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Colette’s Corner: “Oh Carole!”

27 Sep

Another stellar post by Colette…..

Colette, I hadn’t thought about Goin’ Back in a long time but it sure fits now.

I think I’m goin’ back
To the things I learned so well in my youth
I think I’m returning to
Those days when I was young enough to know the truth
Now there are no games
To only pass the time
No more electric trains
No more trees to climb
But thinking young and growing older is no sin
And I can play the game of life to win

I found The Byrds’ version for you:

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carole-jt.jpg

Oh, Carole!

Listening to Amy Winehouse’s poignant cover of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” got me remembering that songwriter Carole King is a national treasure.

What the big commercial pop music field currently lacks (and even the indies, to a lesser degree) are songwriters of King’s caliber and sheer joy. Sampling indelible tunes she wrote with Gerry Goffin and other partners, and by herself, I’m reminded that King not only can craft songs with hooks that snag your ear forever, but that her odes usually express simple yet profoundly sincere and genuine emotions anyone can relate to.

Her songs have been as important to the early 1960s girl-and-guy- groups era , as to the folk-rock and soul performers she wrote for later. And her own career as a performer, beginning in the 1970s with the masterful album “Tapestry,” has given us the woman behind the music.

Carole King grew up in New York City and her high school sweetheart was Neil Sedaka, another nifty songwriter who became a teen fave pop star in the early 1960s. (One of his hits is a song about her, “Oh, Carole!” and she wrote a song in response: “Oh Neil!”)

With her subsequent boyfriend (later husband) and musical partner Gerry Goffin , Carole was in her early 20s when she became part of the famous pop song factory that was based in Manhattan’s Brill Building.

Sixties pop, as we know it, would have been unimaginable without these prolific scribes. Like fellow tunesmiths Leiber and Stoller, Doc Pomus, Bert Bacharach and others writing songs for the likes of Elvis, the Drifters, Dionne Warwick, etc., Carole and Gerry churned out dozens of recorded tunes, including a lot of chartbuster classics.

Some were just catchy ditties, but their best material had a special heartfelt appeal, mingling R & B (many fans mistakenly thought Carole was black when her own records began playing on the radio) with cheery uptempo pop of a very high grade. These songs are timeless, and were turned into hits by recording artists as diverse as The Monkees and the Byrds, the Beatles and Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin and James Taylor.

Many songs from all stages of Carole’s career are proudly, positively woman-centered. They aren’t about crying in your malted milk after being ditched, or stealing some guy from your best friend, but about getting caught up in the wonder of love, thrilled by someone’s effect on your heart, and aware of your own power as a “natural woman.”

One of Carole King’s first big hits was “One Fine Day,” a little charmer that was a smash for The Chiffons, a black girl group — catch that “shoobie doobie doobie” choral backup:

Here’s Carole exuberantly singing the same tune, playing the piano riff from the Chiffons single:

Another fabulous King tune from the same era, “Up on the Roof,” poignantly evokes the youthful pleasures of New York City on a balmy summer evening. The Drifters recorded it first:

Years later, James Taylor (a very close friend of King’s) slowed down the melody, and gave it a tender treatment that always puts me in the zone. I’m with you, MM: JT rules!

Except, oh Lordy, you gotta hear native New York songbird, Laura Nyro, wrap her pipes around “Up on the Roof.” She lives on that roof, baby – “where the air is fresh and sweet”…..

From the same period this is a beautiful King- Goffin song that has one of the best titles of any pop tune ever: “Some Kind of Wonderful.” It describes that blissful, intoxicating delight of a new love. I adore this version by Peter Cincotti, a gifted, young jazz pianist and singer who swings it a little while keeping the lovestruck awe intact:

Carole could dash off a fun novelty tune in her sleep. This one, “The Locomotion,” just makes you want to get up and boogie in Little Eva’s original take – here Eva sings it, with lots of gyrating back-up dancers, on “Shindig”:

This has to be one of the trippiest covers of “The Locomotion” from an Asian TV music show….

As the whole British Invasion thing picked up steam, Carole had major hits in that arena too. I only just discovered that she and Gerry wrote this swampy ol’ blues shout for Eric Burden and the Animals –

And I’m a sucker for this bouncy little ode that was a hit for Herman’s Hermits, another British Invasion combo with that disarming fella Peter Noone (before he got his teeth fixed) — Love the refrain: “Something tells me I’m into something good….”

