV daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel) following the lead of her mom, Lorelei (Lauren Graham).  Carole King even took a small role as a music store owner for a few episodes.

(My picture sleeve for Carole King’s “One Fine Day” single.)

Carole King had 14 Top 40 hits, including “Sweet Seasons” (#9), “Jazzman” (#2), and “Nightingale” (#9).  She’s also released 25 albums, and continues to perform.  She had a reunion with James Taylor for the Live At The Troubadour album which hit #4 on the charts in 2010 and was certified Gold.  They even toured together, because they enjoyed the reunion so much.  Update:  In January 2022, CNN aired a two hour concert/documentary…Carole King & James Taylor “Just Call Out My Name”.

For songwriting, Carole King and Gerry Goffin were inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame…as a team…however, Carole King has not been inducted as a performer.  It doesn’t make sense how anyone this successful, and influential could be left out.  Other organizations understand.  She was the first woman to be honored with the Library Of Congress Gershwin Prize, and was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2015.

Update:  On May 12th, 2021, it was announced that Carole King is being inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall Of fame…finally.  And then on October 30th, 2021, Carole King was inducted by Taylor Swift.  Swift sang “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, Jennifer Hudson also honored King with “Natural Woman”, and the 79-year-old Carole King performed “You’ve Got A Friend”.

Here’s an excerpt from a Rolling Stone interview they posted just after Carole King was chosen:

Where Carole King led, lots of people followed.  The songs she’s written, and the songs she’s sung, will certainly be enjoyed, for generations to come.

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