Tuesday, 25 September 2012
88 Tapestry - Carole King
Purchased : June 1988
Tracks : I Feel The Earth Move / So Far Away / It's Too Late / Home Again / Beautiful / Way Over Yonder / You've Got A Friend / Where You Lead / Will You Love Me Tomorrow / Smackwater Jack / Tapestry / A Natural Woman
This was my second regular purchase from Britannia and the reason for this first indisputably AOR entry in my collection was largely financial. After the introductory offer from Britannia you had to make a certain number of regular priced purchases in the following year ( three I think ) and the older stuff tended to be the cheapest.
This is the only LP in my collection that owes its place to Mike Read. By 1988 he was already some way down the road that would eventually lead to bankruptcy in 2009. His credibility shot by the Relax ban and tabloid revelations that he enjoyed bonking to The Icicle Works he had been slipping down the Radio One schedules and now could only be heard on weekends. Both his TV shows Pop Quiz and Saturday Superstore had been scrapped. His Sunday afternoon slot on R1 was a rather self-indulgent oldies show ( eventually scrapped for the return of Alan Freeman ) but I occasionally listened in and one week he played "It's Too Late" then waxed lyrical about its parent album and its impressive chart stats. I had never heard of it before but my curiosity was aroused so when it was presented as an economical buying choice in the next catalogue I took the plunge.
I vaguely knew that Carole was a successful songwriter in the sixties but that was about it. Carole actually found success while still in her teens as part of the Brill Building team; she had a relationship with Neil Sedaka but married Gerry Goffin after falling pregnant by him at 17. They formed a songwriting partnership with enormous overnight success and unlike many of their contemporaries continued to prosper in the Beatles era until their deteriorating personal relationship ended in divorce in 1968.
It was only then that Carole's focus switched to performing her own songs encouraged by the likes of James Taylor. She'd released a few singles in the early sixties but only "It Might As Well Rain Until September" had been a sizeable hit. Her first album "Writer" in 1970 hadn't done much business but "Tapestry" the following year was to change all that. It broke all sorts of records in the States some of which it still holds making it by far the biggest seller of the albums we've discussed so far. The UK didn't embrace it to the same extent and it peaked at number 4 ( until a 30th anniversary edition in 2001 went one place higher ) but it lingered in the chart for the next four years.
I'm going to try and discuss the album without using the word "Boomer" as convenient shorthand for this record's clientele. The cover tells it's own story with the 29- year old Carole barefoot in jeans and shapeless jumper sat by the window of her Laurel Canyon home with the beginnings of a tapestry in her hands and her cat Telemachus also looking into the camera. She's half in the shade as if to say yes I'm in a comfortable place but there's been darkness en route.
"Tapestry" is an apt title for a varied collection of songs that range in tone from the desolation of "It's Too Late" to the upfront positivism of "Beautiful" . The common thread is King's piano and voice, setting the template for all the Lyndseys, Kates and Toris to follow. King's isn't the most mellifluous of voices and her raspy New York tones may be part of the reason she didn't hold on to her audience in the UK. However it gives these songs a raw immediacy and undoubted emotional honesty. The lyrics are mainly plain and direct, as with Dark Side Of The Moon these are Everyman songs that don't date.
"I Feel The Earth Move" is the uptempo opener announcing itself with a restless piano riff. As the title suggests it's a celebration of female sexuality with mellow verses and a driving chorus. King lets the music and words convey the message without any added grunts or howling. Some sources have it as a double A side with "It's Too Late" in the UK. It was the victim of a leadbooted cover which unfortunately we'll have to discuss in due course.
"So Far Away" drops the tempo right away for a heartfelt lament about missing your loved one while out on the road. Her new mate James Taylor helps out on acoustic guitar and similarities both melodic and lyrical suggest Albert Hammond was listening before he wrote When I Need You.
Then we have the stonewall classic "It's Too Late" a devastatingly succint summary of a dead relationship that could refer to her break-up with Goffin, a short fling with Taylor or neither since it was co-written with her artist friend Toni Stern. With its ominous rumbling intro, spiky guitar and sad sax it's the quintessential sixties comedown song. The third verse attempts to dredge up some optimism for the future but she doesn't sound convinced. A monster number one in the US it somehow only managed to get to number 6 over here ( and it remains her most recent new hit ).
The short and simple "Home Again" an artless ode to the restorative powers of home drifts by pleasantly before the less appealing "Beautiful", a mixture of in-your-face self-help advice that can't but recall Beverley's bullying admonitions to her mousey friend in Abigail's Party and the sort of woolly-headed humanism that gave Laurel Canyon a bad name. Future husband Charles Larkey gives the track its propulsion on bass.
"Way Over Yonder" could be taken any number of ways, as an anticipation of California, of Larkey or the afterlife. The slow tempo and wracked vocal rather suggest the latter. Curtis Amy noodles around on sax.
Side Two kicks off with a song we had on the last post. "You've Got A Friend" ( along with Make It With You ) was ubiquitous at school assemblies in my time, performed by kids with younger parents than mine and that still colours my response to the song. I prefer this piano and strings , less religious ( Taylor slipped in a "Lord" in the last chorus ) version to Taylor's soporific acoustic rendition but it's never going to be a favourite with me.
"Where You Lead" ( another co-write with Stern ) is more up tempo and something of an anti-feminist anthem with Carole telling her guy she'll do as she's told . Merry Clayton's backing vocals add some class on the chorus.
"Will You Love Me Tomorrow" is the first of two re-workings of big hits she had as a writer. As recorded by The Shirelles in 1960 ( and subsequently by almost everyone else ) it was the song that put her and Goffin on the map. This version is not by a prom queen fretting over surrendering her virginity but a woman approaching 30 and wondering if her man is going to stray in the years ahead. It would be difficult for anyone, let alone one of its composers to ruin this deathless song and King's piano is gorgeous; my only quibble is the presence of Taylor and Joni Mitchell on backing vocals who aren't needed and become more of a distraction as the song progresses.
Then we have "Smackwater Jack" a much later Goffin/King song not previously recorded and so far removed in sound and tone from the rest of the LP it's hard to imagine what thought processes led to its inclusion. A Southern boogie tune with a disconcertingly flippant lyric about the lynching of a serial killer, it's hard to believe it's anybody's favourite track except perhaps Ralph Schuckett and Danny Kootch who get the chance to show their chops on electric piano and electric guitar respectively.
The title track by contrast just features King and her piano and it's the only song where she allows herself to roam into more opaque territory lyrically with a winding chorus-free ballad. Seemingly sung from the viewpoint of a much older woman approaching the end of her life it largely concerns a male figure who "turned into a toad" ( Goffin the deserter ?) . The melody and performance are sublime and the final line "Now my tapestry's unravelling he's come to take me back" seems the perfect closer for the album.
Except there's one more song, a re-working of "A Natural Woman" a big hit for Aretha Franklin in 1967. This version is sparser with only the barely audible Larkey on string bass accompanying King. He might be the inspiration for her re-visiting this celebration of love but that doesn't stop her drowning him out with some over-heavy chording.
And that's it. I'm well aware that this is one of my shorter posts. When it came out my primary preoccupations were dinosaurs, The Aristocats, getting to grips with decimalisation and recovering from a serious eye injury so I'm a bit vaguer on context when it comes to this era. In the UK we lost interest in Carole early on with her albums ceasing to chart after 1975. The American market was kinder but even there her fortunes dipped at the end of the seventies and since 1983 there have only been two low-selling albums of original material. It's more than likely that some of the millions who own this LP don't realise she released anything else. But that doesn't really matter - here the words and music speak for themselves.