Carole King’s Tapestry at 45 – a raw, honest record which cut through the noise of a turbulent world

Carole King

Carole King

Ahead of performing her iconic record in full at Hyde Park this Summer, Getintothis’ Jessica Borden explores the raw emotion of Carole King’s Tapestry 45 years on from its release.

1971, the year that brought us A Clockwork Orange, Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson. The deaths of Jim Morrison, Louis Armstrong and Coco Chanel shook the world. The world was in a turbulent whirlwind from the joy of Apollo 14’s moon landing and Joe Frazier’s historic surprise victory over Muhammed Ali in Madison Square Garden to the misery and terror of the Ibrox crowd disaster and the beginning of the IRA bombings in The UK. America saw the voting age lowered to age 18, finally giving the young a voice in a political manner.

And in the mix of the turbulent times in 1971, Carole King, a singer song-writer, released her second album Tapestry, after nearly a decade of writing songs for other people such as The Monkees‘ Pleasant Ville and Little Eva’s The Loco-motion. Tapestry quickly became one of the best selling albums of all time, selling over 25 million copies world wide. The iconic sounds of the melancholy, raw and honest sound which cut through the noise of the world.

James Taylor is quoted as saying “decided to own her voice — no gauze on the lens, no affected ­technique” to Billboard magazine about King, this idea of not using anything to change her voice is what makes it so real and easy to connect to, it allows the emotion to shine through.

Tapestry was a regular occurrence during my childhood, with Carole King being a favourite of my Mum’s. From being very small sitting with my mum with the soft melodies twisting their way around the room and ultimately with myself attempting to sing along (as loud as humanly possible). Without even noticing Carole King and Tapestry in particular became an essential part of my life.

The opening track I Feel the Earth Move with an upbeat tempo and quick pace, the confessions of love and desire, which set the perfect mood emotionally for the album. This track includes an earth moving (pardon the pun) piano solo and ends on the lyric “I feel the sky tumbling down” possibly foreshadowing the later lyrics. So Far Away follows this upbeat number, with the melancholy of loss and distance flowing through. “Holding you again could only do me good, how I wish I could”, “one more song about moving along the highway”, the raw emotion in the lyrics and melody are what makes Carole King timeless. She connects by talking about how all people have felt. People have felt the dizzy madness that comes from love, infatuation or even the dull ache of loss.

Continuing on the theme of So Far Away, the melancholic tone flows throughout the album and into It’s Too Late. Lyrics which don’t blame for the loss of love and admits sometimes it just leaves, the saxophone solos emphasise a bluesy influence which marries well with the lyrics “I can’t hide and I just can’t fake it.” This track adds an empowering undertone of acceptance and moving on. These words are how we wish we had phrased things at the time and looking back realising it would have probably been better (and probably more awkward and cheesy) to steal lines from King.

Home Again marks a journey with King’s raw vocals which add the power to her lyrics paired with her iconic piano playing. It manages to even convey the emotions of a long and tiring journey home. King has a power to make her music evoke the exact memory or feeling of a moment long forgotten and pushed out of mind.

As Beautiful chimes in with a stronger melody which grasps the listener with its upbeat tempo and channels the ideas that surrounded King in California during the writing of Tapestry – The Iconic hippie singer songwriter culture which excelled in California.  Beautiful takes the album to a new level by lifting the atmosphere to an idea of self love which was suggested in It’s Too Late.

Way Over Yonder is a track which holds it’s own with King’s powerhouse vocals with the daydream of the grass being greener and greener pastures, leaving behind all the struggles. This is possibly about Carole King’s journey from New York to California in 1968, it’s a song that projects hope and even with the melancholy tone which underlies Tapestry, the melancholy seems to hold it’s place because without it the hope and perseverance for “the good life” seems less heroic in a way.

You’ve Got a Friend, recorded later in 1971 by James Taylor went to number 1 in the US chart. It became a song which lasted throughout the ages, a song of love, not specifically in a romantic fashion. You’ve Got a Friend allows the lyrics to be at the forefront with the piano taking a backseat and acting as the accompaniment rather than the joint lead. Hope flows through this track showing this iconic track is iconic for a reason the melody and lyrics and the relationships every person dreams of.

The upbeat feeling of the opening track returns in Where You Lead, a song which has also been made popular as the title opening song for American TV show Gilmore Girls. Where a song becoming a theme song would usually irk and frustrate, this fits. The mother daughter relationship and the pop culture references, it works.

Where You Lead could be read as a parody of King’s earlier work and the stereotypes of a woman needing to follow the man in her life, however author James Perone (The Words and Music of Carole King) stated she made an “empowered and informed decision” to follow.

Will You Love Me Tomorrow?, a duet with King’s life long friends James Taylor, creates the perfect harmonies for a ballad of the juxtaposition of melancholy and hope in asking such a question. The harmony is continued in  the balance between piano and guitar which come together to create a the soundtrack to the heart wrenching thoughts of 4am.

Near the end of the album Smackwater Jack takes an unusual turn, not only for the mood of the album, but also for the lyrics. This track contains a much stronger up-tempo melody with what sounds like a shuffle. King’s piano and vocals still fold into this perfectly and the song appears more as a revolution song rather than that of her usual emotional documentation.

Tapestry the title track and the penultimate track, fits perfectly here as it appears to encapsulate both a life in the lyrics and the entire album of Tapestry. “The tapestry is unravelling” feels fitting to draw the album to a close. The final track (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, recorded by Aretha Franklin later in the year became one of Carole King’s most well known songs, from the heart bearing lyrics to the soulful accompaniment of piano, there is no doubt that this song shows an overall arch of the unbelievable talent that she holds.

Thinking back to those moments sat with my Mum listening to Carole King, when at the time I just pushed off as just another album (I was young and foolish) to now realising the sentimental nature that this album holds because of the purity in the honesty and raw emotion which even at a young age had found it’s way into my soul, with my loud and brash renditions of Beautiful and Way Over Yonder. I find comfort in the emotions and melodies pouring out of each track, that even in the times of laying on a bedroom floor, with no clue of where life is going, this album fixes those worries.

Now, 45 years later, Carole King has announced that she will be playing British Summer Time in Hyde Park and with that will be playing the iconic album Tapestry in full for the first time. King’s return is perfectly timed for a moment in history and life when this iconic album is needed to cut through whirlwind and for 45 minutes create peace.