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:
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:
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.