In 1995 there was a Carole King tribute album, Tapestry Revisited. I never listened to it – truth be told I’ve never really liked the tribute album where a classic record is interpreted by a bunch of people, as well meaning as it probably is I just don’t like the concept. And when you have people like Amy Grant and Curtis Stigers, Faith Hill and Richard Marx involved (as was the case with Tapestry Revisited) – let’s just say thanks but no thanks. Best leave it at that.
I remember Tapestry Revisited being released though – probably because 1995 was, as I said here, a crucial year for me; the year I left home. I’d done my listening to the bedsit classic, Tapestry, by then. And I was over it. I was quite certain of that.
In the last year – newly enthused by James Taylor’s offerings perhaps, burnt out just a tad on Joni Mitchell’s catalogue (for now, anyway, I’ll be back), I’m not quite sure what, entirely, the reason is, or was – but I found myself back with Tapestry, the album that put Carole King the performer on the map. She’d already made a name as a writer; Tapestry afforded her a career as a singer/songwriter. It helped to usher in a singer/songwriter era. Tapestry went on to be one of the best-selling albums of all time.
Like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours I get the feeling that Tapestry is laughed off by people convinced it must have been bad if so many people were sucked/suckered in. Like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Tapestry is an example of when the mainstream blockbuster also happens to get it right. A set of songs perfectly realised, beautifully played.
For Tapestry there’s the bonus that some of the songs were hits already, had been lived in by brilliant artists like Aretha Franklin, had been career-defining hits for bands like The Shirelles.
Sometime, and I’m not exactly sure when, but it was a few years ago now – first via the turntable and a well-worn old copy and then from catching up with a Legacy Edition Double Disc reissue of the album I fell in love with Tapestry. All over again.
I’m glad that happened.
And it’s had me hooked right in – not only remembering when I was discovering it for the first time, back in high school and those first few months away from home, So Far Away, as it were…but I have a whole new appreciation for this music.
I have other Carole King albums but I’m not that fond of them. I admire her early work as a writer more than anything she went on to do post-Tapestry. I’ve collected a few LPs when I’ve found them in the bargain bins.
But Tapestry is a hit for many reasons.
There’s the songs. The obvious standout. There’s the playing and the players, everything from the way I Feel The Earth Move kicks the record off through to the gorgeous groove, so subtle, sweetly subdued, on It’s Too Late. But there’s also King’s vocal performance. She’s not a great singer as such, she’s raw, she’s real. There’s an energy to the way she sings these songs – part of which, I believe, is simply in hearing the original writer revisiting the material. But King was not, at this stage, a strong lyricist. It never, in fact, became the strong point; her gift was/is in arranging, in creating indelible melodies, in couching the lyrics, building the nest for them. So maybe it’s simply her energy because she has something to prove – but her voice is actually a strong point across Tapestry. It was never finer for me. Possibly because I’m not enough of a fan to have stayed with her across her career – I’d take Tapestry over any Carole King Greatest Hits compilation any day. (Just as I’d take Rumours over any Fleetwood Mac Greatest Hits comp from the Buckingham/Nicks era).
There’s vulnerability here with this record too. She slowly warms up in each song, warms her way into each song. Big call taking on Natural Woman after Aretha had it. Doesn’t matter that King wrote the song, Aretha owns it.
But I like that she has that go again – and even if she doesn’t redefine the song, she does, in some way, recapture it. She frames it as her own. That’s a big part of what Tapestry is – King gathering up the material around her, material she’d loaned out, given away, farmed off…that’s the tapestry…
Reading King’s recent memoir provided some revelations too. The best part of the book is, of course, the early years. From the 1950s up to and including Tapestry’s recording in 1970 and release in 1971; Joni Mitchell is down the hall recording Blue, James Taylor is helping King with Tapestry, his band on hand to provide the musical glue. He’s dating Joni Mitchell, they’re writing songs about each other, King is writing about their relationship, observing. All three are supplying vocals and instrumental parts on each other’s records. All three are friends. All three are in competition.
You get a huge sense of history revisiting Tapestry. Your own history too, sure. Any record – particularly the lived-in ones, you will have your own baggage attached; you make room for it, you squeeze that in. But Tapestry has a huge sense of history to it – songs from the King/Gerry Goffin personal and professional relationship, songs that were a decade old at the time that King was, almost nervously, recasting them. And then there’s the connections between the players, Russ Kunkel (one of my favourite drummers ever), Danny Kortchmar – his solo album, Kootch, is brilliant – so much to hear (and hear again) in (and from) Tapestry.
It’s funny perhaps, so completely out of date, to tell you that Tapestry by Carole King has been one of my favourite albums across the last year or two. But it’s no lie. I’ve taken more from this album, and perhaps brought more to it, in this recent revisiting than when I listened to it 20 years ago; back when I (first) discovered it.
And I like that. Music’s about connection for me. I feel bonded to these songs, to these players; I’ve enjoyed investing time with them. I’ve learned so much from this record. And I feel like I pick up a new thing from it each time, some new aspect gets my attention. I like that.
I like exquisitely played, perfectly realised records. Tapestry is such an album.