King, Carole (1942—)
King, Carole (1942—)
American composer and performer who won four Grammy awards for her album Tapestry. Born Carole Klein on February 9, 1942, in Brooklyn, New York; attended Queens College in New York City; married Gerry Goffin, in 1960 (divorced 1968); married Charles Larkey (divorced); married Rick Evers (died after one year of marriage); married Richard Sorenson; children: (first marriage) two daughters, Louise Goffin and Sherry Goffin-Kondor; (second marriage) daughter Molly.
After studying piano as a child, wrote songs and organized her first band in high school, changing last name to King; dropped out of college to marry and went to work part-time for a New York music publishingcompany, composing with her lyricist husband the music for a string of Top 40 hits; had first #1 song, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" (1960); after a divorce (1968), began to promote herself as a solo performer; released album Tapestry to great acclaim (1971), winning four Grammy awards; has continued to write and perform ever since, as well as composing music for film scores and occasionally acting in films and on the stage; is also an outspoken environmentalist.
One afternoon in 1960, chemist Gerry Goffin was surprised to see his fiancée appear at the New York lab in which he worked, and even more startled to see a shiny black limousine waiting outside. More astounding still was Carole King's news that one of the four dozen songs they had written together, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?," had been received so enthusiastically by a music publisher that they had each been given a $10,000 advance. It was the first substantial money either of them had made from their passionate devotion to writing music; and for Carole, it was the beginning of a career that would help define the shape of the music industry for the next 40 years.
Born Carole Klein on February 9, 1942, to a middle-class family in Brooklyn, she developed an early love for music through the piano lessons she began taking at the age of four, and was so intent on a life in the music business that she had formed her first group, a vocal quarter she called The Co-Sines, while still in high school, even going so far as to legally change her name to the more commercial-sounding King. It was a time of poodle skirts and pompadours, of cars with tailfins and abundant chrome, of "sock hops" and televised dance parties like the weekly show hosted by pioneering rock 'n' roll disc jockey Alan Freed. Along with most of her generation, King danced to the records of Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, the Coasters and the Chordettes, and rhythm-and-blues artist Ben E. King. But unlike many of her contemporaries, King realized these performers owed their stardom to the people who supplied their material, for very few of the recording stars of the day wrote their own songs. Carole was especially taken with the work of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, who had written "Blue Suede Shoes" for Elvis.
Arriving at Queens College after graduating from high school, King met others who shared her admiration for writing teams like Lieber and Stoller. One of her college acquaintances, Neil Sedaka, found early success in 1959 with a song he had written for her, "Oh, Carol!" (Carole's answer song, "Oh, Neil!," failed to meet similar success), while a young Paul Simon was beginning to explore writing and performing as well. Of more significance to King's future was her relationship with Gerry Goffin, who was earning a degree in chemistry at the time he and Carole met. Planning on marrying and starting a family, both of them dropped out of school, moved to a basement apartment in Manhattan, and found jobs in New York—Goffin at his chemistry lab and Carole as a secretary—while they dedicated their evenings to songwriting. Goffin supplied the lyrics while King set them to music, and their efforts seemed rewarded when Neil Sedaka introduced them to the publishers who had handled "Oh, Carol!"
I'm a songwriter first, have always been, and probably always will be.
Aldon Music, owned by Don Kirschner and Al Nevins, was one of scores of such enterprises housed in the legendary Brill Building on 57th Street, then the heart of a vibrant music business jolted into frenetic growth by the arrival of rock 'n' roll. Huddled in cubicles, puffing on cigarettes, and living on Coca-Cola and hot dogs, young composers dreamed of writing the next hit for Elvis or Dion. The few that sold songs to the publishing houses were rarely paid royalties, but the arrangement did not stop King and Goffin from cranking out nearly 50 unsold songs before Kirschner agreed to buy "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?," a somewhat controversial song for its day, with its innocent speculation about the consequences of a first kiss ("Is this a lasting treasure/ Or just a moment's pleasure?"). It was Kirschner's good fortune to decide to let his young writing team arrange and record a demo of the song, which was promptly bought by a popular "girl group" of the time, The Shirelles . Their recording of the song shot to the top of Billboard's charts within a week of its release in 1960, giving Carole and Gerry reason enough to celebrate by marrying.
