Regarded as THE most successful female composer and songwriter-songwriter of the latter half of the 20th century in the USA, Carole King has written or co-written 118 pop hits on the Billboard Hot 100 between 1955 and 1999. She also wrote 61 hits that charted in the UK, making her the most successful female songwriter on the UK singles charts between 1952 and 2005. Her records sales were estimated at more than 75 million copies worldwide.
Carol has made 25 solo albums, the most successful being Tapestry, which held the record for most weeks at No. 1 by a female artist for more than 20 years. She has won four Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for her songwriting. She is the recipient of the 2013 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, the first woman to be so honored.
1970 / Carole King and James Taylor – So Far Away
1971 / Carole King – Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
1971 / Carole King – You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman
Early life and education
Born Carol Joan Klein in February 1942 in New York City’s Manhattan to a Jewish family, Eugenia and Sidney Klein.
Mother Eugenia had learned how to play piano as a child and, after buying a piano, would sometimes practice in the presence of little Carol, who developed an insatiable curiosity about music in general from the time she was about three years old, so her mother began teaching her some very basic piano skills.
When Carol was four years old, her parents discovered she had developed a sense of absolute pitch, which enabled her to often name a note correctly by just hearing it. Carol’s mother then began giving her real music lessons.
With her mother sitting alongside, Carol was taught music theory and elementary piano technique, including how to read notation and execute proper note timing. Carol wanted to learn as much as possible: “My mother never forced me to practice. She didn’t have to. I wanted so much to master the popular songs that poured out of the radio.”
Carol also began kindergarten at the tender age of four, but after her first year she was promoted directly to second grade because she had an exceptional facility with words and numbers.
In 1955, at 13 Carol entered the High School of Performing Arts.
In 1957 she entered James Madison High School, where she soon formed a band called the Co-Sines. This is when she changed her name to Carole King.
King made demo records with her friend Paul Simon for $25 a session. Her first official recording was the promotional single “The Right Girl“, released by ABC-Paramount in 1958, which she wrote and sang to an arrangement by Don Costa.
She attended Queens College, where she met Gerry Goffin, who was to become her song-writing partner.
When she was 17, Carole married Gerry in a Jewish ceremony on Long Island in August 1959 after she had become pregnant (with her first daughter, Louise). They both quit college and took daytime jobs, Goffin working as an assistant chemist and King as a secretary. They wrote songs together in the evening.
Neil Sedaka, who had dated King when he was still in high school, had a hit in 1959 with “Oh! Carol“.
Gerry Goffin took Sedaka’s tune and wrote the playful response “Oh! Neil“, which Carole King recorded and released as a single the same year.
The B-side contained the Goffin-King song “A Very Special Boy”. The single was not a success.
But a song they wrote that was a huge success was recorded by The Shirelles, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”
After writing The Shirelles’ Billboard Hot 100 #1 hit “Will You Love Me Tomorrow“, the first No.1 hit by a black girl group, Goffin and King quit their day jobs to concentrate on writing. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” became a standard.
During the sixties, with King writing the music and Goffin the lyrics, the two wrote a string of classic songs (at the Brill Building) for a variety of artists.
King and Goffin were also the songwriting team produced songs including
- “Chains” by Carole King, recorded by the Cookies and later covered by the Beatles,
- “The Loco-Motion” for their babysitter Little Eva,
- “It Might as Well Rain Until September” which King recorded herself in 1962—her first hit.
- “Go Away Little Girl” – recorded in 1962 by Bobby Vee, Steve Lawrence and others
King would record a few follow-up singles in the wake of “September”, but none of them sold much, and her already sporadic recording career was entirely abandoned (albeit temporarily) by 1966.
Other songs of King’s early period (through 1967) include
“Half Way To Paradise” [Tony Orlando, covered by Billy Fury in U.K.],
“Take Good Care of My Baby” for Bobby Vee,
“Up on the Roof” for the Drifters,
“I’m into Something Good” for Earl-Jean (later covered by Herman’s Hermits),
“One Fine Day” for The Chiffons,
“Pleasant Valley Sunday” for the Monkees (inspired by their move to suburban West Orange, New Jersey),
“(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” by Carole and for Aretha Franklin.
By 1968, Goffin and King were divorced and were starting to lose contact. King moved to Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles with her two daughters and reactivated her recording career by forming “The City”, a music trio consisting of Charles Larkey, her future husband, on bass; Danny Kortchmar on guitar and vocals; and King on piano and vocals.
