First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2008, Volume 15, #4
Written by John Metzger
Wed April 23, 2008, 07:00 AM CDT
Over the past 37 years, Carole King’s Tapestry has been sliced, diced, examined, and reexamined countless times. Its songs have been interpreted by a myriad of other performers, and both films and plays have grappled with finding ways of explaining and defining the outing’s genesis as well as its importance. Regardless of the method used to illuminate it, Tapestry typically is approached with reverence, and the resulting conclusions that are drawn are always the same. That is, Tapestry is one of the most seminal albums ever to be recorded.
Since its release, many artists — including King herself — have attempted to emulate Tapestry’s aura. Not surprisingly, no one truly has succeeded in bettering it, and few have even come close to matching it. For as many times as its songs have been heard, the hold that the endeavor has upon listeners continues to be unshakable, despite the passage of time. Yet, to understand Tapestry’s magnificence as well as its broad range of influence, it also is necessary to know the album’s history.
In the late 1950s and the early 1960s, the line that divided songwriters from performers was drawn explicitly. While artists became familiar faces, those who penned the material that they sang lived in relative obscurity, holed up in offices owned by the major publishing houses. In Nashville, they lined Music Row; in New York City, they were headquartered at the Brill Building, which was situated on Broadway, a hop, skip and jump away from Times Square. It was within the highly competitive confines of the latter location that Carole King worked with her husband Gerry Goffin. She wrote the music while he wrote the lyrics, and together, they developed an enviable relationship that spawned (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman for Aretha Franklin, The Locomotion for Little Eva, and One Fine Day for The Chiffons. The Byrds wound up recording a pair of Goffin-King tunes (Goin’ Back and Wasn’t Born to Follow) for its 1968 endeavor Notorious Byrd Brothers, while Herman’s Hermits, The Shirelles, and The Monkees walked off with I’m into Something Good, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, and Pleasant Valley Sunday, respectively.
Rarely, though, were songwriters, particularly within the pantheon of pop music, able to make the leap to become successful recording artists. When they did, the men — Neil Sedaka and Neil Diamond, among them — were the ones who survived the transition and scored hits of their own. This, however, didn’t stop King from wanting to embark upon a solo career. She released her first single (The Right Girl) in 1958, and in response to Sedaka’s Oh! Carol, she issued Oh! Neil in 1959. Both of her songs failed to chart. A few years later, she enjoyed modest success with It Might as Well Rain until September and He’s a Bad Boy, though neither tune had the impact for which she guardedly had hoped.
Still, King never gave up on her dreams. Spurred by the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s, the world began to change in her favor. After she and Goffin divorced, King moved to California. As Grace Slick and Janis Joplin were beginning to make waves within the rock world — and artists increasingly were beginning to write their own material — King formed The City with her new beau Charles Larkey and guitarist Danny Kortchmar. However, when the outfit’s lone album Now that Everything’s Been Said failed to sell, King opted to begin working under her own name.
Inspired by Laura Nyro’s groundbreaking endeavors Eli and the Thirteenth Confession and New York Tendaberry — both of which were critical rather than commercial successes — as well as Joni Mitchell’s classic Ladies of the Canyon, King issued Writer in 1970. The outing was somewhat tentative and considerably flawed, though it also unjustly remains an oft-overlooked moment in King’s career. The most important aspect of the endeavor, however, is how — with its blend of new material and reworked Goffin-King classics — it established the tone and the foundation for what was to come.
Nevertheless, even with all of this in mind, it’s doubtful that anyone quite expected King to reach the heights that she achieved with Tapestry. She came from a world where writing singles was the key to success, though to her credit, her ambition was to become known as an album-oriented artist. Superficially speaking, Tapestry’s construction is really very simple. Beautifully produced by Lou Adler, the effort exudes a warm, intimate air as King’s crafty piano interludes and confidently delivered vocal tracks are surrounded by the understated support of several top-tier session musicians as well as a few of her pals from Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon community, namely James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. The emphasis, quite rightly, was placed entirely upon King and her songs, and she performed the material as if her life depended upon it.
Maybe, it did. While listening to Tapestry, it is immediately apparent that King had something burning deep inside of her that she needed to get out into the open. Consequently, the album feels like a deeply personal confession of her own experiences over the preceding years. Overflowing with emotion and touched with a gospel-soul flair, Tapestry is a meditation of sorts on love, companionship, and womanhood. As it progresses, the desire King expresses on I Feel the Earth Move gives way to the real and perceived distances that separate her from her lover on So Far Away. During It’s Too Late, King directly and honestly addresses the collapse of a relationship, while the subsequent Home Again is filled with such sad-eyed yearning for connection that it seems almost as if it is meant to mourn all of the good things that she had lost. Over the remainder of the set, King struggles to regain her self-assurance and composure (Beautiful), outlines what she wants in a relationship (You’ve Got a Friend), pensively wrenches the sorrow that lies at the heart of Will You Love Me Tomorrow?, and ultimately rediscovers herself in (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.
Although it took a little while for the set to resonate with the public — its lead single It’s Too Late didn’t enter Billboard’s charts until a month after the outing was issued — Tapestry soon became an unstoppable force, winning several Grammys along the way. To date, more than 10 million copies of the effort have been sold in the U.S. alone, and until Michael Jackson’s Thriller surpassed it, Tapestry stood as the all-time, best-selling pop album by a solo artist. For its latest incarnation, Legacy has stitched together 11 concert cuts that were recorded between 1973 and 1976, essentially creating a new version of the classic recording — sans Where You Lead — from King’s solo performances. The live material augments the original rendition of the endeavor, providing an alternative view of the collection. King kept the songs sounding fresh by subtly highlighting the emotional textures lurking within her work, and it’s easy to make the argument that this is how these tunes were meant to be heard.
There’s no doubt that the stars certainly aligned themselves perfectly for King in 1971. In a sense, the enormous attention that she received for Tapestry — much as it is for any successful recording — was, at least in part, a product of her being in the right place at the right time with the right batch of songs. Had the album been issued much earlier, Tapestry might have been ignored, albeit unjustly; on the other hand, had it been released much later, the effort easily could have become lost in the shuffle of the burgeoning singer-songwriter movement. Regardless, King created a monumental collection of material, one that was born from her heart and her soul. It remains a powerfully moving endeavor that resists being tied to a particular era, and it continues to light the way for a myriad of female artists who have followed King’s lead.
Of Further Interest...
Tapestry: Legacy Edition is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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