The success of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" established a pattern for the writing team of King and Goffin, with a string of hits over the next five years for African-American "girl groups" like The Cookies (with 1962's "Chains") and The Chiffons (with 1963's "One Fine Day"), and for solo artists like Eva Boyd , who, at the time she recorded the demo of Carole and Gerry's "The Loco-Motion" as Little Eva, was working as the Goffins' babysitter. Kirschner liked King's arrangement for the demo, with its fat tenor sax line doubling the bass, and decided to release it commercially. It promptly took over Billboard's #1 slot on the Top 40 charts. The Drifters' recording of "Up on the Roof" remains a classic of the King-Goffin style which came to be called "uptown R&B," marked by King's silky-smooth arrangements and sophisticated chord changes which highlighted Goffin's introspective lyrics. But it was their great genius to be able to tailor music for other kinds of artists, too. Steve Lawrence's 1962 version of "Go Away, Little Girl" appealed to a somewhat older and less urban audience, while King's first recording as a solo artist of one of her own songs, 1962's "It Might as Well Rain Until September," swept the European charts, although it only reached #22 in America. King's arrangements for the demo recordings of her songs were so admired that many artists merely replaced her vocals with their own, finding it difficult to imagine the song any other way. King never objected at the time, or later in her career, when her songs were covered in their own versions by artists as varied as James Taylor and Aretha Franklin . "Making the demo is a natural product of writing a song," King once told a journalist. "After that, I'm happy to hear other people do it in other ways." By the mid-1960s, King and Goffin's style was so widely admired that Paul McCartney claimed his and John Lennon's most fervent wish was to write songs "as good as Goffin and King." (The Beatles included a version of "Chains" on their first album.)
It was the Beatles' success with their film A Hard Day's Night that indirectly opened an entirely new market for King. Columbia's television arm, Screen Gems, took note of the popularity of the film and decided to tailor a TV series around a manufactured American group to be called The Monkees. With as many as four new songs needed for each weekly show, and with only one member of the new group, Mike Nesmith, actually a songwriter, Columbia turned to Don Kirschner for help. The series premiered in 1965 with three songs penned by Goffin-King. As well, "Pleasant Valley Sunday," with its wry condemnation of middle-class hypocrisy, was King and Goffin's first socially conscious song to rise into the top ten on the charts, and was a sharp break from their earlier, rhythm-and-blues dominated style.
By the late 1960s, in fact, the entire music business was heading in a new direction, driven by recording artists who were now writing their own material. While Goffin was content to write lyrics for others, King noted the trend and determined to begin promoting herself as a performer. The inevitable strains on the partnership led to a separation in 1967, following the couple's last collaboration—(You Make Me Feel Like a) "Natural Woman," written for Aretha Franklin. With the divorce finalized the next year, Carole moved to Los Angeles with her two daughters, Louise and Sherry, and settled in Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. She joined a group of new young artists intent on preserving their artistic independence to write and record songs with an intensely personal flavor—artists such as Joni Mitchell, Melanie , David Crosby, Stephen Stills and, most important, James Taylor, who became a close friend and encouraged her efforts to create a solo career. "Those were remarkable days in Laurel Canyon," Taylor once said. "Exceptional was commonplace." King had met Taylor through her association with singer and guitarist Danny Kortchmar, who had played with Taylor in a mid-1960's group called the Original Flying Machine. Kortchmar, along with bass guitarist Charles Larkey (who would become King's second husband) and drummer Jim Gordon, formed Carole's first group since her high school days in Brooklyn. The new group, called The City, recorded only one album, 1969's Now That Everything's Been Said, which failed to attract attention. Its only distinction was the first recording of the song that would become so closely identified with King (as well as Taylor), "You've Got a Friend." Adding to the group's short life was King's reluctance to tour; her finely tuned studio ear told her that The City was nowhere near ready for live appearances. The City was disbanded after barely a year together.
Still, James Taylor and others continued to urge her on. Among the support group was record producer Lou Adler, who finally coaxed King into a studio in 1970 to record the basic tracks for a solo album, to be called Writer. It proved to be another failure, criticized for a lack of focus and indifferent production—a result of King's leaving the project before the tracks were mixed to take on a writing project for The Mamas and the Papas . Writer sold only 10,000 copies. But then came Tapestry, King's breakthrough album and the work still cited as the highwater mark of her career. The album blended original songs like "So Far Away" and "I Feel the Earth Move," several tunes written in collaboration with ex-husband Gerry Goffin ("Smackwater Jack") and with lyricist Toni Stern ("It's Too Late"), and her own versions of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" and "Natural Woman." Backed by Kortchmar's guitar work, Charles Larkey's bass, Jim Gordon's drums, and backup vocals by, among others, James Taylor,
King's soulful vocals and distinctive piano sent Tapestry skyrocketing up the charts. King was on tour, opening for Taylor, when the album made its debut; by the end of the tour, Taylor was opening for her. (King returned the favor when Taylor's own release of "You've Got a Friend" brought him his first #1 single.) Tapestry broke all sales records of the time at 22 million copies, remained on Billboard's list of the 200 bestselling albums for six years, and was the bestselling solo album by a female vocalist for an astonishing 25 years. Nearly every song on the album met success as a single release, with "It's Too Late" remaining in the #1 spot for five weeks. In all, Tapestry brought King four Grammy awards—for Best Song of the Year ("You've Got a Friend," in James Taylor's rendition), Best Record of the Year ("It's Too Late"), Best Pop Vocal for a Female Artist (for the album's title song) and Album of the Year. Critics cited the album for breaking new ground for female pop singers, freeing them from the white gloves and sequined gowns of the 1960s and opening the door to a more natural, honest style. The triumph for King, however, was the acceptance of her work as a composer by a wider audience. "I don't consider myself a singer," she said two years after Tapestry's release. "The main reason I got into performing and recording on my own was to expose my songs to the public in the fastest way."
