Born Carol Klein, 9 February 1942, Brooklyn, New York City
Songwriter / singer / pianist / arranger / producer
Carole King is the most successful female songwriter of all time, with a total of eight US number one records to her credit. Between 1960 and 1990 she wrote or co-wrote 118 pop hits on the Billboard Hot 100. Brooklyn-born Carol Klein was only four when she learned to play the piano and started writing songs not long afterwards. The inspiration for her vocation came from going to see Alan Freed's rock n roll shows when she was 14. She specifically remembers being inspired by Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Everly Brothers.
In high school, Carol formed a quartet called the Co-Sines and wrote songs for the group. At the age of 16 she recorded her first single, under the name of Carole King : "The Right Girl"/"Goin' Wild" (ABC-Paramount 9921). Carole now calls her early recordings "some of the worst songs you'd ever want to hear", but Billboard (May 5, 1958) wrote about "The Right Girl" : "Ballad gets solid reading from rich-voiced chick. Good wax." But for me "Goin' Wild" is the side that really matters. Her best rock n roll effort. The second ABC single, "Baby Sittin'"/"Under the Stars" (9986), was produced by Don Costa and isn't bad either.
That year, 1958, she entered Queen's College, where she met Gerry Goffin (born 11 February 1939), who studied chemistry. Goffin was looking for someone to set to music the lyrics he was writing for a musical, while Carole had lots of rock n roll songs which needed lyrics. They started dating and writing songs together. Goffin became less interested in his musical and more in rock n roll. Under King's influence, he listened to Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.
In the summer of 1959, Carole found herself pregnant. The young lovers, only 17 and 20, married on August 30 ; their first daughter, Louise, was born on March 23, 1960. Prior to that, King had two more record releases : "Short Mort" on RCA (a parody of "Tall Paul" by Annette Funicello) and "Oh Neil" (a funny answer record to Neil Sedaka's "Oh Carol") on Alpine. Both sold in negligible quantities.
King had already recorded several demos of other people's songs for Don Kirshner, who ran a publishing company, Aldon Music, with his partner Al Nevins. In 1960 she and Goffin were formally contracted to Aldon as songwriters. Few of the songs they wrote during their first year at Aldon were recorded, and none of them dented the charts, until they came up with "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" for the Shirelles, arguably one of the greatest pop songs ever written. It reached the # 1 position on the Billboard charts on January 30, 1961 and has since become a standard, recorded by countless artists (five other versions charted between 1968 and 1978).
"Will You Love Me Tomorrow" gave Carole and Gerry their first taste of economic freedom. Soon they were in great demand as songwriters. They now worked in the cubicles of the Brill Building (1619 Broadway), with just a piano and two chairs, alongside other famous songwriting teams like Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil and Neil Sedaka-Howard Greenfield. "Take Good Care Of My Baby" (Bobby Vee) was another number one in 1961. Two of their compositions topped the charts in two different versions: "The Loco-motion" (Little Eva 1962, Grand Funk 1974) and "Go Away Little Girl" (Steve Lawrence 1963, Donny Osmond 1971). Other classic Goffin-King songs include "When My Little Girl Is Smiling" and "Up On The Roof" for the Drifters, "Chains" (The Cookies), "I'm Into Something Good" (Earl-Jean and, more successfully, a British cover by a group whose name I prefer to leave unmentioned), "One Fine Day" (The Chiffons), "Just Once In My Life" (Righteous Brothers) and "A Natural Woman" (Aretha Franklin). Carole's biggest pre-"Tapestry" success as a vocalist came in 1962, when she recorded a demo for Bobby Vee. Kirshner liked it so much that he issued King's version on his own Dimension label. The song, "It Might As Well Rain Until September" peaked at # 22 in the US and # 3 in the UK. The period 1960-63 was the golden age of Brill Building pop. The advent of Beatlemania left its mark on the entire US music industry establishment, also on King and Goffin, whose songs were suddenly much less in demand.
Fast forward to 1968, when Carole and Gerry were divorced. Both moved to California separately. Carole would become one of the most popular singer- songwriters of the 1970s. Her golden year was 1971. Her second solo album, "Tapestry" (produced by Lou Adler on his Ode label) was number one for 15 weeks, stayed on the charts for 302 weeks, sold 15 million copies in its first year (by 2011 some 26 million worldwide) and was the biggest-selling LP of the entire decade. She won four Grammys that year : Best Album, Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Female Vocalist. A single taken from the album, "It's Too Late", was number one for five weeks and a cover of "You've Got A Friend" (another "Tapestry" song) by James Taylor also topped the charts. After the tour de force of "Tapestry", later work could only disappoint. Though her subsequent 1970s albums sold well ("Music" and "Wrap Around Joy" even went to # 1 on the album charts), nothing came close to the magic quality of "Tapestry". Singles-wise, twelve further entries into the Billboard Top 100 followed until 1982.
In 1987,Goffin and King were inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame and in 1990 into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame (in the category Non-performers). Carole King is still active today and has recently recorded a Christmas album ("A Holiday Carole"), which will be released on November 1. Her autobiography, "A Natural Woman", is due from Grand Central Publishing in April 2012.
Official homepage : http://www.caroleking.com/home.php
Further reading: Ken Emerson, Always magic in the air : the bomp and brilliance of the Brill Building era. New York : Viking, 2005. 334 pages.
If I have to recommend a CD, it would be "Tapestry". All 12 songs are strong. An interesting Japanese 2-CD ("Brill Building Legends", 57 tracks) was released in 2000, combining her early record releases with previously unreleased demos. Some of these demos went on to be hits for others ; many were never recorded commercially. http://www.amazon.com/Brill-Building-Legends-Carole-King/dp/B000056H90/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1317049821&sr=1-1
Acknowledgements : Ken Emerson, Fred Bronson, Joel Whitburn.
YouTube (pre-Tapestry only, her first seven singles) :
Dik, September 2011
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