A Garden of Wisdom, from Some Long-Ago Dream: Carole King’s Tapestry

By Daniel Garrett

Carole King, Tapestry
Produced by Lou Adler
Engineered by Hank Cicalo
Ode Records, 1971
Ode/Epic, 1999

It is not a confession a mature man may be expected to make: I remember walking into a small-town record shop as a young boy and asking for a song by Carole King, taking it home, and playing it over and over.  “If I could work this life out my way, I’d rather spend it being close to you,” sang King in “So Far Away,” a song of distance and loneliness: and while, I had not known and lost a love, it touched some childish—or timeless—melancholy in me.  (King plays piano, James Taylor guitar, and Curtis Amy plays flute in the song.)  It became one of those old songs that returned to me at different times in my life, and never was precisely about my missing a particular person—it was always a general mood.  I hear it now, and it is, of course, so familiar.  It is one of the songs on Carole King’s Tapestry, an album that held the attention of children I knew as well as adults—it sold millions of copies and set a standard of quality and popularity.

Carole King, born Carol Klein, was a Manhattan-born prodigy; and, reared in Brooklyn, she attended Queens College, where she met Gerry Goffin (and Paul Simon and Neil Sedaka); and before long King and Goffin were writing popular songs, beginning with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” and “Up on the Roof.”  King’s songs have been recorded by many singers over the years, including by Barbra Streisand and Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, and the Drifters, but King’s own performances of them have been very popular too.  Some favorites are “Brother, Brother,” “Jazzman,” “Only Love Is Real,” and “Sweet Seasons.”  Carole King’s albums include Writer, Music, Rhymes and Reasons, Wrap Around Joy, Fantasy, Thoroughbred, Simple Things, Pearls, and more recently Live at the Troubadour.  Carole King’s Tapestry consists of twelve songs, from “I Feel the Earth Move” to “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and including “It’s Too Late,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Where You Lead,” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”  Its artistry and its appeal remain.

On Tapestry, King’s singing, sincere and strong, is quite good in “I Feel the Earth Move,” which has a driving rhythm and engaging melody, and uses earthquake as a metaphor for a stirring love.  The song is more dramatic than romantic, as it contains energy and hunger.  It is followed by the ballad “So Far Away,” in the album’s regular pattern of an uptempo song followed by a ballad.  One can hear a little jazz in “It’s Too Late,” a rock song about a failing relationship, the rhythms of the song matching the intensity of the situation.  The listener remembers the lyrics as being more precise than they are, the tone of voice and rhythms so fill out the picture—it is really the inner life more than the domestic life that is being conveyed.  One senses nothing false about the song.  “Home Again,” the piano ballad with more rhythm than a listener anticipates, captures loneliness, winter, reminiscence; while the observance of daily toil and suggestion of a positive attitude as antidote, set to a simple rhythm, is offered in “Beautiful,” which has a structure like that of a more formal composition—a theater song or even a classical piece, with a blend of recitative and singing, up and down tempos, quiet and raised volume.  (“Beautiful” might be a self-correcting spiritual response to “Home Again.”)  The gospel ballad “Way Over Yonder,” in which King’s voice is expansive and full, is a statement of faith and seeking.  Her voice sounds great.  “You’ve Got a Friend,” a classic, still works as it acknowledges so well why friendship is needed not only how deeply it is felt.  Infatuated, dedicated, the perspective in “Where You Lead” has enough practical detail to make it persuasive too.  (It is amusing to hear a New York girl declare, “I always wanted a real home, with flowers on the window sill, but honey if you want to live in New York City, you know I will,” and then one remembers that King has spent a large part of her adult life outside of New York.)  The question every vulnerable heart wants answered is asked in the intimate and intense ballad “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”  Men tend to lie about love for sex and women for money or status; and the song captures not knowing if nighttime promises are likely to last.

It is a fun song, “Smackwater Jack,” about a gunslinger versus the law.  With a twanging guitar, both country and jazzy, the singer states, “You can’t talk to a man with a shotgun in his hand.”  The sheriff and his men ride out to keep the streets safe for wives and daughters, that old claim;   and “the account of the capture wasn’t in the paper, but you know they hanged old Smack right then instead of later,” and “it was a really good year for the undertaker.”

The ballad “Tapestry” tells a magical tale.  From exhaustion and cruelty to inspiration and kindness, every word convinces in “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”  There are two bonus songs, “Out In the Cold,” a song interesting for being about a woman’s betrayal of a man, a rare topic amid these other songs of fidelity, and a live version of “Smackwater Jack.”

Daniel Garrett, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at Poets House, is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Black Film Review, Changing Men, Cinetext, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Wax Poetics, and World Literature Today.  Daniel Garrett has written extensively about international film for Offscreen, and comprehensive commentary on music for The Compulsive Reader.  He has an internet log, “The Art Notes of a Solitary Walker,” focused on visual art.  He has written a novel, A Stranger on Earth.