Ca­role King: a song­writer to love to­day, to­mor­row and for­ever

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - OPINION - Brian Boyd on mu­sic

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. bboyd@irish­times.com

Ca­role King: the most suc­cess­ful fe­male song­writer in pop

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