When Carole King’s Tapestry album was released, 50 years ago (Feb. 10, 1971), Suzzy Roche of The Roches was 15. “The record affected me greatly,” she says. “I had a secret wish that if I could be like anyone, I would be like Carole King.
“To me, every song on the album was perfect. While others gazed lovingly at LP covers of Van Morrison and his girlfriend on a wooded path, or Bob Dylan, and his girlfriend, arm in arm on the cobblestone, I preferred to wonder about Carole King, on her windowsill, beside her cat.”
Singer-songwriter Richard Thompson says that when he was touring in the United States in ’71, “Tapestry was on every radio station and every jukebox. There may be other albums that are as well played and well sung — maybe. But it’s the quality of the songwriting that makes it such an enduring piece of work. Carole King emerges from the shadows of the Brill Building and shows that she’s also a fine interpreter of her own work. Deservedly the best-selling cassette of all time!”
King — a Brooklyn native, born Carol Joan Klein in 1942 — was one the most revered and prolific songwriters and emotive performers of the last half of the 20th century. She released her first solo album, Writer, in May 1970. Tapestry — her critically acclaimed, intimate, introspective and masterful second album — followed less than a year later. (Click here for more on 50th anniversary activity planned for the album.)
It was the same year that Ms. magazine was launched, and, like Ms., Tapestry gave voice to the thoughts and feelings of women.
Tapestry won Grammys for Album of the Year, Record of the Year (for “It’s Too Late”) and Song of the Year (a songwriting award, for “You’ve Got a Friend”). This marked the first time a woman had won the Record or Song awards. The album stayed on Billboard magazine’s Top 100 albums chart for more than 300 weeks, and has now sold more than 10 million copies.
Before Tapestry was released, King was already a hit maker as part of a songwriting team with former husband Gerry Goffin (they divorced in 1968) at the Brill Building, a New York office building thought of as the center of the popular music industry in the 1960s.
With Tapestry, she unleashed her power as a solo performer, sitting at her piano and singing autobiographical songs about desire, change, friendship, love and loss.
Tapestry (featuring, among its supporting cast, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell on backing vocals) connected with a huge number of listeners, and inspired many other singer-songwriters. In honor of the album’s 50th anniversary, I asked a variety of artists to explain its impact on them.
“Her voice had a roughness about it,” says Suzzy Roche. “It wasn’t necessarily pretty, it was real. A song like ‘So Far Away’ expressed all there was of me at 15 — a vapor of longing, some elusive ‘I’ that seemed to be off in the distance somewhere, waiting to exist.“
Roche’s friend, singer-songwriter Julie Gold — best known for her song “From a Distance” which became a hit for Bette Midler and has been covered widely by others — talked about seeing King open for James Taylor at The Spectrum in Philadelphia in the early ’70s.
“I was way, way up in the bleachers, and through all the smoke, a woman wearing a peasant dress walked onstage and sat at the piano,” Gold said. “One woman and one piano in a stadium. My life changed forever. Some of the songs were familiar. The hits. To hear them coming from their source – their creator – their birth mother … a revelation.
“Tapestry was a collection of the greatest songs of all time … beloved classics. Accessible. No pretense. Hit after hit after hit. All so memorable and relatively simple compared to Joni Mitchell or Laura Nyro.”
Gold says that, for her, it was one of only a handful of albums that changed popular culture. Others she would list in this category include Mitchell’s Blue, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Cat Stevens’ Tea for the Tillerman, Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush and Laura Nyro’s Eli and the Thirteenth Confession.
King’s passionate expressions on Tapestry felt authentic. She bravely revealed her vulnerability and confidence and influenced women to strive to be independent and “natural.” “It’s Too Late,” written with Toni Stern, connected with women who struggle to leave a relationship that has lost its luster.
WEST ORANGE TO LAUREL CANYON
Before divorcing Goffin, King lived in West Orange, where they penned “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (inspired by her move to suburbia) for The Monkees. After her divorce, she and her daughters Sherry and Louise Goffin moved to the Laurel Canyon section of Los Angeles, which had a vibrant music scene.
