CAROLE KING

OVERVIEW:
A solid and professional songwriter with some nice solo records. Most of Carole’s 60s songs are worth hearing, as is her work with THE CITY and her early albums. But be careful with all the post-TAPESTRY records (though there are some great tracks buried in there). And you might as well entirely disregard everything after “Thoroughbred,” unless of course you have a masochistic streak.
THE ALBUMS:

Now That Everything’s Been Said (The City) *
Writer  *
Tapestry *
Music
Rhymes And Reasons
Fantasy
Wrap Around Joy
Really Rosie
Thoroughbred
Simple Things
Welcome Home
Touch The Sky
Pearls: Songs of Goffin And King
One To One
Speeding Time
City Streets
Colour Of Your Dreams
Love Makes The World

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NOW THAT EVERYTHING’S BEEN SAID (THE CITY)  (1969)

B+

This is really the first Carole King album – she sings and writes almost everything, and the same musicians play on her first solo records. But her label wanted it to be a “band” record, and Carole’s name isn’t listed on the cover, so the album is now totally obscure. It’s funny though – this is definitely MUCH better than most of Carole’s post-Tapestry catalog. It’s very 60s-rooted, with a jazz rock vibe at times, and some of the songs were made famous by other acts (especially “I Wasn’t Born To Follow” by The Byrds). The song-writing is mostly top-notch, Carole sounds great, the band is clearly enthusiastic, and there’s no lame 70s soft-rock. Lots of energy! There are some great tunes on here  – the afore-mentioned “I Wasn’t Born To Follow” is not as good as the Byrds version, but it’s still a great song (though Roger McGuinn basically re-wrote the whole thing, adding chord changes and melodic shifts and a totally different feel to Carole’s more square version). The opener “Snow Queen” has more dynamic playing than your standard Carole King song, and very jazzy drumming. It’s a stellar song, as are “Paradise Alley” and “Victim of Circumstance.” I wish Carole had kept up some of the energy represented here – even when things threaten to get a bit generic, there’s still enough personality and excitement to carry the songs through. That won’t be the case on later albums. The second side of the album is not as good as the first – “My Sweet Home” is a silly country cover, and there are a couple undistinguished tunes. Closer “All My Time” ends the record on a high note, however. This is definitely worth hearing for Carole King fans, but it’s also a totally solid 60s-pop album and no mere early-career oddity.

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WRITER  (1970)

B+

Carole’s first album is just as good as Tapestry, maybe even better. And yet the latter record is considered an uber-masterpiece, and few have even heard of this one. I guess that’s just the nature of music industry zeitgeist – this just wasn’t the ONE that everybody could get behind – the timing wasn’t right, or perhaps maybe people simply just liked Tapestry more. This is a way more interesting and varied album than Tapestry, with some rockers, a country-fried tune, a jazzy jam…the variety means it’s probably less commercial, but it appeals to me a whole lot me. It’s also still tied to the 60s sounds that made the King/Goffin team famous. Carole includes two of her biggest 60s compositions (“Goin’ Back” and “Up On The Roof”), which may have made the record seem redundant. The album opens with a total shocker to me – “Spaceship Races” – which is very clearly a ROCK song, and sounds sort of like Jefferson Airplane if that band had a great writer (!) It’s a killer song. The second song is a beautiful ballad, “No Easy Way Down,” which I prefer to pretty much everything on “Tapestry.” Dusty Springfield did that one too. “Child Of Mine” represents the style Carole would move forward with –  a pleasant but unremarkable piano ballad. The album is very consistent and engaging throughout. My other favorite is the gospel-tinged “I Can’t Hear You No More,”  with its amazing soulful chorus hook. This isn’t a totally polished and consistent record like “Tapestry,” but it’s definitely a more exciting one and sometimes even an exceptional one.

