Tapestry remains a classic because it never forgets the innate urban r&b understanding...
Chris Jones 2008-07-25
By the early 70s Carole King's legendary status was already assured by her work as a staff writer in New York's Brill Building during the previous decade. However the chart fodder she'd written for bands like the Shirelles may not, on paper have made her look like a likely candidate for being in the vanguard of the denim and lace singer-songwriter generation. The truth was, that from about 1968, King had been moving away from the production line approach to her art, and plugging into the (then unusual) idea that the writer was as important as the singer, so why not combine the two? Moving to the West Coast and working with bands like the Strawberry Alarm Clock, meant that it was a groovier, hipper King that had hit the racks in 1970 with the album, Writer. But it was the following year's Tapestry that was to turn her into a household name.
What makes it so groundbreaking isn't just the deceptive simplicity and directness of the arrangements, or the sheer quality of her pop writing; it's her voice. Here, for the first time, was a mainstream female artist who wasn't singing in any affected way, just strongly and honestly. It was no surprise that one of her classic co-writes that she chose to re-visit was Aretha's (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman. These re-versions were at the heart of King's masterplan. Knowing that, underneath the metaphorical hood, these pop gems always had sturdy motors that would withstand any amount of modernisation. In the end the simple approach of piano and band never sullies any memories, in many cases improving on the originals. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, her most heartfelt teenage anthem (written about 60s partner Gerry Goffin), is the pick of the bunch. It was this quality that reflected the 70s ethos of stripping away all artifice and laying bare the emotions at the centre. For this reason not only did it become the best selling solo album of all time (until Michael Jackson's Thriller) but it became a cornerstone of every thinking woman's record collection.
Of course the breezy optimism of tracks like Beautiful (a calling card for the 'me' generation, if ever there was one) or the 'there-for-you' grooviness of You've Got A Friend seem a little twee in today's jaded world. And the title track's fairy tale-as-allegory cheesiness now tries the patience somewhat. Yet, Tapestry remains a classic because it never forgets the innate urban r&b understanding of great pop while it covers itself in patchouli, satins and silks.