“To me, the magic of Tapestry was that Carole was, finally, unleashed,” said Richard Barone, the Bongos frontman and solo artist. “It sounded like pure expression. The impeccable musicians and friends on the sessions had the grace to give her space, so that even songs she had written as hits for others revealed themselves as personal statements.
“She was owning her talent for herself while sharing it with all of us. It was a perfect balance of Brooklyn chutzpah and Laurel Canyon serenity. With Tapestry, Carole became the quintessential singer-songwriter that she, in her previous incarnation as a hit maker for others, had been the antithesis of.”
A teenager in the ’50s, King survived the restraints of that era and worked hard as both an artist and a mother in the ’60s —no easy feat during a period of much hostility for women in the workplace.
On Tapestry, she sang to us with an undeniable honesty about soulful topics. There was no turning away from those simple arrangements and her sense of wonder. She created the soundtrack for many of our lives, reminding us to treasure friendships (“You’ve Got a Friend”), admit feelings of loneliness and longing (“Home Again,” “So Far Away”), celebrate our inner strength (“(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”) and acknowledge our passion (“I Feel the Earth Move”). “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” were written with Goffin, and by carrying them forward on this album, she honored her achievements with him.
In 2015, when King was awarded with Kennedy Center Honors, we witnessed a teary President Barack Obama react to Aretha Franklin’s riveting delivery of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” (see video below) King has touched many of us with her passion, unpretentious brilliance and warmth.
“If this isn’t an example of a woman coming out from behind the scenes to completely own her power and extraordinary talent, then I don’t know what is,” said Hoboken-based power rocker Karyn Kuhl, of the Karyn Kuhl Band.
Kate Jacobs, the singer-songwriter and co-owner of Hoboken’s Little City Books store, concurred.
“It was so cool that King became known as a singer-songwriter after all those hits (for others),” she said. “I just love it when writers show up as performers with their own material, especially when they’re hit machines. She blurred a lot of lines — musical, racial, commercial — in a really good way.”
FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION
Tapestry has been passed down from mother to daughter by many, including those of us who watched “Gilmore Girls,” a TV show that explored a mother-daughter relationship and featured as its theme song “Where You Lead,” sung by King and Louise Goffin.
Indeed, this is an album that my own daughter embraced in its entirety when she was a young girl. It still resonates with its affirming messages, now that she is in her 20s, because the themes remain fresh and the meanings evolve. I am certain that I am not alone in finding that King has provided a generational musical link.
Singer-songwriter and visual artist Renée LoBue of Montclair’s dynamic band Elk City recalls when she was “a little girl” who loved Tapestry.
“Tapestry is so near and dear to me,” she said. “There’s a Divine pen somewhere in The Cosmos that etches the songs of certain artists in the stars. A found diary of an aching heart that, somehow, ensconces the listener in layer upon layer of comfort. For me, the most compelling aspect of Tapestry, beyond brilliant songcraft and the raw emotion of Carole King’s voice, is that she wasn’t just tapping into emotions I was feeling, she was future-forecasting emotions I would feel. In this way, Tapestry is a crystal ball songbook for little girls riding in the back of their mom’s cars without seat belts.”
LoBue’s Elk City bandmate Ray Ketchem, who also owns the Magic Door Recording studio in Montclair, has a perspective on Tapestry that comes from many different lenses.
“Of course, I knew most of the songs from hearing them on the radio when I was a kid,” he said. “But when I started playing in bands and thinking more about songwriting and song structure, that’s when I found a new appreciation for Carole King. The writing and arrangements on Tapestry are stunningly simple and perfect. They’ve become such classic songs that it’s difficult to separate them from nostalgia. But if you start breaking out the chord structures, melodies and lyrics, they reveal their brilliance.”
YOUR FAVORITE CAMP COUNSELOR
“I mostly think about how my mom loved the album, and how it makes me think of her,” said singer-songwriter Tammy Faye Starlite, who hails from New York and now lives in Hoboken. “I just remember loving ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow?’ It echoed my shaky sense of self, of impermanence. It still does.”
Her mother used to sing “You’ve Got a Friend” around the house. “Maybe (she did so) intrinsically knowing how much I needed to hear it, from her, because I loved her more than anything else,” Starlite said. “That album brings me back to her, and brings her back to me.”