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TAPESTRY  (1971)

B+

I can’t believe how famous and beloved and successful is this quaint little singer-songwriter album. It is a very consistent and very professionally made album, and Carole’s limited voice is charming. But it’s not particularly better than some of the other singer-songwriter albums of its ilk (by people like Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, and Judee Sill). And it may be a bit worse. Well, at least, it’s a bit less challenging – it’s goes down incredibly easy, and I can’t imaging anything on here offending anybody too badly. Song for song, it’s a famously even piece of work. I’m not a big fan of “You’ve Got a Friend,” but that song is such a highlight to almost everybody else that it’s hard to label it as a flaw. I’m not crazy about “Way Over Yonder” or “Where You Lead” either. The absolute best songs are at the beginning of the album – “I Feel The Earth Move,” “It’s Too Late,” and “Beautiful” are all soft-rock gems. Everything is so casual sounding and friendly, I can’t get too worked up over this record. It’s just really nice, that’s all. It’s lyrically where the album seems the strongest – things are simple and direct, but also poignant and relatable.  Perhaps that’s a big reason for it’s success – these aren’t just dull soft-rock lyrics – and Carole sounds like she really BELIEVES what she’s singing. A good and highly respectable album,  just a bit too dull for me.

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MUSIC  (1971)

D+

OUCH! I was wondering why I never hear about any other Carole King records than “Tapestry!” This album seems like a starting point for an explanation. Basically, it reproduces everything that worked on “Tapestry,” and couples those things to utterly forgettable and boring material. Therefore, it’s completely irrelevant. You might as well be listening to the album that sounds exactly the same but has all the good songs. This album is so boring and soft-rock lame, I can’t believe it was recorded around the same time as the previous one, with the same producer. There are some innovations, all of them bad. More hand percussion this time out, a more polished sound, and slightly more professional sounding Carole vocals. But the whole charm of “Tapestry” came from the endearing sloppiness – it sounded like Carole was your best friend rather than a pop icon. This just sounds like generic 70s crappy singer-songwriter flotsam. And of course we’re already miles away from the relative edginess of “Writer.” This is dull and monochrome and for the most part just simply sucks. SIDE A, as far as I’m concerned, has no reason to exist. Opening track “Brother, Brother” makes me think of Marvin Gaye due to the title hook, but I can’t remember anything else about it other than the annoying hand drums. “It’s Going To Take Some Time” is like a middling outtake from the previous record. “Sweet Seasons” is a decent song, but the chorus is way too underwritten and not very catchy. “Surely” is overlong and tedious. “Some Kind Of Wonderful” is corny and has a cliched melody (though I know that one is considered a Goffin/King back catalog highlight – I don’t get it). And “Carry Your Load” made so little impression on me, I have absolutely no idea what it sounds like – and I just listened to it. SIDE B is thankfully much better – the title track is a  nice jazzy number, “Song of Long Ago” has probably the best melody on the record, and “Brighter” is the record’s most memorable uptempo soul-pop song. I can’t remember much about the last three tracks, but I remember them being slightly more enjoyable than the first side material. And there’s a cute little Rhodes solo (by I’m assuming Carole) on the last track. But overall, this is a GIGANTIC step down from “Tapestry,” and must have been a serious reputation hurter for Carole – the difference in quality between this and the more famous sister album is just glaringly obvious.

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RHYMES AND REASONS  (1972)

B-

A big step up from the insanely boring “Music.” This is pleasant and occasionally approaches the quality of the first two albums, but ultimately doesn’t distinguish itself enough to rise above its generic singer-songwriter style and lack of variety. There are some big highlights here though: “Bitter With The Sweet” is memorable and engaging and has an awesome bass line, “Ferguson Road” is melodic and sweet, and I enjoy the single “Been To Canaan.” “Feeling Sad Tonight” also stands out. Generally, though, things run together – Carole’s style hasn’t gone anywhere since “Tapestry,” and that album still has all the best songs in this mold. Some of the material on here is incredibly slight and underwritten, with the energy  dropping into comas (“I Think I Can Hear You” is the worst offender in this category). That being said, it’s an occasionally enjoyable listen, pretty and melodic, and that makes it way better than “Music.” So consider it a minor success, and move on.

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FANTASY  (1973)

B

Carole’s big 70s concept album! Carole’s prog album! Carole’s socially conscious soul masterpiece! Well, this is not really any of those things. But it’s as close as Carole will ever get to all three. This is definitely Carole’s most ambitious and epic record. The arrangements are more elaborate and polished than before, and there’s a serious soul vibe to the proceedings (parts of the instrumentation sound a lot like “What’s Going On”). This is certainly more interesting than the previous two albums…but still too often dull and lightweight. Carole is finally singing about characters OTHER than herself, and it’s a nice break from what were becoming rote relationship songs. There are some major highlights – “Haywood” is a powerful soulful number, and “Believe in Humanity” a rousing closer. “Welfare Symphony” is probably the most complex track on any Carole King record – it’s a bit under-developed as a composition, but the production ideas and suite-structure make for neat listening. The rest of the songs are pleasant, and the production is far more colorful than usual…and most of the songs run together in true concept album style! “Corazon” is a dorky track, with it’s Latin theme and rhythms, but it grew on me in time. It’s cute. “You Light Up My Life,” teeters on schmaltz, but comes out alright – it’s prEEEty. So while none of the songs on here rival the first two albums for sheer craft and memorability, this is still probably the most convincing album of Carole’s post-Tapestry career.

