Carole King: a songwriter to love today, tomorrow and forever
S O WHO DO you think is the most successful female songwriter in pop music history?
It’s not anyone you’re most likely thinking of – Madonna, Ellie Greenwich and Diane Warren being the usual suspects. It’s a woman who wrote her first megahit when she was 17; she’s also the first female ever to have a solo album that sold in excess of 10 million copies, and stayed at No 1 in the US album charts for 15 consecutive weeks — another record. Her chart-related achievements (and there are many) are only now under threat from the sales machine that is Adele.
Four hundred of this woman’s songs have been covered by more than 1,000 artists. There have been 100 hit singles. Among those who have recorded her work are The Beatles, Barbra Streisand, Mary J Blige and Marvin Gaye.
If you haven’t worked it out yet, we’re talking about Carole King.
Last week it was announced that King will be the first woman to receive the über-prestigious Library of Congress Gershwin Prize, to be presented by President Obama early in the new year. Previous winners have been Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney and Bacharach/David.
Now 70, King has smashed many glass ceilings in the music world, yet she rarely gets any acknowledgement for her manifold achievements. But for women in pop music she changed everything.
She is perhaps best known for the bestselling 1971 Tapestry album – one of the greatest albums never to feature on greatest albums lists. It is, however, only a small part of King’s career. At the age of 16 she was already a star – albeit only because a classmate happened to write a song about her. That classmate was Neil Sedaka and the song was Oh! Carol.
The Sedaka song is awful muck, but King’s response to it was extraordinary: two years later she replied with Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, co-written with Gerry Goffin. It was King’s her first No 1.
Her Brill Building years yielded songs that are still instantly recognisable: The Loco-Motion, It Might As Well Rain Until September. At 28, she had grown out of her pop song phase, and Tapestry was a folk-inflected affair. Very much the Rumours or the Thriller of its day, the 12-track album threw up eight huge-selling singles — You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman, It’s Too Late, I Feel the Earth Move, So Far Away, Smackwater Jack, You’ve Got a Friend, Where You Lead and a reworking of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. If you don’t already have the album, you really should make room for it.
It’s a perverse aspect of the music industry that the mediocre (Madonna et al) make all the noise but the true greats, such as Carole King, go about their work quietly. She is arguably the most important female figure in the history of pop, and if you listen today to Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? (a song she wrote in 1960) you will understand what timeless brilliance is all about. firstname.lastname@example.org
Carole King: the most successful female songwriter in pop