Legendary songwriter and recording artist Carole King has reissued four of her more obscure albums on her own Rockingale Records label, distributed by Concord Music Group. Three of the four remastered albums make their U.S. CD debut: Simple Things (1977), Welcome Home (1978), and Touch the Sky (1979). Only Pearls – Songs of Goffin and King (1980) has been previously available on CD in the U.S. These albums don’t represent a peak period in King’s career. With the exception of Pearls, which consists of classics written with her ex-husband and writing partner Gerry Goffin, the songwriting is consistently uninspired.
Simple Things was the best seller among these reissues, peaking at number 17 on Billboard’s album chart and earning Gold certification from the RIAA. It spawned a hit single with the calypso-flavored “Hard Rock Café,” which reached number 30 on Billboard’s Hot 100. It’s not hard to see why, as it is the only song on the album with a strong hook. Most of the record limps along in the middle-of-the-road doldrums. “God Only Knows” exhibits a modicum of rocking energy, with guitarists Robert McEntee and Rick Evers trading some hot licks.
With more galumphing soft rock from the same core group of players, Welcome Home doesn’t improve upon its predecessor. In fact, it fared very poorly from a commercial standpoint, failing to rise above number 104 on the Billboard album chart. The opener, “Main Street Saturday Night,” typifies the album’s ultra-mild sound. The single, “Morning Sun,” threatened to make an impact on the Adult Contemporary chart, but stalled at number 43. Flutist Richard Hardy contributes some lame lines to this insipid tune. “Disco Tech” is a slick dance tune that stands out as a goofy guilty pleasure. “You can meet the Dean of Boogaloo/He’s gonna get down and boogie with you,” King warbles. The title track is the album’s strongest moment, with its understated harmonies and soaring chorus.
Touch the Sky brings in some new musicians, but it doesn’t really help. This is one lazy record and another commerical bomb for King. None of its songs came anywhere near the charts. While that’s not an indication of quality by any means, it is evidence of what a string of cruddy albums will do to one’s fanbase. “Move Lightly” flirts with a soulful funk-lite groove, thanks to a rubbery bassline from Ron Cobb. “Good Moutain People” and “Crazy” are more fake rock pap, played with a phony good-time vibe and featuring strained vocals from King. Some predictable, shambling country pop is offered up on “Passing of the Days.” It’s all kind of a mess.
Though saddled with over-the-top, too slick production, Pearls – Songs of Goffin and King at least has no shortage of memorable hooks. Her revisitation of “One Fine Day,” a smash for The Chiffons in 1963, was even a legitimate hit in 1980, reaching number 12 on the Hot 100. At its best, King offers up a delightfully boozy version of her and Goffin’s “Hi De Ho (That Old Sweet Roll),” a hit in 1970 for Blood, Sweat & Tears. “Chains,” a 1962 hit for The Cookies and a George Harrison feature on The Beatles 1963 debut Please Please Me, is given a playfully retro treatment. Given that the material is so much stronger than the three previous albums, not surprising given that the songs were cherry-picked from the rich Goffin & King songbook, this is the one best suited for casual fans.