This is a lesser known King song that is really meaningful to me. It’s about longing to reclaim one’s innocence, and was on one of the first Byrds albums. Can’t find that version, but I’m delighted by this one by Nils Lofgren, a jumpin’ piano player and guitarist with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. His feathery vocals (nice with the rollicking piano) capture the wistfulness of the lyrics, which have more meaning for me now – “Thinkin’ young and growin’ older/That ain’t no sin…..”

Many rate “You’ve Got a Friend” as Carole’s best song – certainly it’s one of her best-known, thanks first to JT. That aura of melancholy mingled with gratitude just gets to you. An older, maybe wiser, certainly less hairy JT is doing it here, with his usual brilliance, and woosh – there I am back in 1970-whatever. Has there ever been a better song about tried-and-true friendship? I lost my best friend from high school this year, and this song is for him:

And what a treat: a rare live audio of the great Donny Hathaway singing “You’ve Got a Friend.” What a tasty, tasty version:

Speaking of DH: I didn’t quite get on the Elliot Yamin bandwagon during last year’s American Idol frenzy, but I’m enjoying him lately. “You’ve Got a Friend” suits that slippery, soulful voice of his just fine. Jumpy fan video, but good sound:

Nothing, for me, beats this next King classic: I’m talkin’ about “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” First time I heard it I just thought, “That’s it! That’s it! – that’s what a powerful love can do for a woman, release her naturalness and get right down to the roots of her soul. ”

Every diva worth her high C’s has recorded it, often with way too many vocal accessorizing for my taste. (Yes, Celine and Mary K and Kelly, I am talkin’ to you ladies!) So pardon me, there are only two versions I can bear to hear.

This first is the definitive one by the Queen of Soul from the late 1960s. The divine young Madam Ree is sneaking up on the song, building to a climax and then sinking into a velvety harmonized ending. (Note that her sister Carolyn, is a backup singer here.) It’s the passionate simplicity I love, so much more than others’ vocal gymnastics:

The other potent version is by Carole King herself. Her voice is craggy, but she sings straight from the heart:

Finally, we circle back to the Carole King classic that started this homage: “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” It was written for The Shirelles, another girl group who still sound hip:

And I gotta give Amy Winehouse her props on this one: she sings the hell out of this tune. Hey, Amy, don’t self-destruct! Stick around, make great music, have a couple of kids and a productive, real life like Carole King (now 65!) has had. If you do, we’ll still love you tomorrow:

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A couple of Carole King-penned classics that weren’t included in the post:

Pleasant Valley Sunday, The Monkees

Take Good Care of My Baby, Bobby Vee

and, finally….the piece de resistance…talk about back to your youth….

Go Away Little Girl, Donny Osmond

So, Elvis wasn’t the only one “into” jumpsuits….whew.

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12 Comments

Posted by on September 27, 2007 in Music History

 

12 responses to “Colette’s Corner: “Oh Carole!”

  1. Little Deb

    September 28, 2007 at 7:18 am

    MM and Colette – I just love you guys. Carole King is just the best. I’m not very eloquent with the words like you two, but she is one of the very few female artists that moves me in a very personal way. I bet if you took a poll of women across America (or the world for that matter), every one would have had a copy of Tapestry and most probably would have had quite a few copies. I can’t remember how many I’ve worn out (albums, cassettes, 8 tracks, cd’s). I’ve got the cd in right now.

    When I was in grammar school, we had this really cool music teacher (Miss Good) who was a young, hip, black woman (there was only one black student in my whole grammar school, so this was pretty amazing). Instead of teaching us silly kid songs, etc., she would bring in her albums and teach us those songs. One funny week actually included listening to her Cheech and Chong albums (quite riskee’ for grammar school kids). Anyway, for our school glee club (choir) show that year, we sang the entire Tapestry album. It’s a moment in time that I’ll never ever forget. She taught us all the harmonies, gave us solos (I had three), and the parents in the audience were just totally amazed at our “production”. Miss Good, I hope your still sharing your music somewhere.

    One more comment. You’ve Got a Friend is a special one for me. It is my mom and my “song”. Growing up as an only child of a single parent, we are very very close (still are)and she once told me that this was “our song”. At my wedding, I had a very pretty Crystal Gayle wedding song, and right after that, I had my dh’s niece sing You’ve Got a Friend dedicated from me to my Mom. Very cool memory moment.

