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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