As essential an album as ever
Harrison Smith
10:50 15th February 2021

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Iconic is a term thrown around far too often nowadays. When the banal and the everday are described as such, the true magic of the word disappears. No matter how much time passes, how many seasons change and how small a thing is lauded an icon though, the word will always comes into its own in describing Carole King’s 1971 album Tapestry. The most Grammy award-winning album that year and still a regular on multiple publications' ‘Greatest Albums of All Time’ lists, Tapestry remains as one of the most decorated and accomplished albums in history. This month, it turns fifty years old. 

Having already written more than two dozen chart hits for numerous other artists, Carole King moved to California in 1968 to pursue a music career of her own. Following a divorce from fellow songwriter Gerry Goffin (with whom she had penned, among many other tracks, the Shirelles classic ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’), King was eager to write for herself, and Tapestry, with its intricate illustrations of love and life, gave her the platform to parade her true artistic talents. Released the same year as Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Helen Reddy’s female-empowerment anthem ‘I Am Woman’, Tapestry transcends through history by resonating with generation after generation. 

But why? Let's start with the album’s notable artwork, where domestic tranquility is apparent. Curled up by a window, a curious looking cat by her side and cheerfully barefoot, King looks to be at ease with the world. Such imagery, with it’s offbeat patterned curtains, undeterminable sunlight trickling through the window an a relaxed ambience reflect not only the sombre end to the 1960s but at the same time, offers hope and belief that a new decade - the 1970s - will be one worth aspiring towards. 

While heartbreak and reflection do fuel a bulk of the album’s creative engine, rarely does King ever appear sorrowful. Kicking off with the thumping piano of ‘I Feel the Earth Move’, King holds nothing back with a benevolent decree of world-shaking adoration for new found love "Ooh baby, when I see your face/ Mellow as the month of May" and follows up immediately with the harsh but candid "Oh, darling, I can’t stand it / When you look at me that way". This depiction of earnest and truthful romance threads throughout Tapestry and such honest observations, often brimming with temperate conflict, remain as timely and marvellously significant so many decades later. On the late-night groove of ‘It’s Too Late’ there’s an acceptance of a relationship’s conclusion and its demise is surprisingly not met with great upset, more, an appreciation of the time left. "Still I'm glad for what we had / and how I once loved you".

‘Beautiful’, which shares its name with the stage-musical based on King’s life, tangos amongst an assortment of key changes, minor and major lifts and a lyrical outpouring of self-love and confidence ("show the world all the love in your heart / then people gonna treat you better".) The true example of King’s masterful songwriting, however, is heard on ‘You’ve Got a Friend’. A track well known for it’s James Taylor cover, it sees King exercising her wondrous understanding and knowledge of chords and melody to create a song so dazzlingly anthemic it’s difficult not to feel reflective and truly well-up at it’s warming sentiment ("winter, spring, summer or fall / All you have to do is call / And I'll be there". 

What Tapestry achieved was monumental. Whether it’s the Rockabilly-groove of ‘Smackwater Jack’ or the echoed culture of the disillusioned youth, whether it’s combining the knotted myriad of love lost and love found or expertly illustrating a heartfelt longing for the American West-Coast; Carole King’s sophomore album lands every punch. Its heartfelt messages, ingenuous tone and authentic narrative reverberate with audiences from all walks of life, and prove to be more than just autobiographical musings. Having successfully and understatedly woven its way into our culture, ‘Tapestry’s iconic and remarkable legacy looks to be unshaken - and half a century later remains as important and essential as ever.

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Photo: Press