    Here’s a Carole song that has very special meaning for me (MM, I promise I won’t be a blog hog today).

    Home Again (don’t know whose family video this is)

     
  2. shrewspeaks

    September 28, 2007 at 11:07 am

    Jumpsuits…heh

    Carole King..oh wow does this post speak to me.

    It seems a though even though I have known her entire catalogue for most of my life, I still revel in a single King tune at any time in my life… In my early twenties it seemed “Will You still Love Me Tomorrow” was the exact song that raised the cry for not just romantic love but complete acceptance that this young girl though she so desperately needed…In my late twenties,I grew into Natural Woman, with it’s sultry pure message of complet love. My early thirties were about self confidence and Beautiful captured that …well, beautifully. But of late I have been rediscovering…Way Over Yonder.
    “Way over yonder is a place that I know
    Where I can find shelter from hunger and cold
    And the sweet tasting good life is easily found
    Way over yonder – that’s where I’m bound
    I know when I get there, the first thing I’ll see
    Is the sun shining golden – shining rigth down on me
    Then trouble’s gonna lose me – worry leave me behind
    And I’ll stand up proudly in true peace of mind
    Way over yonder is a place I have seen
    In a garden of wisdom from some long ago dream
    May be tomorrow I’ll find my way
    To the land where the honey runs in rivers each day
    And the sweet tasting good life is so easily found
    Way over yonder – that’s where I’m bound
    Way over yonder – that’s where I’m bound”

    This simple notion of there is a better place to be whether it be physically,emotionally, or spirtually, is completely captivating. The powerful positive nature of phrases like “I know when I get there” are hope generating and warming.

    Ah…I ramble…but thank you for this post.

    PS- Anyone else play King really loud and sing at the top of their lungs her songs?

     
  3. Little Deb

    September 28, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    “PS- Anyone else play King really loud and sing at the top of their lungs her songs?”

    Hell ya shrew. As a matter of fact, my neighbor in Fort Lauderdale once told me that her and her boyfriend always knew when I was drunk. Of course, I asked her what the h@ll she was talking about and she told me that it was whenever I played my Tapestry album because they could hear me singing over at their house and thought I had to be drunk to be singing that loud.

     
  4. shrewspeaks

    September 28, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    Little Deb, NOW that’s funny!

     
  5. Colette

    September 28, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    Thanks for the adds, MM, and all the heartfelt words & memories gals!

    I really encourage you to take a look at the Peter Cincotti video on Youtube. He really is some kind of wonderful…….

     
  6. brc

    September 28, 2007 at 4:59 pm

    Thanks for this great post. I knew Carole King was talented but I had absolutely no idea how many great songs she had penned. I loved hearing the different styles of JT, Elliot and DH singing “You’ve Got A Friend.” And can we talk about Amy Winehouse’s voice? The girl can sing. Let’s hope she gets her act together.

    Ditto what Little Deb said about Colette and MM being very eloquent writers. I have to add Shrew to that list. Your photography blog doesn’t give you much opportunity for written expression but you have a wonderful way with words.

    Have a great weekend everyone.

     
  7. music maven

    September 28, 2007 at 6:45 pm

    @ little deb — I love Home Again. So much of Carole’s work talks about home, youth, “back to basics”. I particularly like Child of Mine

    Ooooh, and I found this:

    So Far Away

    Excited, excited!!! It’s Carole, and James Taylor accompanying her on guitar. Anybody else see the irony in James’ extremely long hair?

    @ Shrew — your prose is wonnnerful. You have such a way with adjectives. But then, you are my sista from anutha mista…

    @ Colette — HOLY CRAP! Peter Cincotti! Look for a post about dat dude. He’s a little Buble, a little Harry Connick, Jr. and I think this is exactly what Carole King envisioned when she wrote “Some Kind of Wonderful”….thanks.

    @ brc — thanks for coming here and commenting. You all have made this such a guilty pleasure for me. I enjoy learning from all of you and sharing life experiences and of course, GREAT music.

    Oh, and Little Deb….that story is PRICELESS. Sounds like my neighborhood.

     
  8. Colette

    September 29, 2007 at 1:21 am

    MM: glad you liked Peter C.! I wemt to see him at a jazz club thinking, oh no another wannabe little Sinatra, sigh… and he was great — sincere, very talented, humble and unbelievably beautiful. And, at the time, just 20!

