If you're only vaguely familiar with Carole King, this is a good time to dive in and find out why she's one of the greatest songwriters of our time. For the first time on CD in the United States, King has released reissues of four of her classic albums
: Simple Things
, Welcome Home
, Touch the Sky
, and Pearls: Songs of Goffin and King
. It's not quite the vinyl listening experience of the '70s, but you'll get the original photography and liner notes, and you'll go deeper into her catalogue.
If you have ears, you've heard the songs of Carole King: "The Loco-Motion
," "One Fine Day
," "You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman
." These early hits were written with her husband at the time, Gerry Goffin, and were followed in 1971 with King's landmark album, Tapestry
, which features the King standards "I Feel the Earth Move" and "It's Too Late." King doesn't sing like Aretha Franklin, but when she sings her own words it sounds like the honest truth, and it found a huge audience. The album is ranked at #36 on Rolling Stone
's list of 500 Greatest Albums of all time and had a level of success that King later described as "completely out of hand."
While just a teenager, King wrote songs with her first husband, Gerry Goffin. Their first hit was "Will You Love Me Tomorrow
," recorded by the Shirelles in 1960. King recalls that she wrote the melody one day and when Goffin came home that night from his day job as a chemist, he wrote the lyrics. When the Shirelles took the song to #1, King and another music legend, producer Don Kirshner, took a limousine to the chemical plant where Goffin worked and told him he would never have to work again. King and Goffin teamed up on over 200 songs, working for Kirshner's song factory for 50 dollars a week out of a cubicle in New York, good-naturedly competing with other young songwriting teams for the next pop hit. The office was near the Brill Building at 1619 Broadway, the center of pop music before the Beatles changed both the sound of popular music and, by writing their own songs, the demand for Kirshner's style of song production.
Younger music fans may have had their first glimpse of King from an unlikely source: the hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. The fellow New Yorker and co-founder of Def Jam Records featured King in an episode of his HBO Series, Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry
, in 2007. King, who gave an emotional reading of the poem Touchstone
, said she was attracted to the idea of contributing to a show that provided an outlet for such a wide variety of poets. Still, King seems somewhat surprised at her continued appeal to the younger crowd. In 2010, she said of her music and that of fellow singer-songwriter icon, James Taylor, who joined her on the Troubadour tour, "The thing that I continue to find astonishing... is the number of people for whom it was not the soundtrack of their lives. It was the soundtrack of their parents', and — in some cases — their grandparents' lives."
Retrospective looks at King's career often carry the tag "prolific female songwriter." Never mind the female - she is one of the most influential and, yes, prolific songwriters in music history, male or female. Inducted in the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987, a check of her music catalog on the Hall's website lists an incredible 600 songs. How does she do it? In 2011, she said in an NPR interview that she now tries to limit her work as a hedge against burning out, more than 50 years after her career began. Even today, though, some songs come to her that she has no explanation for other than they "just come through me." Hundreds of hits later, the thrill of creating a new song is still there. King said she enjoys watching a song come out of her, then sitting back and thinking, "Wow, that was good."Amy Lively
March 1, 2012
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