You've Got a Friend

Album: Tapestry (1971)
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  • This song is about being there for others and being a friend for someone in need. Along with Tapestry tracks like "So Far Away" and "Home Again," it is a reflection on how friends can be just as important as family. King said the song "was as close to pure inspiration as I've ever experienced. The song wrote itself. It was written by something outside of myself, through me."
  • Carole King's good friend James Taylor played acoustic guitar on five songs from the album, including this one. Taylor recorded his own version of the song on his album Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon, which he was recording nearby while King was working on Tapestry; Danny Kortchmar, who was in King's band The City and was good friends with Taylor, played congas on both versions and added acoustic guitar to Taylor's rendition.

    Taylor's version came out as a single in April 1971, and became a huge hit, going all the way to #1 in the US by July and hitting #4 in the UK. When Tapestry was first released, Taylor was a much bigger star than King, and in the spring of 1971, they toured together with King opening for Taylor.

    The song was never a hit for King, since she didn't release it as a single (James Taylor got there first), but her Tapestry album was a smash, spending 15 weeks at #1 in the US and 302 weeks (that's six years) on the chart, making it the longest-charting album by any female solo artist. The album reached the top spot on June 19, so by the time Taylor's version of her song reached #1, her album had been at the top for six weeks.

    Tapestry was not only an amazing seller, but also wildly influential, with generations of singer-songwriters citing it as an influence. What's even more impressive is that the album was made in about two weeks for around $15,000, with producer Lou Adler keeping the production to a minimum to get a clean, warm sound.
  • The Tapestry album was produced by Lou Adler, who owned King's label Ode Records. In a recorded conversation with Adler in 1972, King explained: "I didn't write it with James or anybody really specifically in mind. But when James heard it he really liked it and wanted to record it. At that point when I actually saw James hear it, I watched James hear the song, and his reaction to it. It then became special to me because of him, you know, and the relationship to him. And it is very meaningful in that way but at the time that I wrote it. Again, I almost didn't write it. When I write my own lyrics I'm conscious of trying to polish it off but all the inspiration is really inspiration, really comes from somewhere else. That was because his album Sweet Baby James was recorded the month before Tapestry was recorded I think. Or even possibly simultaneously. Parts of it were simultaneous. And it was like Sweet Baby James flowed over to Tapestry and it was like one continuous album in my head. We were all just sitting around playing together and some of them were his songs and some of them were mine."
  • Taylor's version won a Grammy for Song of the Year, an award that went to King as the songwriter. This made King the first woman to hit the Grammy "Grand Slam": Record of the Year ("It's Too Late"), Album of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal (Tapestry), and Song of the Year ("You've Got A Friend"). Taylor's version also won Best Male Pop Vocal.

    King, who had a case of stage fright and did what she could to avoid the media, didn't go to the ceremony. Her producer Lou Adler accepted the awards for her and had to call her to tell her she won.
  • Roberta Flack and Donnie Hathaway recorded the song as a duet and released it around the same time as Taylor. Their version hit #29 in the US, and started a successful partnership between Flack and Hathaway, who teamed up for an album of duets in 1972 that included the hit "Where Is The Love?" Other artists to cover the song include Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, Anne Murray, Tom Jones, and Al Green.
  • Ready for some musical analysis of this song? Jeremy Gilien, who has a Master's degree in Music Composition from California State University, Los Angeles, and was Josh Groban's music teacher in high school, explains: "Carole King on Tapestry utilized harmonies popularized by Holland-Dozier-Holland in the Motown sound, especially major sevenths to sweeten, and minor sevenths to warm the sound. She employed extended dominant harmonies, such as chords of the 9th, 11th, and 13th, in lieu of traditional 7th chords at half cadence points preceding choruses. A feature which is a fairly frequent characteristic of her formal songwriting structure is to begin a song in a minor key and then find her way into a sunnier, major region before returning again to minor. This method can be heard in such songs as 'It's Too Late', 'I Feel the Earth Move', 'You've Got a Friend', and 'Beautiful'. The absence of an orchestra or large string section, and inclusion of finely crafted instrumental solo breaks, lend a sparse intimacy and a solidarity with the band-oriented rock music that Lou Adler produced. The quality of her voice did not compare with that of a first rank R&B or blues singer, but she used her understanding and placement of idiomatic vocal ornamentation to supply the 'soul' that her natural limitations had not equipped her with. Her sound was sensitive, unique, endearing, and certainly a far cry from what we would think of as a typical 'songwriters' voice." (Quotes and research come from Harvey Kubernik's piece on Rock's Backpages.)
  • Joni Mitchell provided backing vocals on King's version as well as Taylor's.
  • According to James Taylor, King was inspired by his song "Fire and Rain," which contains the line, "I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend." King told him about the connection decades later, when they were promoting their reunion gig Live at the Troubadour in 2007. "That came as a real revelation to me," Taylor told Stereogum. "It sort of filled in a blank for me about what had really motivated her to write that tune. I'm really glad she told me, and I'm also glad she didn't tell me at the time."
  • On the 1995 album Tapestry Revisited: A Tribute to Carole King, Bebe & CeCe Winans sang this with Aretha Franklin.
  • In 2005, the British pop band McFly released this as the flip side of their #1 UK single "All About You." Proceeds from the single went to charity through Comic Relief.
  • When King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2021, she performed "You've Got A Friend" backed by Danny Kortchmar, Leland Sklar, and Russ Kunkel, all of whom played on James Taylor's version.

