It’s 45 years since Carole King’s second album was released. Does it still make Alice Fleetwood feel like a natural woman?
What and why: Carole King’s Tapestry was released in February 1971, after a very successful songwriting partnership with her then-husband Gerry Goffin; a career that introduced the world to Take Good Care of My Baby (Bobby Vee), The Locomotion (Little Eva), Halfway To Paradise (Billy Fury), Up on the Roof (The Drifters) and I’m into Something Good (Herman’s Hermits).
I suspect when King split up with Goffin and moved to Los Angeles, she literally let her hair down and her songs breathe, giving them the kind of space that converts The Shirelles’ Will You Love Me Tomorrow? to the woozy, entrancing, pre-sexual encounter version on Tapestry.
Rated or dated: I first heard Carole King in a friend’s house, when (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman was played on a fantastically old-fashioned Dansette, which is basically a suitcase with a plug and a turntable.
I heard just a voice and a piano. We had been doing the dishes and discussing the local boys’ cricket team (on sporting merit of course) but in that moment of listening, we were both silenced and reborn as musical purists. No more synth-pop for us.
We spent weeks scouring secondhand record shops for King records and finally found Tapestry, the cassette of the album on which Natural Woman was the last track on side two. Those few inches of plastic and many feet of tape contained what the world was about. I played it over and over again, especially Natural Woman.
On the beautifully un-posed album cover, King sits on a window seat, half in shadow and half in light, just like her songs of love, sex, lust, loneliness and loss. She is barefoot, with a tapestry in her lap and a nervous-looking cat. That photograph would still be fitting for any modern-day fashion shoot, Glastonbury programme or indeed album cover.
King’s lovely untrained and natural voice ensured the whole album was under-sung, as though she thought her songs were meant for a small venue, one in which she could smile intently at the audience as she sang and played piano. Even the big opening track, I Feel the Earth Move, is punchy and bluesy but is mellowed by a lot of piano and a hint of saxophone. The album title is so apt; it is a complete tapestry of styles and sounds and moods and genres.
“(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman is the closest I get to being able to sing because her vocals allow the rest of us to find a harmony. This is what makes King a genius – she delivers notes that don’t exist in normal people’s lives and helps us to sing them.”
The next song, So Far Away, has the melancholic combination of King and piano which is the leitmotif of the whole album, with other instruments and vocals barely audible (so far away) apart from the flute at the end, which overtakes and becomes the vocal melancholia: “one more song about moving along the highway”.
It’s Too Late starts deceptively tenderly and in other hands would be tense and dramatic, but King is far too lovely to be angry with someone she has just broken up with. Home Again is one of the signature styles, mainly her and piano: “I won’t be happy ‘til I see you alone again / ‘til I’m home again and feeling right…” Beautiful is a powerful message to all of us; even if you don’t like the song, just write up the lyrics and pin them to your mirror, or the ceiling or send them to a friend.
Way Over Yonder is another King and piano epic that doesn’t say too much in terms of lyrics but the journey she takes us on from here to yonder is sublime: “then trouble’s gonna lose me / worry leave me behind and I’ll stand up proudly / in true peace of mind”.
You’ve Got a Friend is probably one of the best-known songs in the world and has still not lost its appeal: “When you’re down and troubled…” Where You Lead is a lovely arrangement but I am not keen on the lyrics, even when applying irony (however, King did not write the lyrics). Will You Love Me Tomorrow? is half the speed of the version that she wrote for The Shirelles and is all the better for it, with its layered vocals at different ranges.
The one song that I fast-forward is Smackwater Jack (sorry, Carole).
Tapestry is musically beautiful; switching between symphonic and folksy with a by-turns rolling and punchy piano.
“We spent weeks scouring secondhand record shops for King records and finally found the cassette of Tapestry. Those few inches of plastic and many feet of tape contained what the world was about.”
I cannot hold a tune and I am tone deaf, but this does not mean that I cannot hear the magic in King’s voice or be thrilled by her ability to pitch the notes so perfectly. However, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman is the closest I get to being able to sing because her vocals allow the rest of us to find a harmony. This is what makes King a genius – she delivers notes that don’t exist in normal people’s lives and helps us to sing them.
King is one of the most prolific and successful songwriters of all time; she leaves nothing unfinished. She does not wake up and want to go back to sleep. She wakes up and rushes to the piano; as Beautiful puts it: “You got to get up every morning, with a smile on your face / And show the world all the love in your heart / Then people gonna treat you better / You’re gonna find, yes, you will / that you’re beautiful as you feel”.
Like the proverbial rat that humans are never far from, King is never far from a piano. She has Sylvia Plath poetry books next to her bed and she never wears shoes. You only ever see King laughing. If King presented a Jeremy Kyle show, there would be no fighting. She would get everybody to sing together and they would leave holding hands and laughing about ‘all the fuss’ while You’ve Got a Friend played over the closing credits. Basically, King should be your life guru. RATED.4317 Views
@Aliceliverpool is a football-loving, vegetarian, birdwatching leftie but not a social worker as you might presume.