In 1968 The City produced one album, “Now That Everything’s Been Said”
, but King’s reluctance to perform live meant sales were slow. A change of distributors meant that the album was quickly deleted; the group disbanded in 1969.
The album would be re-discovered by Classic Rock radio in the early 1980s and the cut “Snow Queen” by The City received nominal airplay for a few years.
Cleveland’s WMMS played it every few weeks from 1981 to 1985, and the long-out-of-print LP became sought after by fans of Carol King who liked the edgy sound of the music.
While in Laurel Canyon, King met James Taylor and Joni Mitchell as well as Toni Stern, with whom she would collaborate on songs.
King made her first solo album, “Writer”, in 1970 for Lou Adler’s Ode label, with Taylor playing acoustic guitar and providing backing vocals.
A few tracks for the “Writer” album
Track 2. No Easy Way Down
Track 5. To Love
Track 7. What Have You Got To Lose
Track 8. Raspberry Jam
Track 12. Up On The Roof
The “Writer” album peaked at number 84 in the Billboard Top 200. The same year, King played keyboards on B.B. King’s album Indianola Mississippi Seeds.
In 1971 King followed “Writer” with the album “Tapestry”
, which featured new compositions as well as reinterpretations of
- “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”
- “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
The album was recorded concurrently with James Taylor’s “Mud Slide Slim”, with an overlapping set of musicians including King, Danny Kortchmar and Joni Mitchell. Both albums included “You’ve Got a Friend”, which was a number 1 hit for Taylor;
King said in a 1972 interview that she “didn’t write it with James or anybody really specifically in mind. But when James heard it he really liked it and wanted to record it”.
Tapestry was an instant success. With numerous hit singles – including a Billboard No.1 with “It’s Too Late”
Tapestry held the No.1 spot for 15 consecutive weeks, remained on the charts for nearly six years, and has sold over 25 million copies worldwide. The album garnered four Grammy Awards including Album of the Year; Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female; Record of the Year (“It’s Too Late,” lyrics by Toni Stern); and Song of the Year, with King becoming the first woman to win the award (“You’ve Got a Friend”). The album appeared on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list at number 36. In addition, “It’s Too Late” was number 469 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Carole King: Music was released in December 1971, certified gold on December 9, 1971. It entered the top ten at 8, becoming the first of many weeks Tapestry and Carole King: Music simultaneously occupied the top 10. The following week it rose to No.3 and finally to No.1 on January 1, 1972, staying there for three weeks. The album also spawned a top 10 hit, “Sweet Seasons” (US No.9 and AC No.2). Carole King: Music stayed on the Billboard pop album charts for 44 weeks and was eventually certified platinum.
Her albums, “Rhymes and Reasons” (1972), and “Fantasy” (1973) followed, each earning gold certifications. “Rhymes and Reasons” produced another hit, “Been to Canaan” (US No.24 and AC No.1), and “Fantasy” produced two hits, “Believe in Humanity” (US No.28) and “Corazon” (US No.37 and AC No.5), as well as another song that charted on the Hot 100, “You Light Up My Life” (US No.67 and AC No.6).
In 1973, King performed an epic free concert in New York City’s Central Park with 100,000 attending.
In September 1974, King released her album “Wrap Around Joy”, which was certified gold on October 16, 1974, and entered the top ten at 7 on October 19, 1974. Two weeks later it reached 1 and stayed there one week. “Wrap Around Joy” spawned two hits. “Jazzman” was a single and reached 2 on November 9 but fell out of the top ten the next week.
“Nightingale“, a single on December 17, went to No. 9 on March 1, 1975.
In 1975, King scored songs for the animated TV production of Maurice Sendak’s “Really Rosie”, released as an album by the same name, with lyrics by Sendak.
“Thoroughbred” (1976) was the last studio album she made under the Ode label. In addition to enlisting her long-time friends such as David Crosby, Graham Nash, James Taylor and Waddy Wachtel, King reunited with Gerry Goffin to write four songs for the album.
Their partnership continued intermittently. King also did a promotional tour for the album in 1976.
In 1977, King collaborated with another songwriter, Rick Evers, on “Simple Things”, the first release with a new label distributed by Capitol Records.