Comments: 12

  • Kawa from Tokyo, JapanHi Mucis lovers,

    I think that the idea of the lyrics of this song came from the song 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' written by Paul Simon in 60s. and released in Jan. 1970 and become a big hit all over the world. I can say this because both lyrics of the songs were very similar. 'Bridge Over’ tells us that 'When you need a help from, I'll be there' and 'You've Got A Friend' tells us that 'Whenever you need my help, I'll be there for you', too. So those songs are very similar. A year of 1970 was a year when Carole started a career as a solo artist and started making an album called 'Writer' in March. Do you notice something? She changed the sound from 'Jazz-pop' to 'Pop' by making album 'Writer' in 1970. Why did she had to change the sound so different and so suddenly? Was there any reason to it if it was? Before making 'Writer' in 1970, she formed a band called 'The City' and released an album and the band was broke up in 1969. The time difference was a very short between 1969 and in March 1970. If something happened to her to change the approach the music that she make between them, it must have been a song or something! So I was looking for some music and found that might have been ! I think it must have been a song 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'.
    Because the lyrics of the song was very similar to the lyrics of the song 'You've Got A friend'. That means that she liked 'Bridge Over' very much and that she wanted to a song like this. Also she realized that what she was doing with the group 'The City' was not good enough to sell for a lot of music listeners and that she must to do something. Because a song 'Bridge Over' and Paul's album were very 'Pop' album. So she realized that she needed to changed the sound from The City's 'Jaza-pop' to 'Pop' sound. So she changed so quickly and made albums 'Writer' in 1970 and 'Tapestry' in 1971. I can tell you this because the 'Writer' was a very powerful as she confirmed. And a song 'It's Too Late' became a big hit and So did album 'Tapestry', too! The rest is history.
  • David from Plattsmouth, NeIn person and on video, James Taylor has repeatedly introduced this song by describing how he first heard it at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, and how Carole offered it to him to record. He has called it, "the best song ever written", and credits much of his popularity to it. I last heard him say this during the Troubadours Tour in 2010 in Seattle, WA.
  • Don Hertel from Dover, NjThis was one of Carole's first hits where she wrote the lyrics as well as the melody, I remember Carole saying that the lyrics just came to her, almost as if they were coming from God, I don't remember the exact quote.
  • Michelel from Staten Islnad, NyThis song was inspired by and written in regards to a Guru resided in North America. Upon him knowing that one day soon he would die, he said that only his body was leaving this earth, not him, so if you she ever needed a friend she should just call out his name and he would be there for her.
  • Annabelle from Eugene, OrZach in Memphis, Tennessee, I posted a correction to the lyrics of this song, so there shouldn't be any errors! What you thought was an error was because you were actually reading the lyrics of the version as recorded and performed by James Taylor.
  • Annabelle from Eugene, OrBarbara in Horn Lake, I posted a correction to the lyrics of this song, so they're shouldn't be any errors when the changes are posted in the next update. What you thought was an error is because you were actually reading the lyrics of the version as recorded and performed by James Taylor.
  • Gary from Columbus, OhI assume that James Taylor changed "some loving care" to "a helping hand" to make the lyric more masculine. "Knocking upon your door" for "knocking at your door" was obviously a musical decision (to maintain rhythm). Whether or not these make the lyrics erroneous is up to the individual. Carole King herself had no problem with Taylor's interpretaion.
  • Annabelle from Eugene, OrI just read the lyrics to this song, and I don't see any errors in the lyrics! The only error I see is that someone wrote Carole King below the lyrics. These lyrics that I just read are the lyrics of the version as recorded and performed by James Taylor.
  • John from El Paso, TxA parody of this song was performed on Saturday Night Live in the seventies. I belive it featured Lorraine Newman at the piano trying to finish writing this song and Steve Martin knocking at her door looking for a friend. It was hilarious. Look for it on old SNL reruns.
  • Alischa from Lewistown, Pa"You've got a friend" is a great song to sing when your friend is feeling down. I like singing this song, expecially in our music class.
  • Barbara from Horn Lake, MsSorry - I accidentally posted a comment in my son Zach's name. I am Barbara. My son is not old enough to have bought Carole King's Tapestry when it was first released!
  • Zach from Memphis, TnThere are some errors in the posted lyrics. I have the Tapestry album which I bought when it came out. On the back are all of the lyrics. "When you're down and troubled and you need some loving care." This rhymes with the line about "..soon I will be there." There is only one "darkest night" - it is not plural. "If the sky above you grows dark and full of clouds and that old north wind begins to blow, Keep your head together and call my name out loud, Soon you'll hear me knocking at your door." She says, "Ain't it good to know that you've got a friend, when people can be so cold. They'll hurt you and desert you and take your soul if you let them. Oh, but don't you let them." There is confusion over the lyrics because James Taylor recorded it differently, but Carole King wrote the song and it is correct on her album cover. Tapestry is a perfect album. If you don't have it, consider getting a copy for yourself.
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