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WRAP AROUND JOY   (1974)

C

A major retreat from the ambitious and brave “Fantasy,” this is the most generic and lifeless album yet from Carole. It’s not as bad as “Music,” but it’s presentation is just as boring. We’re mainly back in love-themed territory, with lyrics by former Steely Dan vocalist David Palmer (!) But this is no “Tapestry” –  the record is remarkably uninteresting, overly commercial and polished, and contains no real palpable passion in the grooves. It’s a soft-rock album, through and through, and only Carole’s endearing personality lifts it above total cookie-cuttter 70s lame pop. Carole is a pro, and the writing on here is very professional and VERY boring. There are no exciting hooks – the songs run by and grow together into a mushy forgettable snowball of “blah.” There’s one near success: ‘My Lovin’ Eyes.” That song has a pretty good hook, and some energy to boot. The last 4 songs are the best on the record, actually. But make no mistake: this is a weak and uninspired sounding album.

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REALLY ROSIE  (1975)

B

Now here’s a cute little piece of work! This is a soundtrack to an animated kids’ movie, based on a series of books by “Where the Wild Things Are” author Maurice Sendak. Carole wrote the songs, and Sendak wrote the lyrics. Lo and behold, it’s probably her most charming little collection since “Tapestry,” even if it’s clearly intended for children. The lyrics are goofy and fun, and Carole follows suit with the music – so instead of boring polished overproduced singer-songwriter crap, we get stripped down and almost demo-like bouncy musical theater songs. And Carole sings with humor and wit and sounds like she’s having a ball. Many of the lyrics take on a nursery rhyme quality, and coupled with Carole’s still 60s-rooted pop stylings, parts of this remind me of “Hair” (the musical), and Galt MacDermot in general. Not as gritty or funky as Galt, but in the same ballpark. Think of this as the sister to Nilsson’s “The Point.” As far as the songs go, “My Simple Humble Neighborhood” is a wonderfully Beatles-esque number, and “Pierre” a hilarious children’s morality tale. “Avenue P” is a gem as well. Some of the numbers can be more rambling than is Carole’s wont (those tunes are obviously part of the narrative), but this makes for more interesting and dramatic and funny moments than on previous stodgy efforts by Carole. This is one of her most enjoyable albums.

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THOROUGHBRED  (1976)

B

An incredibly professional sounding soft-pop record, with some nice hooks. It doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, and all the songs have something to offer. This separates it from some of the other Carole King soft-pop records, which too are professional but also deadly dull and lacking decent tunes. Listening to this one, you start to really understand Carole’s status as a famous pro songwriter – these songs are all light as air, and very simple, and yet they all have SOMETHING interesting going on in the arrangements or changes or melodies. Carole sounds like she’s enjoying herself. The band is solid, and the production warm. So no real surprises to be found, but this is a WAY better record than “Wrap Around Joy” and “Music.” Some highlights include the very pretty “High Out Of Time,” and the nicely arranged “We All Have To Be Alone.” My favorite is “Still Here Thinking Of You,” with a memorable hook that reminds me a bit of early Elton John. It’s the kind of song I can imagine having been covered by a famous 60s band, which puts it in a similar league to “Goin’ Back” and “I Wasn’t Born To Follow.” In this context, it’s more soft-rocky than it should be. But still good! The rest of the songs are pleasant and enjoyable – the lyrics are generally indistinct, and we’re not in “Tapestry” territory here. But consistency, brevity, and professionalism can call this album home.

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AFTER THIS RECORD, CAROLE MOVED TO CAPITOL, STOPPED WORKING WITH PRODUCER LOU ADLER, AND INITIATED A RUN OF RECORDS WITH VERY LITTLE REPUTATION. THEY DIDN’T CHART WELL, THE CRITICS WEREN’T PLEASED, AND CAROLE EVENTUALLY BECAME A NOSTALGIA ACT MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE. I’M NOT GOING TO BE AFFORDING THESE ALBUMS MY FULL EXAMINATION PROCESS – I’LL JUST LISTEN TO THEM ONCE AND WRITE DOWN MY INITIAL THOUGHTS. PERHAPS I’ll UNEARTH SOME GEMS!