    I’m wondering if ya’ll would like weigh in on “Natural Woman”? I was listening the other day to a video of Melinda Doolittle singing it at an AI concert, and I do like her voice and musicianship.

    But there’s something so distilled and pure about Aretha’s version. And in that video, when she sings, “oooooh, baby, what you done to me!” she has every fiber of her being in that song without crushing the life out of it.

    I found a youtube diva match with Ree, celine dion, gloria estefan singing it, and I couldn’t bear it. Am I alone in this? To me that song is welded to her soul. Maybe if I didn’t hear her version first, I could handle more interpretations. Though the one other version that feels entirely honest and true is from Carole herself!

     
  9. music maven

    September 29, 2007 at 7:27 am

    C — “Natural Woman” is a complicated song…not easy to sing. The Divine Ms. Ree Ree makes it sound so effortlessly. I think it’s evident in the video that Shrew linked for me on Monday.

    Ree & Murphy Brown

    Even when she’s clownin’ around and doing bits & pieces, it’s still powerful. I think other arts have to “work themselves up to it”, where it’s always there for Aretha. I’ve never liked the song when someone else sings it…like My Way belongs to Sinatra, Natural Woman belongs to her. She’s the only one that gets to the “umph” that Carole is getting at in the song.

     
  10. shrewspeaks

    September 29, 2007 at 7:55 am

    Ummm…ARETHA hands down. And yes Carole, but I wonder if Ms. King even prefers Ms. Franklin’s version. I find all other singers are either immitating Aretha’s or are so inlove with the vocal acrobatics that they miss the emotional fiber of a song that is so sexy and strong. And here is the brilliance of King’s writing. Natural Woman has never been about giving into a man and love, but more so about the stregnth to admit what real unconditional love has brought about. It is simple, pure and strong, as well as jubliant…as close to a gospel ode to mature love as ever written. Aretha’s version embues all of those colors with a brutal almost raw honesty combined with effortless pipes. The vocal tricks are not tricks, but a means by which she communicates the raw emotion she feels.

    Okay…bit of an Aretha nut here. I.will.stop.now.

     
  11. Little Deb

    September 29, 2007 at 8:54 am

    O.K. I’m gonna sort of disagree here. I feel Carole’s version much more. Here’s my try at explaining this.

    Aretha sings the song perfectly. However, I don’t feel the pain and emptiness of the “before the day I met you” part. When I listen to her version, I feel that she has had the “natural woman” feeling before. She totally understands it, and understands the “before” part, but I get that this is not the first time she has been made to feel like a “natural woman”. More like she was born with that feeling and several men have awakened it and she is thanking him/them for doing so.

    Now with Carole’s version, I feel her pain and emptiness. I feel like she has gone through many attempts at relationships that just couldn’t bring that “natural woman” feeling. I feel that she has been searching for someone to awaken this feeling for a long time and is tired and really disillusioned and thinking that she will never find someone to give her that feeling. Then when she sings about actually finding it, I feel the joy and the “finally” and the “I knew there was someone out there capable of awakening this in me”. The rejoicing in her womanhood because this IS what it’s all about.

    With Aretha, I love to listen to her sing it. With Carole, I turn up the volume and wholeheartedly sing along and feel all the feelings. It is this quality in an artist that moves me. Someone who makes me close my eyes, clench my fists, and sometimes cry from the sheer joy or pain of it all, while I sing along because I’ve been there and I’m so damn happy that someone has the talent to express these feelings. That’s the joy of music for me. There are only a few people who do this for me and it’s just an incredible sort of release. I’m sort of a “hold it in” person. I can probably count on one hand the times in my adult life that I’ve really been able to have the release of crying “in depth” or from deep inside (as opposed to crying over a sad movie or the like). So when music can make me feel these feelings, it’s therapy that’s better than anything I could get from a medicine or a doctor.

     
  12. Colette

    September 29, 2007 at 11:12 am

    So interesting, ladies….

    I hear you, Little Debbi — there’s something very raw and real in Carole’s delivery. And it’s that whole thing about how imperfection + soul is something more perfect than perfection without it, in music and the other arts. The Japanese call it “shabui” — the beauty of something flawed.

    but this is one of those very rare cases when the word “definitive” comes up for me. No, Aretha doesn’t sound wounded. But she does sound delivered, saved, uplifted, TRULY BLESSED by love…This is the brilliance of gospel music to me, that it can extend from the divine love to mortal love. more on that someday…..

    and thanks for listening!

     

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