When Shoshkes was a teenager, her older sisters served as her musical guide. “One of my sisters must have brought home the album … I used to sit at the piano and play her songs and sing my heart out,” she said. “I absorbed her music and grew up on the songs.
“I loved her Brill Building songs without knowing they were hers, or where they even came from — I was so young. I loved that girl group sound so much. So when I heard her singing her own songs, she was speaking my language … a language she’d established without me even realizing it.”
King published a bestselling memoir, “A Natural Woman” in 2012, and in 2014, “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” opened on Broadway, winning two Tonys and a Grammy. I attended the show with my daughter, thrilled to sing those familiar songs with her, and learn more about King’s journey.
King initially became a pop music legend in the ’60s by writing, with Goffin, hits such as The Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?,” Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion,” The Drifters’ “Up on the Roof,” The Cookies’ “Chains,” The Chiffons’ “One Fine Day,” Herman’s Hermits’ “I’m Into Something Good,” The Righteous Brothers “Just Once in My Life,” The Animals’ “Don’t Bring Me Down,” The Byrds’ “Wasn’t Born to Follow” and Dusty Springfield’s “Goin’ Back.” (Most of these songs were notably covered by other artists as well.)
Guitar virtuoso Pete Kennedy, who performs solo and with his wife, Maura as The Kennedys, said he was “a major fan of Carole King and Gerry Goffin before I knew who they were. ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow?’ and ‘Up on the Roof’ were two of my favorite songs growing up. Years later, I happened to see an early James Taylor show at the tiny Cellar Door in D.C., right when Sweet Baby James came out and he wasn’t famous yet. He was playing all of his own songs, but in the middle of the show he said, ‘I just want to play a song by the great Carole King,’ and he played ‘Up on the Roof.’ ”
This experience inspired Kennedy to explore her catalog, and he discovered that she and Goffin wrote other classic ’60s tunes. “ ‘Goin’ Back’ is my favorite, along with the aforementioned two from my transistor-radio-listening childhood,” he said. “Long may she run.”
King has earned the respect of artists who rock out, too. Mark Bosch — lead guitarist for Ian Hunter’s Rant Band and Garland Jeffreys, among others — played on King’s 1989 album City Streets (which featured other notable artists, including Eric Clapton and Branford Marsalis). He remembers “how fast this album (Tapestry) became the go-to disc for women of all ages. Even the songs that weren’t getting radio airplay were strong.
“She would sit in with the Paul Hipp duo I was involved with in the late ’80s on New York City’s Bleecker Street. We would play ‘Chains,’ ‘Loco-Motion,’ and the place would fill to the gills in 15 minutes. Carole (King) was as unaffected and charming as you could possibly imagine.”
Morgan Fisher, a member of Mott the Hoople (whose 2019 reunion tour Bosch played on), says he initially became aware of King through Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend” and that he “quite liked those, especially Aretha’s — I started out in soul bands.
“I watched the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors tribute to King and had to say I was impressed by her career as one of the leading female songwriters of our time. She certainly got emotional at that event — which, let’s face it, is a great quality for any songwriter to have.”
To understand the impact of King’s strong female voice, it’s worth pondering the history surrounding Tapestry’s release and the role that music played in expressing the spirit and intention of the women’s liberation movement, the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement.
Steve Addabbo, who owns Shelter Island Sound Recording Studio in New York and has decades of experience as a musician, said that at the time Tapestry was released, “we were in the midst of a terribly prolonged war in Vietnam with young kids being drafted, Nixon in the White House and marijuana possession a serious criminal offense. It was a very unsettling time to be a college student. What most of us held onto was the very rich amount of great music we were surrounded by.
“The music helped define the times, as well as the times defining the music. James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, CSNY, Cat Stevens etc. were huge … and then came Carole King with Tapestry.
“This quiet explosion of a record is just as remarkable 50 years later as it was then. Listening again now, it is so obvious why this was so successful. The songs, the warmth of the production and the cover photo were what we needed, a cozy warm safe place that we could go to. Even though Carole didn’t have the vocal chops of Joni or Aretha, the strength of her writing and interpretations on this album touched so many. ‘You’ve Got a Friend,’ a new song of hers, is what everyone needed to hear.
