Carole King – The Legendary Demos (Hear, 2012)
Demos are an industry currency that fans don’t often get to hear. They’re an audio notebook in which songwriters sketch their vision, either for themselves, or more intriguingly, for those to whom they wish to sell songs. In the case of a singer-songwriter like Carole King, there are both kinds of entries in her notebooks – writer’s demos that were inclined towards the sound and style of a potential client and initial renderings of songs that King would sing herself, including five tunes written for her 1971 breakthrough, Tapestry, and another, “Like Little Children,” written in the mid-60s but recorded 30 years later for the film Crazy in Alabama.
An earlier, unauthorized, volume of King’s demos and early solo recordings, Brill Buliding Legends: The Right Girl, gave a glimpse into her years as a Brill Building songwriter. But that volume fell short of its full promise, by including demos for songs that were never commercially recorded or never broke on the charts. Though interesting in their own right, these lesser works said more about the hard work that goes into getting a hit single than they did about the development of King’s best-known titles. Not so with this authorized volume of King demos, which not only offers up a few key Brill Building-era demos, but extends into her solo work as a successful performer.
The three major Brill-era hits included here in demo form are the Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” Bobby Vee’s “Take Good Care of My Baby” and the Everly Brothers’ “Crying in the Rain.” The first is surprisingly different from the hit single, with King’s folk-rock demo more wistful and forgiving than the skeptical and mocking tone of the Monkees take. The second, on the other hand, seems to anticipate Bobby Vee’s style, and though the single is more fully orchestrated, the mood and hooks were all there in the demo. Others, such as “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” reveal their foundations – in this case, the gospel chords of King’s piano and the freedom of her vocals – even more clearly in these stripped down versions.
As with The Right Girl, this volume is only a small taste of the demos that led to King’s catalog of hits and terrific album tracks. The Monkees’ obscure “So Goes Love” (recorded for, but not released on, their first album) is no substitute for “Take a Giant Step,” “Sometime in the Morning,” “Star Collector” or “The Porpoise Song,” and demos for hits by Gene Pitney, the Cookies, Little Eva, Steve Lawrence, Freddie Scott, the Chiffons, the Drifters, Maxine Brown and many others, not to mention most of King’s terrific solo work, are still to be heard. Rumors have swirled as to the song publishers blocking release of King’s demos, but with this peek inside the vault now public, it’s time for whatever else that can be found to see the digital light of day.