Tue. May 28th, 2024

How Carole King Revolutionized ’70s Music

In 1960, The Shirelles became the first Black female group to have a #1 US  hit with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?“.

The song also represented a big break for its composer, 17-year-old Carole King, and her then-husband, lyricist Gerry Goffin.

The two set up shop in New York City’s Brill Building, a pre-British Invasion hotbed of songwriting teams, cranking out pop tunes for others to record.

King and Goffin’s collaboration was a fruitful one for both themselves and the artists they sent climbing the charts:

Bobby Vee with “Take Good Care of My Baby“.

The Chiffons with “One Fine Day“.

The Monkees with “Pleasant Valley Sunday“.

“Little Eva” Boyd (the couple’s babysitter) with “The Loco-Motion“.

Aretha Franklin with “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman“.

The late 60s ushered in both a musical and social revolution.

As King writes in her memoir, A Natural Woman, “Had I been forty-two and Gerry forty-five, I might have understood his yearning for the Bohemian lifestyle he’d never had:”

But I was a twenty-two year old wife and mother losing my twenty-five year old husband to avant-garde ideas. I wanted my life back. Unfortunately, yesterday had a no return policy, and today wasn’t where I wanted to be. I could only hope tomorrow would be better.

The couple split in 1968, and King left New York for LA, settling in Laurel Canyon, another hive of musical activity. Here, however, singers like Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Neil Young wrote their own songs, sharing intimate details of their lives and relationships in the name of creative expression.

King began to explore these avenues, too, though as Polyphonic‘s Noah Lefevre observes in the above video essay on her seminal second album, 1971’s Tapestry, the Brill Building’s high bar for solid song craft and catchy hooks had become part of her DNA.

Her first solo recording was little heralded, but Tapestry was a smash from the get go, nabbing King Grammys for both record and song of the year, the first female solo act to be so recognized:

Tapestry changed my life. In an immediate way, it gave me financial independence, which was really wonderful. Less immediate and in an ongoing way, it opened doors.

Released as second wave feminism was cresting, Tapestry’s lyrics resonated with many women who, raised on dreams of marriage and motherhood, found themselves seeking fulfillment elsewhere, whether by choice or circumstance.

Compared to Joni Mitchell’s confessional Blue, Polyphonic’s Lefevre sees Tapestry as a work of “quiet resilience.”

It modeled the soft rock sound that became a 70s staple, and its cover art eschewed the idea of artist as glamorous being, in favor of an approachable human-scale individual.

It also afforded King the opportunity for timely reinterpretations of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “A Natural Woman,” this time as a singer-songwriter.

Listen to Carole King’s Tapestry here.

– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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