A stone-cold classic: Carole King’s Tapestry

A stone-cold classic: Carole King’s Tapestry

Barely in my teens, I listened to the very first albums I ever owned on a wide, floor-model stereo console placed prominently in the living room of my home on Chicago’s South Side. My oldest sister gave it to my mother as a birthday gift in September, 1971. It cost five hundred bucks and was a glory to behold. It magnified my love of music, made music as majestic as the console itself. That was fifty years ago. But something else happened that year that changed my life forever, although I didn’t know it at the time. It’s when Carole King’s iconic sophomore album, Tapestry, was released.

  Four years later, at the age of 14, I started a record collection. I got my hands on a few used LPs in a trade between me and a childhood school friend — my collection of hockey cards for his well-worn albums, some of which came without covers. Among those records, however, was Carole King’s Tapestry from 1971, the same year my mother received her stereo console. The album was released on Ode Records and produced by rock impresario Lou Adler.

old stereo.jpg

  I have fond memories of sitting beside my mom’s console, practically every day during my freshman year of high school, doing my homework while Tapestry was playing. I would look down into the room-length furniture piece to watch the record rotate on the platter and become hypnotized. Inside the massive structure was also a bar, an LP cove, AM/FM radio, 8-Track tape player (look it up kids!), and a quarter-inch output jack that allowed me to plug in my guitar and use the speakers as an amplifier. Because I played this stereo so often (and sometimes so loudly), it developed a blown left speaker. This didn’t deter me in the least — I loved that system anyway. I also had my first set of Radio Shack Realistic-brand headphones — those huge canisters that swallowed my ears and were affixed with a long, coiled cord that wound its way from my head and floated mid-air from its quarter-inch jack in the system. It was under these circumstances that I bathed daily in the sounds of Carole King’s soulful vibes emanating from those vinyl grooves.


  Sadly, King’s album was one of several albums stolen from me by a neighbor who lived down the street (I always knew he did it.) I was devastated. That album was one of the few things that I possessed that was mine and mine alone (my very first Jimi Hendrix album was also lost in the theft). Fortunately, Tapestry’s music was already deeply embedded in my psyche and soul. I’ve since gotten another used copy, but to get fully into the spirit of writing this article, I snagged a newly sealed copy of the 2016 180-gram vinyl reissue [Epic 8875170161], in part as a testament to my profound affection for this album.

king grammy.jpg

  Putting it on the high-end stereo system I own today felt like poetic justice — and no blown speakers this time! I rekindled my passion for the entire album, which is packed with great music. There’s so much to love among its twelve tracks, from the opening salvo of Carole’s pounding piano on “I Feel The Earth Move” (which truly just makes you wanna move!) to the forlorn ballad of “So Far Away.” Then there’s the hip-shakin’ shuffle of “Smackwater Jack,” which, if I had to choose, was probably my favorite of the bunch when I was a teen. There was something about the rebel groove married to those outlaw lyrics that I found irresistible. King made ol’ “Big Jim The Chief” — the law-and-order man who confronted Smackwater Jack — sound like one tough hombre! The song’s irrepressible drive captured perfectly the spirit of Big Jim’s bulldog mouth, the posse headin’ South, and the ultimate capture that “wasn’t in the papers”.And what about the mournful lament of the song “It’s Too Late”? Many thought the tune was about Carole’s breakup with Gerry Goffin, but no; it’s about Carole’s musical collaborator Toni Stern’s breakup with James Taylor!

  On the strength of Tapestry, on March 14, 1972, Carole took home the Grammys for Album of the Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Record of the Year (for her single “It’s Too Late”), and Song of the Year (for “You’ve Got a Friend”), making King the first solo female artist to win the Grammy Award for almost every major category! Tapestry is ranked # 25 on Rolling Stone’s 2020 list of500 Greatest Albums of All Time”.

Recently, a digital version of an outtake from the 1971 Tapestry sessions called “Out In The Cold” was released. It’s a shame it wasn’t on the album— it fits perfectly within the oeuvre. This song was included as a bonus track on a 1999 CD reissue of the legendary album, and is currently available in digital format to commemorate Tapestry’s 50th Anniversary.

  I know that most people prefer James Taylor’s version of “You’ve Got a Friend,” and most people think of Aretha when they hear “Natural Woman.” Most people think of the Drifters when they hear the classic version of “Up On The Roof,” and most people think of the Shirelles when they hear “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”. But Carole King was the original architect of those songs, which she either wrote or co-wrote, and of many others, having started her hit-making journey as far back as the early ‘60s. Basking in her moment of glory on that fateful day on March 14, 1972, King took multiple laps on Felt Forum’s stage in New York City when the stars were aligned and her classic 1971 album had set the world on fire.

2023 PMA Media. All rights reserved.