Carole King – The Essential Carole King (Ode/Epic/Legacy, 2010)
Brill Building legend Carole King has really had two full music careers. Starting in the late 1950s and flourishing in the 1960s, she was part of the legendary stable of New York City songwriters who took their name from the sister building to the one in which they wrote their effervescent gems for Don Kirshner’s Aldon Music. Together with Gerry Goffin, King wrote some of the most memorable songs of the 1960s, scribing landmark sides for the Shirelles, Everly Brothers, Drifters, Chiffons, Monkees, Aretha Franklin, and dozens more. King is generally regarded, based on the chart success of her songs, as the most commercially successful female pop songwriter of the twentieth century. Had this been her only contribution to pop music, she’d be heralded as a legend, but King also had it in mind to step into the spotlight and perform her songs.
Her early attempts at a singing career, represented here by the Top 40 hit “It Might As Well Rain Until September,” fit into the prevailing Brill Building sound. She sang demos (some of which can be sampled on Brill Building Legends) and had another minor hit with “He’s a Bad Boy,” but didn’t really develop her singer’s voice until nearly a decade later. Moving to the West Coast, King recorded an album with Danny Kortchmar as The City (Now That Everything’s Been Said), and released a solo debut (Writer) that gained notice but little sales. It wasn’t until the following year’s Tapestry that King found the fame as a singer that her songs had previously found for her as a songwriter. Her songs created a lyrical voice that was perfectly in sync with 1971, and even more poignantly, her tour de force remake of 1959’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” highlighted the emotional depth that had been part of her songwriting from the earliest days.
Legacy’s 2-CD set looks at both sides of King’s career. Disc one samples her early solo work, her 1970s stardom with tracks from Writer, Tapestry, Music, Rhymes & Reason, Fantasy, Wrap Around Joy, Thoroughbred, her score for Maurice Sendak’s Really Rosie, and a couple of later tracks recorded with Babyface (“You Can Do Anything”) and Celine Dion. Missing are the albums she recorded for Capitol, Atlantic and EMI from the late-70s into the early-90s; they may not be essential to telling the story of her breakthrough years, but a sampling of tracks would have made a nice addition. Disc two samples fifteen King compositions recorded by (and mostly hits for) other artists. The breadth of acts that made brilliant music from King and Goffin’s compositions is staggering, particularly when you realize this is a fraction of the hits she wrote, and that is in turn a fraction of the thousands of cover versions these songs earned.
Disc one clocks in at over seventy-one minutes, disc two at forty-one – no doubt the cross-licensing of singles from so many original labels limited the second disc’s track count. Additional King-penned hits by the Drifters, Cookies and Monkees are missed, as are hits by the Animals, Tony Orlando, Earl-Jean and Steve Lawrence (not to mention Freddy Scott, who’s “Hey Girl” is represented by a Billy Joel cover), but what’s here is terrific. Disc one isn’t a substitute for King’s classic albums of the early 1970s, but provides a very listenable tour through her first seven years as a solo artist, and a great introduction to one of pop music’s brightest lights. Disc two is rich, but only hints at the wealth of King’s songwriting catalog.