“Tapestry,” by singer-songwriter Carole King, was released on Feb. 10, 1971, the day after her 29th birthday. The album was immediately publicly embraced, going on to sell over 25 million copies worldwide and remaining on the Billboard 200 Album Chart for more than six consecutive years.
The album’s songs have been recorded more than 700 times by other artists, and they yielded King the distinction of being the first woman to release an album that sold in excess of 10 million copies. The year after its release, “Tapestry” won American Gramophone awards (Grammy awards) for Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Vocal Performance by a female.
It remains a beloved record by critics and and fans alike, including me. It is also influential to current performers, setting in place a style and approach to songwriting and performance that is still popular.
At the age of 19, King and her husband at the time, Gerry Goffin, were signed to a publishing deal with Aldon Music, a company who pitched songs to other artists. The duo wrote together “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?,” a song the Shirelles made into a big hit. They, along with Jerry Wexler, also penned Aretha Franklin’s hit, “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman.” One other Goffin/King song, “Smackwater Jack,” a light boogie song, added some counterpoint to many of the more stylistically personal songs the album. These three tracks on “Tapestry” feature King singing lead vocals and playing piano.
Goffin and King split after they had two children. Afterward, King moved from New York to California and continued her songwriting. It was in California that King met producer Peter Asher who had signed James Taylor to the Beatles’ record label, Apple Records.
Having met Taylor through her friend and musical collaborator, guitarist Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar, (Harry Nilsson, Jackson Browne, Linda Rondstadt, Don Henley) she learned from Asher that the Beatles were fans of her songs with Goffin. Through Asher’s persuasion, King sang backing vocals on Taylor’s breakthrough album, 1970’s “Sweet Baby James.” Taylor then played on her debut, “Carole King, Writer.” Their friendship and musical collaboration would continue and further solidify on “Tapestry.”
King’s accompanists on the majority of “Tapestry” were her two bandmates in the group The City: Kortchmar and bassist Charles Larkey. The City made one album in 1968 called “Now That Everything’s Been Said;” but due to changes in the record company leadership, it didn’t reach an audience despite the high quality of its contents. Larkey would go on to be King’s second husband with whom she would have her third daughter.
These musicians are augmented on “Tapestry” by drummers Russell Kunkel, (Warren Zevon, Carly Simon, James Taylor, Jimmy Buffett) and Joel O’Brien, of Kortchmar’s former band, The King Bees. Also in the recording’s core membership were keyboardist Ralph Shuckett, (Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, Hall and Oates, The Monkees) and Curtis Amy (Dizzy Gillespie, The Doors, Smokey Robinson, and Lou Rawls) on woodwinds.
Toni Stern would become King’s lyrical collaborator on two of the album’s tracks, “Where You Lead” and “It’s Too Late.” The former, a devotional testimonial to a loved one, and the latter, an amicable but sorrowful breakup song, was the record’s big hit. It includes congas and an understated guitar solo by Kortchmar as well as Amy’s soprano saxophone solo.
“You’ve Got A Friend,” another of the album’s key tracks, would become a number one hit single for Taylor from his 1971 album “Mudslide Slim and the Blue Horizon,” released two months after “Tapestry.” King’s version includes a string quartet, with Larkey on upright bass, Barry Socher on violin, David Campbell on viola, and Terry King on cello. Kortchmar and Taylor play guitar on both versions. Interestingly, Taylor won the 1972 Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a male for the song the same year it won Song of the Year for King.
I have enjoyed “Tapestry” for more than 45 years, and it continues to inspire me to this day. Certainly, it is one of the greatest singer-songwriter releases in musical history. Revisit it, and you will be repeatedly rewarded.
Alex McGill is an educator and musician living in Haralson County.