But the success of Tapestry carried a price, which became evident with the release of Carole King Music, also in 1971, and containing songs written with Toni Stern. Although one of the numbers, "Sweet Seasons," became a Top Ten single and the album itself briefly hit #1, reviewers inevitably compared it to its predecessor and found it lacking. "Anyone who failed to follow up an album [like Tapestry] with a very similar album would have to be either a fool or Bob Dylan," wrote one critic for Rolling Stone. "Carole King is neither. The middle ground where she is now standing isn't good enough for her, and the sooner she moves, the better." 1972's Rhymes and Reasons, which also reached #1 for a brief period, fared no better; and King's third post-Tapestry effort, Fantasy—a "concept" album with overtones of social protest—never even made it past the #6 slot on the charts. Fans pointed out that the negative reaction almost always concerned the lyrics written by collaborators and not King's melodies; and her popular acceptance remained high enough for an estimated 70,000 fans to crowd Central Park in New York for a live concert in 1973. Although the performance was well received, the press was more impressed by her plea to the audience at the end of the concert to pick up their trash and throw it away properly.
King seemed to regain her critics' favor with the release in 1974 of Wrap Around Joy, a jazztinged album written in collaboration with David Palmer and featuring instrumentals by jazz saxophonist Tom Scott, who had graced Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark a year earlier. Wrap Around Joy settled in for a respectable stay at #1 and produced a #2 single, "Jazzman." The versatility of her days in the Brill Building with Gerry Goffin returned with King's next album, a collection of children's songs based on Maurice Sendak's story Really Rosie, about the adventures of a New York schoolgirl and her friends. (Sendak was a fellow Brooklynite and had known King in high school.) The album was later turned into the score for an animated film and, later still, a Broadway play. Her work with Sendak led to several offers of work on film scores, including Pocket Money and the title song for Murphy's Romance.
By the mid-1970s, King's iconic status in the music industry seemed assured, even if she never produced another album as popular and influential as Tapestry; and her carefully guarded personal life survived the upheaval of her divorce from Charles Larkey and the early death from a drug overdose of her third husband, Rick Evers, who had contributed lyrics to two of her albums. The ardent environmentalism she had developed by this time was reflected in 1979's Touch the Sky, released just as she was moving from California to Idaho (where she met and married her fourth husband, rancher Richard Sorenson), and in her appearances in public support of several environmental initiatives in state legislatures and in Congress. Touch the Sky, unfortunately, turned out to be one of her worstselling albums, prompting a reviewer for Melody Maker to note that while King's environmental advocacy was certainly laudable, "these laments from Tin Pan Alley hipsters are not instantly affecting." Perhaps stung by the reaction, King looked to the past for her next effort, collaborating with Gerry Goffin on Pearls, which included new versions of their hits from the 1960s and which fared much better commercially. Her subsequent work during the last two decades of the 20th century also fared respectably, much of it drawing on the talents of contemporary artists who were barely in grade school when King and Goffin were slaving away in the Brill Building. City Streets, released in 1989, was noted for its harder-edged arrangements and guitar work by Eric Clapton; while Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash appeared on 1993's Color of Your Dreams—also notable for including King's song "Now and Forever," written for the film A League of Their Own. Faith Hill , Rod Stewart and Aretha Franklin all appeared on 1995's Tapestry Revisited, a re-recording of the original album's songs which, in a back-handed compliment to King's solo work 25 years earlier, failed to find an audience. A more apt tribute came in the form of the 1996 film Grace of My Heart, based on the story of the King-Goffin legend and starring Ileana Douglas in a role drawn heavily from King's life.
Although she and Goffin were inducted into both the Songwriters' Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and although she has been featured on programs as varied as VH-1's Rock Divas Live and on Oprah Winfrey , Carole King famously keeps a low public profile and rarely grants interviews. It is her support of environmental issues, particularly the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, that now bring her most often to the public's attention. Still, it is her contributions to contemporary music that may prove more lasting than her ecological dedication. "The simplicity of the singing, composition and ultimate feeling achieve the kind of eloquence and beauty I had forgotten rock is capable of," Rolling Stone critic John Landau once wrote. "She reaches out towards us and gives us everything she has. And this generosity is so extraordinary that perhaps we can give it another name: passion."
Perone, James. Carole King: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.
Snyder, Louise. "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" in Salon. June 19, 1999.
Grace of My Heart, starring Ileana Douglas and directed by Allison Anders , Gramercy Pictures, 1996.
"Tapestry Revisited: A Tribute to Carole King," Lifetime Television, produced by David Foster, aired in 1995.
Norman Powers , writer-producer, Chelsea Lane Productions, New York