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SIMPLE THINGS    (1977)

OK, this is one boring album. There are two songs with titles borrowed from famous 60s songs (“God Only Knows” and “One”). That’s about the most interesting thing I can really say about this platter. Let’s see: it’s predictable soft-pop, warm and lush and mellow and lacking oomph. Carole’s voice sounds nice, and there are a couple moments where my ears perked up. “Labyrinth” has an almost Sondheim-esque melody, but it’s not a very good song. The title track is OK, and “Hold On” has some interesting orchestration. The before-mentioned “God Only Knows” has a long guitar solo, and a bit of rocking energy. This isn’t a bad album, just a pointless one. It’s professionally produced, and if you’re cleaning your room I suppose there are less appealing things you could put on in the background. But this ain’t no prime Carole King, and it ain’t no lost gem either. It’s just mediocre singer-songwriter stuff – you’ve heard it all a million times before.

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WELCOME HOME  (1978)

This has some nice moments here and there, and one really fun stylistic departure that’s the obvious highlight for me (“Venusian Diamond”). But overall, it’s more late-70s polished professional singer-songwriter crud. There are some embarrassing lapses in taste on this one, too. Particularly weak: the stupid disco attempt “Disco Tech.” The title says it all. “Sun Bird” is a very cheesy soft-rocker, as is “Wings of Love.” The rest is nice and pleasant, with some OK choruses and singing. “Morning Sun” is a decent rolling-along sort of soft-rock thing, though it has an unbearable flute solo. But “Venusian Diamond” is a real gem – it alternates between psychedelic dreamy verses, and a harmonized power pop chorus. It has a bit of a suite-like feel to it as well, with the bouncy guitar solo in the middle, the “Dit Dit Dit Dit’ harmony vocals – what is such a creative tune doing on such an uncreative record? In the liner notes, Carole says she and her collaborators were going for a Beatles tribute song – well, golly gee Carole, you ended up with just a good and INTERESTING pop song. That was what The Beatles were all about! At least your tribute has SOME sort personality. Maybe you should have made a whole record in that mold! Anyway, this is definitely not as bad as “Music” or “Wrap Around Joy!” But it’s not really worth anyone’s time, save for that one awesome track.

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TOUCH THE SKY  (1979)

Ouch. This is a REALLY weak effort – utterly boring and corny. Carole’s voice also sounds suddenly weathered – like she recorded all these songs drunk. Some of the high notes are just excruciating. The lame material and dull playing doesn’t help matters at all, of course. The only exceedingly minor highlight is “Walk With Me,” which has a fun goofy bass-line. The rest is both dire and mostly dated. There’s a significant country vibe to many of these tracks, lyrically and musically. But she’s never been more lifeless in both categories – this is without a doubt her worst album yet.

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PEARLS: SONGS OF GOFFIN AND KING    (1980)

After the artistic dead-end of the previous record, Carole dug into her back catalog and made a short album of Goffin/King “covers.” She chose mostly super famous songs, and records them with her now predictable professionalism and dullness. Every song on here sounds far less exciting than they do on the famous versions. If this was supposed to be a reminder of Carole’s once awesome talent, it doesn’t work – if anything, it makes me reconsider whether or not these were ever good songs to begin with! Maybe the acts performing them just interpreted them really well!! No, that’s not the case – tunes like “Goin’ Back” and “I Wasn’t Born To Follow” ARE great songs, these just aren’t great versions. And “The Loco-motion” is on here too – needless to say, it doesn’t hold up very well separated from it’s 60s origin and sound. Carole’s voice is also still sounding pretty weak at this point. This is a totally useless record.

