As it was Carole Kings birthday over the weekend, I decided to revisit her classic album, Tapestry. Listening to the record again after quite a long time I was reminded of her brilliance as a songwriter, singer and as one of the most influential female performers of her generation. Tapestry still sounds as fresh and invigorating as when it was first released…it hasn’t aged…but then again great songs never do. People can still relate to the lyrics, the unforgettable melodies and her stripped-back, no thrills raw talent.
The 1971 masterpiece was produced by the legendary Lou Adler and stayed at the number one spot for fifteen weeks. Perhaps even more astounding than that, it stayed on the charts for more than six years and earned four Grammy Awards: Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.
So how do you set about reviewing a classic album like this? Well…I’m not sure so I’ve decided to go through each track individually and then take the album as a whole.
I Feel The Earth Move: This is a fantastic opening to the album. A great upbeat song that packs a sexy simple sound. Her casually natural and honest lyrics set the tone for what is about to come. The enticing piano introduction which has a hint of The Beatles melody craftsmanship to it suddenly gives way to strong, raspy, soulful vocals. About halfway through the track we are given an opportunity to hear the brilliant blending of the musicians in an instrumental section, including Drums, Electric Bass (excitingly played by Charles Larkey), Electric Guitar and Keyboards. This is a song that makes you yearn to hear more.
So Far Away: In my view there is no better example of how to express longing and that search for familiarity than King manages to do here. A very simple, subdued and at times almost invisible backing allows the lyrics and her achingly soulful voice do the talking. “Travelling around sure gets me down and lonely, Nothing else to do but close my mind, I sure hope the road don’t come to wn me, There’s so many dreams I’ve yet to find”.
It’s Too Late: A song that has been covered by many artists is sometimes very hard to appreciate but with Carole King & Toni Stern’s clever arrangement, words and music one can never tire of hearing this song. A perky ditty. A perfect pop song. A heartbroken, forlorn woman at the heart of it all. Beautiful.
Home Again: With the great James Taylor on Acoustic Guitar and Larkey on String Bass – the gentle mellow mood of this song is set. This is possibly the most simple lyric on the album and yet has one of the most profound affects on the listener. It is another song about longing, but it’s also a song about searching for a safe place, a home. I never felt that the story knew where home was and this lost girl without love, without friends was desperate to create a place – to be home again. “Snow is cold, Rain is wet, Chills my soul right to the marrow, I won’t be happy ‘til I see you alone again, ‘Til I’m home again and feeling right”.
Beautiful: Following a very moving ballad Carole King decides to pack a punch or two with Beautiful. This song has a lovely message, a jaunty pop melody with real hint of jazz – this is one of those songs that changed the way that people play and write today – heard of Tori Amos or Adele? A one chord introduction doesn’t give you much chance to breathe before being plunged into the deep end of one of the most infectious hooks ever composed. A frailty in King’s vocal performance only adds to the charming message within the song. A shining light on the album.
Way Over Yonder: Now we are halfway through the creation of Tapestry, so Carole King decides to take us to away from pop and lead us to a new sound – a blend of Atlantic Soul, Motown ballads, New Orleans heart with just a pinch of rough rock voice to add to the mix. A great song that has been covered by many other greats but no one quite comes close to touching this version. The emotion that pours from King’s vocal chords and out of her dexterous piano-playing fingers is unequalled.
You’ve Got A Friend: Yet another genuine classic. Covered by many but rarely equalled. I say rarely as there is one particular version which comes close sung by Aretha Franklin, CeCe Winans & BeBe Winans. Listening to the Carole King original again I was struck by how badly I remembered her recording. I had remembered a very stripped back piano with a forceful vocal line but I couldn’t be more wrong. The piano is the dominant instrument and the vocal is carefully building to a fully rounded delivery of a pop song. There was a String Quartet hidden in the chorus, a Conga throughout and the brilliant James Taylor on Acoustic Guitar. Lyrically, this song carried a message of true friendship and love that is only matched in two other songs, Dionne Warwick’s That’s What Friends Are For and Bill Wither’s Lean On Me.
Where You Lead: Written with the glorious Toni Stern, I suddenly realise that I want to use the word “classic” again but I’ll avoid the urge. This song is a wonderful blend of pop, gospel, soul and country – she creates her own unique take on Bluegrass. The melody is delicately climbing to a climactic finish with the vocals moving from restrained to sanctified and onto “belter-mode”. “If you’re out on the road, Feeling lonely and so cold, All you have to do is call my name, And I’ll be there on the next train”.
Will You Love Me Tomorrow?: This is a question that anyone who has ever been in love will ask themselves but rarely with such genuine fear, dread, doubt and conviction in the voice – and never so eloquently delivered. This Gerry Goffin and Carole King song has become something of a pop and soul standard covered by the likes of The Shirelles (the most recognised version), Brenda Lee, Ben E. King, Dusty Springfield, Cher, The Four Seasons, Roberta Flack, Smokey Robinson, Dionne Warwick, Brotherhood of Man, Neil Diamond, The Bee Gees, Bryan Ferry, Lauryn Hill & Amy Winehouse. The calibre of artists wanting to sing this song goes to prove just how much of a jewel this song is. One of the many unknown facts about this song is that another 70s folk/pop legend features on Background Vocals: Miss Joni Mitchell. Oh, I’ll say it…CLASSIC!
Smackwater Jack: One of the finest songs about the gun-laws and gun culture in the United States. Set in what feels like “Cowboy” time, this up-tempo song carried a powerful punch and is often the overlooked song on the album. But with great lines like, “Smackwater Jack he bought a shotgun, Cause he was in the mood for a little confrontation, He just let it all hang loose, He didn’t think about the noose, He couldn’t take no more abuse, so he shot down the congregation”, it’s no wonder this song still stands out as a dramatic, powerful statement against guns, segregation and capitalism.
Tapestry: As the title song, this track always seem to carry a little more pressure than the others. However, by hiding it near the close of an already outstanding album – the listener forgets the usual standards you judge by and is just absorbed into this lullaby of a piece. So gentle and tame and so sweetly written without ever being sickly. The piano and vocal blend as one and King’s voice sparkles with innocence and experience all at once. Her lyrics here are just stunning and we start to get the feeling that this tapestry of a project is being sewn up nicely. Love is back and is “coming to take her back”.
(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman: Closing with a song that King wrote with the genius that is Gerry Goffin and the immaculate Jerry Wexler was a stroke of genius. If the listener was in any doubt of the sensual side of King’s performance – this song removes any misgivings they may have had. Sexy, powerful and almost religious in its fervour, A Natural Woman closes the album perfectly. It has led us on a journey that feels complete.
For me personally, this album stands alone in a rare group of music-changing recordings and is my top ten records of all time. The attention to detail, the sense of period and the skilful song writing ability makes it stand the test of time, the test of heart and the urge to keep listening time and time again. Listening to this album again has made realise why it reached Number 39 in VH1s 100 Greatest Albums and Number 36 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time. Most of these songs have become loved not only for King’s own recordings but for the many times they have been reinvented, proving how a good song can change and still retain its original authenticity and spirit.
As a complete work, few recordings will ever touch Tapestry and Carole King can live forever in the knowledge that nearly 20 million people have purchased the album and billions more have enjoyed her music and will continue to do so for as long as sound is in our world.
If you don’t own it, rush out and buy it….if you own it – take another listen and remember how you felt when you first heard the magic of Tapestry.