Pazz and Jop 1971 – #12 (tied)

Carole King – Tapestry

The list has been light on female artists, but that’s about to change. I first heard of Carole King when I was 9 or 10 and read in the Guinness Book of World Records that this was the biggest selling album of all time. I couldn’t believe that anyone could outsell The Beatles or Elvis Presley. She is one of my wife’s favourites, and I’ve certainly been familiar with her work over the years – I already knew more than half the songs here (though maybe not her version – King’s considerable success as a performer probably ranks second to her achievements as a writer for others), but never once gave them a careful and respectful listen.

The problem with visiting the past is I’ve heard so many imitators over the years that it’s hard to define what made this so great in 1971. That’s where the unfamiliar tunes become so helpful in making sense of an album’s merits: you get to recreate the (in this case) 1971 experience of putting the needle on the record and settling in for the ride. The soulful “Way Over Yonder” stands out (shocked to learn this has never been covered by a major black female artist, though Blessid Union of Souls killed it on a tribute album). Her slowed-down “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” highlights the song’s pathos (and it was a bit of a rush to hear James Taylor on the chorus). “Smackwater Jack” is a high energy rollick with a bluesy (for King, anyway) feel. I was sort of annoyed by “Tapestry”, but I’ll chalk that up to my natural aversion to songs that seem to be working too hard to convey some deeper analysis of the mysteries of life. (It’s pop music, for God’s sake.) But what an ending. I felt actual chills (goose-bumpy, nipple-stiffening, who opened a window in January? chills) when she sang “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”. King wrote it, but the chutzpah involved in taking on a song OWNED by Aretha is the ultimate sign of an artist in complete control and brimming with confidence. I also sort of love that she put a TON of money in her ex-husband’s pockets by covering three songs that they wrote together. Those royalty cheques must have felt a bit like a stabbing to Gerry Goffin. What a power move. Well played, Carole. Well played.

(Originally posted on Facebook, April 11, 2021)