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ONE TO ONE   (1982)

The sonic equivalent of mush. Maybe not the mush at the absolute bottom of the barrel – this mush is smart and competent enough to have risen itself into the upper ranks of mushdom. But if you’re mush, you’re mush. Everything here is too smooth. There are no exciting hooks. The vocals are boring. I can’t think of one positive quality this record possesses. I’ll try: The 2nd half is a bit stronger than the first, and “Read Between The Lines” is almost OK. “Goat Annie” is at least a little organic-sounding and goofy. I mean, for crying out loud: this is SO BORING. I suppose that’s to be expected from a 1982 Carole King Record – even the uber-classic “Tapestry” is pretty boring. But this is SO BORING! Not just regular old boring – this might as well not be playing while it’s playing. You might as well play something else at the exact same time – you won’t even notice this record spinning. I’m sure Carole’s fans will defend this garbage – and I’ve heard it called her best album of the 80s by more than one internet critic. But you know what I say to those people? Go mush yourself!

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SPEEDING TIME  (1983)

Even our friendly down-to-Earth Carole was not immune to the curse of 80s production. And like basically all of her contemporaries still alive and working at the time, she coughed up at least one synth-ridden, hideously album covered, “modern” sounding record. And this is that record! Her melodic gifts were gone, her voice had aged beyond repair, and her lyrics not nearly as poignant as they used to be. What are we left with? A really shitty piece of work. I actually think this is slightly more entertaining than the previous album. The title track isn’t atrocious. Some of the songs ARE though: “So Ready For Love” is overlong romantic tripe, as is “Alabaster Lady.” “Chalice Borealis” is just embarrassing. This is so not worth anyone’s time – don’t even worry about it. Just ignore it. It’s a bad 80s synth-pop record with no hooks from a washed out singer-songwriter with no ideas. Blech.

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CITY STREETS   (1989)

This is the first CK record that made me think, “How pathetic.” As it’s abysmal adult-contemporary “songs” flew by, I realized how much time I was wasting by investigating these “lost” Carole King records. The City’s debut was lost – this record was more likely  just thrown away!  On previous records, there was always a ghost of the old pro, lifting even the worst production and material above the utter garbage pile. But no such luck this time. This is an abomination of an album. There isn’t one interesting note. The songs all sound like sub-par 80s synth-filled Bruce Springsteen tracks delivered with less passion. There’s an attempt at some more MUSCLE here, hence the Springsteen reference. The title track is the closest thing to a mediocre song, but they really all sound the same in the end.  “Legacy” and “Lovelight” are TERRIBLE. The drums sound is hideous, the album cover is hideous, the lyrics are hideous, the singing is bad, the hooks don’t exist, the keyboard and guitar tones are tasteless, everything is ugly and dated, and I can’t remember a single thing about any of these songs. Oh yes  – pathetic, indeed.

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COLOUR OF YOUR DREAMS   (1993)

Featuring the amazingly bland “Now And Forever” from the soundtrack to “A League Of Their Own!” Yes folks – we’ve entered the 90s. And Carole strikes back with a record that isn’t good in the least, but nonetheless represents a step up from her previous two pieces of crud. There are some decent moments on here: “Standing In The Rain” and the title track approach acceptable. And while the production has it’s bad moments (particularly on the first two tracks), it’s mostly stripped down enough to make me forget this was recorded in 1993. Carole’s voice hasn’t gotten any worse, which is a good thing. And the album cover is the color of psychedelic vomit and has Carole standing in front of a wall of what looks to be really bad graffiti. You know – to emphasize this lame middle-aged singer-for-housewives’ street cred! Looking at the cover, you’d almost think this was her hip hop crossover attempt! Notice, by the way, how little I’m talking about the music? That’s because it’s just more generic adult-pop that never comes within a billion miles of interesting or creative. Do not buy it, do not listen to it, and do not look at it. You have my word.

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LOVE MAKES THE WORLD  (2001)

What is with that album title? The obvious conclusion of the phrase being “go round.” But there’s no ellipse, so I guess we’re supposed to believe that either: Love invented the world, and thus Love is God. Or maybe that love is CURRENTLY making the world.   Or maybe it’s just a description of what is going to happen in the album, like “Horton Hears A Hoo.” In any case, this is a bad album. I know I’m not the intended audience for such adult-contemporary garbage (there are guest appearances by Celine Dion, k.d. lang, and Wynton Marsalis – Babyface produced some of it). But even so, mass-market adult-contemporary records can have hooks and energy too, can’t they? Or maybe not. Well, there are a bunch of already dated light R&B grooves on here, no good songs, bad singing, boring arrangements, etc. This is crap – utter crap. Highlights? A stripped down version of the old “Oh No Not My Baby” comes closest. But it sucks. They all suck. DO – NOT- LISTEN.

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