” ‘Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend?’ Yes, it is … even 50 years later.”
The year before Tapestry was released — 1970 — women were not allowed to work as reporters at Newsweek, but were relegated to serve as fact checkers for male reporters. Forty-six women represented by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (the assistant legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union at the time) sued Newsweek over this; it was a groundbreaking move for gender equality.
Detroit native Kary Moss, who is director of affiliate support and nationwide initiatives for the ACLU, said that when she was a young woman, the songs on Tapestry served as a formative guide for developing her identity as a woman. I recall driving to law school classes with her, blaring “It’s Too Late” and “I Feel the Earth Move.”
In 1971, sexual freedom was a new concept, as the pill was launched in 1961 but not widely used for many years thereafter. Marital rape was legal and a woman didn’t have the right to keep her job if she was pregnant, and was not able to apply for credit. There are buckets of additional examples of gender inequalities, so when King sang “you’ve got to get up every morning with a smile on your face and show the world all the love in your heart,” she knew it wasn’t easy.
Singer-songwriter and author Mary Lee Kortes shared a poetic memory of a summer day riding in a car through the streets of her hometown in Michigan: “We’re gliding down a hill when the opening chords and rhythm of ‘It’s Too Late’ come on the radio. Ecstasy immediately floods my veins and I know that this is going to be a great ride. But this song would stay with me far past its three minutes and 53 seconds. I didn’t know at that time that I could sing or write songs, but I did know I loved music. It could take me from one emotional state to another in two beats of 4/4 time. I could trust music, and I could trust Carol King.
“This song, this subtle anthem of regret and loss, filled me with uncontainable joy. My friends and I invariably sang out with the chorus at the top of our out-of-tune lungs in jubilant union, moving in time like one body. Who was this woman? And what was this album? Brill Building hit songwriter who was a real artist, an album with a cover that perfectly matched the music. It was the soundtrack of an era. It ruled our world.
“From the time I was very young until about my late teens, I was obsessed with music that was born decades before me — the songs of Cole Porter, the Gershwin brothers, Fanny Brice. ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ was my private soundtrack for a time. I didn’t know anyone else listening to it, but it made my inner world very rich. I hope that people who were born decades after Tapestry continue to discover it, surrender to it, and let it rule their world, if only for one car ride through the streets of their hometown.”
Singer-songwriter Rachael Sage reveres Tapestry and considers it her favorite album of all time.
“I got my first personal copy of it when I was 11, in seventh grade,” she said. “My best friend gave it to me on cassette and I suddenly felt like I had the keys to the universe — at least the musical one. Her lyrics, her raw, heartfelt vocals, the harmonies, the authenticity of every emotion … and those timeless, soul-shifting melodies: I was forever altered.
“The fact that I could also suddenly point to a style of music and emotional expression and say, ‘This … this is what I want to do!’ … and it happened to be someone who had written a zillion of my parents’ favorite hit songs for others, didn’t hurt either. But I had no idea about that; I just related to her in every way … especially her piano playing. to the earthy compassion she exuded from her cover. As a fellow ‘nice Jewish Girl’ from the East Coast who played keys and wasn’t exactly a conventional pop singer, my discovery of Carole King as an artist gave me goals, and gave me hope.
“I saw ‘Beautiful’ three times (once with each family member) and have been inspired by her environmental activism and her courage in sharing her experiences of domestic abuse. In my teens, I attended a political fundraiser where she performed intimately at a piano about three feet away from me, and I wept tears of joy through her entire set, as did most of the audience.”
Sage covered “So Far Away” (see video below), though she was reluctant to release her version.
“But then I pictured her own warmth, her openness and enthusiasm as an artist, and imagined she would appreciate the homage, so I went for it,” Sage said. “I think my life would be completely different had I never heard her music, and I might have even decided to be an actress instead.
“Some influences are that powerful on a young person’s life, and she was that artist, for me.”
With its endearing songs and uncluttered production, Tapestry endures and encourages us to move forward, knowing that even when we feel “so far away” and want to find that metaphorical “home again,” we have to “get up every morning” to continue the quest for friendship and connection.
The album brings us back in time, but also encourages us to move forward to “show the world all the love” in our hearts.
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