In the early 1970s, there was a window of time when, musically, all was right with the world. This was the era of the singer-songwriter, a time when an extraordinary array of artists came to the fore: James Taylor, Carole King, Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were just a few of the songwriters who seemed to burst from the ether to become such important part of the musical world. Their songs had a softer edge than the rock that had accompanied the '60s to a close. It eased fears, it soothed, warmed and enlightened.
The PBS documentary Troubadours: Carole King / James Taylor & The Rise of the Singer-Songwriter pays tribute to those artists and the era in which they created some of their best and most lasting work. Elton John, David Crosby, and Jackson Browne are interviewed; their music and performances are showcased. But the documentary’s main focus is on James Taylor, Carole King, and the Troubadour club in West Hollywood where they got their start. The documentary details how two artists, whose early lives couldn’t have been more different, eventually formed a personal and professional friendship that has lasted decades. It is a wonderful story told with heart.
King talks early in the film about the rise of the singer-songwriter scene. “When we sprang out of the box there was all this generational turbulence, cultural turbulence, and there was a hunger for the intimacy, the personal thing that we did”.
The story of King’s years as a Brill Building songwriter in New York, who with husband Gerry Goffin, penned such classics as “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “Up On the Roof”, is told through rare archival footage of the couple in the studio and at home with their daughters. James Taylor’s early years in the music business were fraught with bad business choices and an addiction to drugs (which, according to Taylor, lasted until 1983). Good fortune shined on him, though, when he made the acquaintance of Peter Asher. Asher introduced him to The Beatles who liked Taylor’s music enough to sign him to Apple Records. The rest, as they say, is history.