In honor of the event, and as a follow-up to yesterday's "4 things I like about James Taylor," I decided to make a list of my 5 favorite Carole King songs -- which turned out to be a very difficult task. Do you know how many Carole King songs are out there? The answer is: a lot. This article provides a good beginning for some of the songs you might be familiar with from the sixties but didn't know were hers, usually co-written with her then husband, Gerry Goffin. I grew up on the music from the oldies station, which included all the sixties pop hits like "Locomotion," "One Fine Day," and "Take Good Care of My Baby" -- all co-written by King. Add to that her impressive body of solo work as well as her other collaborations, and it suddenly becomes very difficult to narrow down the list to five. So, based on not-very-strict criteria of personal taste, sentimentality, cultural importance and ear-worminess (that's a technical term), I present my 5 favorite Carole King songs:
Will you still love me tomorrow:
This song was Gerry Goffin and Carole King's first big hit, made popular by the Shirelles. Like some of the songs mentioned above, it is an example of the kind of bubblegum pop hit that Goffin and King were churning out while the likes of Bob Dylan were busy penning "Blowin' in the Wind" and "A Hard Rain's a-gonna' fall." (Actually, "Will you still love me tomorrow is from 1960, so Dylan was just moving to New York, but it would only be a couple of years before he'd start writing his groundbreaking work). Despite its sterile pop facade, especially in comparison with songs like Dylan's, "Will you love me tomorrow" takes the pulse of its time; the song's haunting questions about the status of a relationship the morning after a night of pleasure provides a good cultural marker of the burgeoning sexual revolution. In 1966, King would co-write the Monkees hit, "Pleasant Valley Sunday," which, in spite of its sunny pop sound, makes a satirical attack on the "Rows of houses that are all the same" in "status symbol land," and states that "Creature comfort goals...only numb my soul..." The pop hit could well have been a theme song for the counter-culture. Songs like these show that, though Carole King knew how to write a top-40 pop song, she was well aware of the changing times, and her work can be as serious-minded as other, more socially-conscious groups from the sixties.
Up on the roof:
Another pop hit, this one appeals to me because it is made for an introvert: "when this old world starts getting me down/ and people are just too much for me to face..." I've definitely had that day, and the thought of getting away from it all, alone on a rooftop with the stars sounds divine. The song ends with an introvert's romance: "If this world starts getting you down/ There's room enough for two up on the roof." Since the idea of two introverts hiding from the world together pretty much sums up my own marriage, this song is bound to make me happy. (P.S. we're playing this one on Saturday)
Where you lead (I will follow):
This song is one of many of King's songs about friendship, which is a surprisingly rare theme in pop music. Another, more famous song about friendship by King is "You've got a friend," which became a huge hit when James Taylor recorded it, and also scored Taylor a Grammy for best male vocal. I prefer "Where You Lead" for purely sentimental reasons: the song is the theme song for the TV show Gilmore Girls, on which King also makes an appearance as Sophie Bloom, the quirky owner of the town's music shop.
The title track of her follow-up album to the hugely successful Tapestry, the song's expression of life in the mind of a songwriter is spot-on: "Music keeps playing inside my head, over and over and over again..." I also enjoy the free-jazz improvisation that goes on at the end of the song.
It's too late tied with So Far Away:
These songs are both hits from Tapestry and they're both bittersweet reflections on imperfect relationships. But I think what I like most is how smoothly they fit into everyday conversation on a regular basis. Since I like to pretend that life is a musical, it's important for me to have songs that work in the mundane places of life -- you know, places that would be much more exciting if they only included a song. For example, a student wants to hand in a paper after the due date. I could point to the appropriate section of the syllabus and read them the policy, or I could bust into a refrain of "It's too late..." Which do you think would make the day more fun?
Come hear some of these songs and many more this Saturday night at Opening Bell Coffee!