Shortly after that King and Evers were married; he died of a cocaine overdose one year later, while King and daughter Sherry were in Hawaii. Simple Things was her first album that failed to reach the top 10 on the Billboard since Tapestry, and it was her last Gold-certified record by the RIAA, except for a compilation entitled “Her Greatest Hits” the following year and “Live at the Troubadour” in 2010.
Despite its Gold-certified record status, Simple Things was named “The Worst Album of 1977” by Rolling Stone magazine. Neither Welcome Home (1978), her debut as a co-producer on an album, nor Touch the Sky (1979) reached the top 100. Pearls – The Songs of Goffin and King (1980) yielded a hit single, an updated version of “One Fine Day”.
King moved to Atlantic Records for “One to One” (1982), and “Speeding Time” in 1983, which was a reunion with Tapestry-era producer Lou Adler. After a well-received concert tour in 1984, journalist Catherine Foster of the Christian Science Monitor dubbed King “a Queen of Rock”. She also called King’s performing “all spunk and exuberance.”
In 1985, she wrote and performed “Care-A-Lot”, the theme to The Care Bears Movie. Also in 1985, she scored and performed (with David Sanborn) the soundtrack to the Martin Ritt-directed movie Murphy’s Romance. The soundtrack, again produced by Adler, included the songs “Running Lonely” and “Love For The Last Time (Theme from ‘Murphy’s Romance’)”, although a soundtrack album was apparently never officially released. King made a cameo appearance in the film as Tillie, a town hall employee.
In 1989, she returned to Capitol Records and recorded “City Streets” , with Eric Clapton on two tracks and Branford Marsalis on one, followed by Color of Your Dreams (1993), with an appearance by Slash. Her song, “Now and Forever”, was in the opening credits to the 1992 movie A League of Their Own, and was nominated for a Grammy Award.
In 1988, she starred in the off-Broadway production “A Minor Incident”, and in 1994, she played Mrs Johnstone on Broadway in “Blood Brothers”. In 1996, she appeared in “Brighton Beach Memoirs in Ireland”, directed by Peter Sheridan.
Early 1991 saw King’s song “It’s Too Late” covered by Dina Carroll on the Quartz album “Perfect Timing”.
The cover topped the dance charts worldwide and reached No.8 in the UK Singles Chart in 1991. It was hoped that King would appear in the filming of the video for the song but she declined, citing her heavy tour schedule at that time.
In 1991, King co-wrote and co-produced “If It’s Over” with singer-songwriter Mariah Carey from her second album “Emotions”.
King saw Carey perform her first single “Vision of Love” live and began taking an interest in her and her material. She contacted Carey, asking if she would be interested in covering “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, a song she had written alongside Gerry Goffin for Aretha Franklin. Carey declined, feeling uneasy about covering a song one of her musical influences had executed so perfectly.
Still determined to work with Carey, King flew out to New York City for one day, in hopes of writing and composing a ballad of some sort. Throughout the day, the two songwriters exchanged musical ideas and melodies on the piano until “If It’s Over” came into conception.
In 1997, Carole wrote “Wall Of Smiles/Torre De Marfil” with Soraya for her 1997 album of the same title. The same year King wrote and recorded backing vocals on “The Reason” for Celine Dion on her album “Let’s Talk About Love”. The song sold worldwide, including one million in France. It went to number 1 in France, 11 in the UK, and 13 in Ireland. The pair performed a duet on the first VH1 Divas Live benefit concert. King also performed her “You’ve Got A Friend” with Celine Dion, Gloria Estefan and Shania Twain as well as “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” with Aretha Franklin and others, including Mariah Carey. In 1998, King wrote “Anyone at All”, and performed it in You’ve Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
James H. Billington
Librarian of Congress
For further information from 2000 to the present, please refer to Wikipedia, from which most of this article was derived.
As of this writing…
Carole King is still touring today, recently with James Taylor. A song she wrote that was on Tapestry, You’ve Got A Friend, was a pretty big hit for JT. To find out more about Carole King, check out her official website here. And if you don’t already have Tapestry in your collection, got get it now!
Also, there is a Musical playing in various theatres. The Carole King Musical tells the inspiring true story of King’s remarkable rise to stardom, from being part of a hit songwriting team with her husband Gerry Goffin, to her relationship with fellow writers, to becoming one of the most successful solo acts in popular music history.
For example, visit: https://www.mirvish.com/shows/beautiful-the-carole-king-musical