Written and recorded by Carole King in 1971, this song became the biggest, and most well-known hit for then 23-year-old James Taylor, and his only #1 in America. It was the first single off of his third album.
Taylor was the first to record it, putting down the track at Crystal Sound studios on Vine Street in Los Angeles with his band, which included King on piano. Days later, King recorded her version at A&M studios on La Brea Avenue.
King's version was released first, appearing on her Tapestry album in February 1971. The song appeared on Taylor's Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon album in April, and was released as a single around the same time, going to #1 US in July.
According to Taylor, Carole King told him that this song was a response to his 1970 hit "Fire and Rain," where Taylor sings, "I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend." King's musical response: "you've got a friend right here."
Taylor heard this song for the first time in November 1970, when he played a week of shows at The Troubadour in Los Angeles. By this time, his album Sweet Baby James had taken off, and Taylor was drawing large crowds. He asked his good friend Carole King to be his opening act, and King grudgingly accepted - she wasn't used to playing her own songs live and was very nervous.
King had written "You've Got a Friend" for her upcoming Tapestry album, and during soundchecks, she played the song while Taylor listened in the balcony.
Later, during a recording session for his Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon album, Taylor had some studio time left over after recording two songs that day. His producer, Peter Asher, suggested they take a crack at "You've Got a Friend," so Taylor and his band recorded the song.
It sounded great, but Taylor didn't want to steal King's song out from under her, so Asher called her with the bold request to let Taylor record the song, which was clearly destined to be a hit. King graciously granted permission, and Taylor's version was released as a single, going to #1 in the US. This worked out well for King, however, since it became a lynchpin of her Tapestry album, and while she never released her version as a single, the album sold over 10 million copies in the US.
There are some differences in the lyrics between King and Taylor's version, mostly just slight variations. The biggest difference is in the opening lines:
King: When you're down in troubles And you need some love and care
Taylor: When you're down and troubled And you need a helping hand
Taylor's version of this song won the 1971 Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. The song also won for Song of the Year, an award that goes to it's writer, Carole King.
Joni Mitchell sang background harmonies on this song with Taylor. He told Uncut: "Joni's singing a parallel fifth harmony that kinda makes the chord into a major ninth. It feels like it frames the music in an interesting way to have her coming off at such an unusual note. Her voice is so pure and so perfectly in tune and confident, that it works immediately no matter what she does."
Joni Mitchell appeared on two other tracks from the album as well: "Love Has Brought Me Around" and "Long Ago And Far Away."
Russ Kunkel played a cabasa on this track, which is a shaker instrument. Kunkel and Danny Kortchmar also played congas, and Kortchmar and Taylor both played acoustic guitar. Leland Sklar played bass, and Kunkel also played drums.
James Taylor sang this after the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo murders in France at a rally in Paris, which Secretary of State John Kerry attended. He explained to Billboard magazine how that performance came about: "At the time of the attacks, my wife and I were in Switzerland, taking vacation time before I went to Paris to do press for a tour of Europe. John and Teresa Kerry are, I would say, our good friends. Kim was texting him after the attacks and said, 'John, I think you need to go to Paris.' They were having a solidarity march two days after the attack. But John had to be in Peshawar, for a secret meeting. He said, 'I'll be there as soon as I can.'"
"When he came to Paris, we had dinner and he said, "I'm giving a speech with the mayor tomorrow. James, will you sing 'You've Got a Friend'?" It was done at the drop of a hat. When I stood up to sing, my guitar wasn't working. So the mayor [Anne Hidalgo] came over and held her mic in front of my guitar."
Jennifur Sun from RamonaAlways thought James had wrote this. Love the lyrics and the friends this reminds me of.
Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn September 5th 1971, James Taylor injured his hand on a piece machinery at his home on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts; as a result his wound needed 12 stitches, thus his upcoming concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York City and the Hollywood Bowl were canceled... The day before on September 4th his covered version "You're Got a Friend" was at #22 on Billboard's Hot Top 100, and that was also its last day on the chart... Between 1970 and 1978 he had twenty-one Top 100 records; five made the Top 10, with the above song reaching #1, it peaked at the top spot for one week on July 25th, 1971... On the day Mr. Taylor's version peak at #1, Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway's duet version was at #31 on the Top 100.
David from Plattsmouth, NeJames Taylor repeatedly calls this "the best song ever written" and credits Carole King's kindness in giving it to him to record as the reason for his initial popularity (as told at the Seattle Troubadours Tour in 2010).
Rick from Calgary, CanadaI think Annabelle is a little off in ascribing this as "Record of The Year" for 1971. It won the other two awards she noted but Carole King actually won "Record of The Year" honors for "It's Too Late"