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Music Review: Carole King – The Essential Carole King

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Browse through any music fan's collection, and chances are good he or she owns a copy of Carole King's Tapestry.  That album kicked off the singer-songwriter movement of the 1970s, and established her as a performer in her own right.  Before that achievement, however, she amassed an impressive number of hits as a songwriter, often collaborating with partner Gerry Goffin in the 1960s.  A new collection, The Essential Carole King, provides a thorough overview of both sides of her career, and is a must-own for any music enthusiast.

The compilation consists of two discs: disc one concentrates on her singing career, while disc two focuses on her as a songwriter.  Two major elements are evident while listening to so many instantly familiar songs: first, an astonishing variety of artists performed some of her most well-known songs.  King was equally versed in rock (The Monkees's "Pleasant Valley Sunday"), soul ("Oh No Not My Baby" by Maxine Brown), pop ("The Loco-Motion" by Little Eva) and folk -rock (The Byrds's "Wasn't Born to Follow"), just to name a few genres.  Few other songwriters span such a broad amount of styles.Carole King

Second, listening to The Essential Carole King is like witnessing the birth of a mature, introspective artist.  Her early solo work, such as 1962's "It Might as Well Rain Until September," reflected typical themes such as being away from a lover.  But as the years wore on, she began writing about more serious issues, such as the unabashed sexual fulfillment of Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," or the moral dilemma of The Shirelles's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow."  Essentially asking "will he still respect me in the morning" is a serious topic for top-40 radio.  "Pleasant Valley Sunday's" lyrics still resound with images of dull suburbia and fear of convention: "Charcoal burning everywhere /Rows of houses that are all the same /And no one seems to care." 

When King recorded Tapestry in 1971, her writing further developed into a more introspective, highly personal narrative.  Songs such as "I Feel the Earth Move," and "It's Too Late" may be written in a first-person perspective, but everyone has experienced the roller-coaster of emotions expressed in those tracks.   "I just can't fake it," King sings in the latter song, and other Tapestry tunes included in this collection sound just as emotionally raw as they did over 35 years later.  "So Far Away" expresses fear of losing contact with others, while "You've Got A Friend" celebrates such close connections.  Again, King chooses to tell these stories from her own perspective, but expresses universal feelings. 

King also lent her sophistication to a children's album, scoring Maurice Sendak's animated TV show production Really Rosie in 1975.  Here she told stories from a child's perspective, communicating their broad range of emotions in clever yet easy to understand lyrics.  The Essential Carole King selects two tracks from this album: the title track ("I'm terrific at everything!" exclaims the proud little Rosie), and "Pierre," the humorous moral tale of a child who replies "I don't care" when asked anything.   She makes full use of her voice on these tracks, growling and flattening her voice to express certain emotions.

Each track shows that while King may not possess a huge voice range, her clear and straightforward style conveys feelings and emotion in a bare-bones manner.  One of her more recent hits, 1992's "Now and Forever," is  notable for her excellent vocal performance.  The subject could be friendships or romantic relationships, but King's simple singing effectively reflects nostalgia and wistfulness.  Incidentally, fans may recognize this song from the film A League of Their Own

The Essential Carole King serves as a tribute to a songwriting legend and unique performer.  It demonstrates that truly special songs are timeless, packing just as much of an emotional punch many years later.  In addition, it chronicles King's artistic development through music alone.  In "Jazzman," also included in this compilation, she sings of a musician that "can sing you into paradise/Or bring you to your knees."  Through her intensely personal writing and singing, King continues to have that same effect on audiences.  Listen to this collection and be transported into her rich tapestry of music. 

For more information, visit Carole King's official website.

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About Kit O'Toole

  • Robert Rodriguez

    This sounds like a pretty well-conceived compilation, Kit. Conceptually, the second disc could have gone on forever, and maybe warrants its own fleshed out release. It would be nice for the masses to hear The Monkees’ “Porpoise Song” and “As We Go Along” outside of a context that invites derision (i.e. a Monkees album), as well as other tunes you don’t hear much anymore like “Hi-De-Ho,” covered by Blood Sweat and Tears.

  • http://www.kitotoole.com Kit O’Toole

    Indeed, Robert, “Porpoise Song” and “As We Go Along” are two underrated classics. As you said, this compilation could have become a box set!