Released in February 1971, Carole King’s seminal album “Tapestry” turns 50 years old this month.
Carole King was born in Manhattan, New York, and was a whip-smart child prodigy who had perfect pitch and an aptitude for mathematics. She was promoted two grades ahead which put her in college by the time she was 15. She was married by the age of 17 and a mother shortly thereafter.
She and her husband and lyricist, Gerry Goffin, began writing songs at night after working their day jobs. Eventually, they established themselves as songwriters in the legendary Brill Building and got their big break when The Shirelles had a hit with the song “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” making them the first all-black female group to do so. A string of hit songs would follow including the song Aretha Franklin’s producer, Jerry Wexler, asked Carole and Gerry to write requesting that the title be “Natural Woman.” Aretha had a hit and it became one of her signature songs. Eventually, Carole and Gerry would divorce and Carole moved with her two daughters to California and settled in Laurel Canyon where she would befriend a whole new group of musicians including Joni Mitchell and James Taylor with whom she would have a lifelong friendship.
Carole King was a shy and reluctant performer, but touring with James Taylor as his piano player helped her warm up to the idea of being a performer herself, as Taylor would step aside night after night and put the spotlight on his friend. As she began to shed her shyness and stage fright, she also began writing songs for “Tapestry.” The album was recorded similarly to the demos Carole King did when she wrote songs for other artists to record. The songs were so good that they didn’t need anything other than the contributions from a core group of great musicians and backing vocals from Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. Incidentally, Joni Mitchell was recording her masterpiece album “Blue” down the hall from Carole King’s “Tapestry” sessions.
When the album was released, Carole King did little to promote it and despite that, it spent 15 weeks at #1 and stayed on the charts for five years. The songs on “Tapestry” resonated with listeners, but the one that touched her audience and other musicians alike was “You’ve Got a Friend.” The tack went on to be covered countless times including a version by James Taylor that was a #1 hit and Grammy Award winner for him. Carole King and James Taylor recorded their versions of that song at the same time with many of the same musicians. When the Grammy Awards were announced in 1972, Carole King’s album received four awards, more than any one artist had received in one evening up until that time.