Posts Tagged ‘Carole King’

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Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

I reached a milestone this week, one that testifies to how nomadic my life has been: I have now lived in our house here along Lincoln Avenue longer than I have lived anywhere else during my adult life.

The Texas Gal and I have been here now for seven years, four months and five days. My previous longest adult residence was seven years and four months on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis, a tenure that ended when the neighborhood was gentrifying and the corporation that owned the building wanted to get in on the action. Had that lease not been terminated, I think I would have happily stayed on Pleasant Avenue for many more years. And I might never have met the Texas Gal.

I won’t bore you with the list of the twenty places where I’ve lived over the years. (I mined that vein at least a little for a post when I was playing with Google Earth more than five years ago.) By my count this morning, there are twenty places on that list, starting with the ill-kept and poorly heated house on St. Cloud’s North Side where I went when I left Kilian Boulevard and ending here on the East Side just six blocks from where I grew up.

Will there eventually be a twenty-first place on that list? Most likely. The Texas Gal and I are finding that keeping the house in order is gradually becoming more and more of a challenge. So is living on three levels. One small example: Doing the laundry on Mondays requires numerous trips between the main floor and the basement and at least two trips to and from the loft. Can I do that? Yes, but not as swiftly as I could seven years ago. Will I be able to do it as easily seven or even three years from now? Almost certainly not. Life would be easier and simpler on one level and in a smaller place. We’ve been talking about those things for a while but have made no decisions yet about when or where.

But the topics of where and when will likely be on the agenda as we make our way through this winter and move on into the spring. Whatever we decide, though, I do know one thing: Wherever the Texas Gal is, there is my home.

There are more than a thousand tracks in the digital files with “home” in their titles. Sifting through them this morning, I find many that don’t quite fit what I’m writing about. Some come close in one way or another. Here’s one of those, one that cut deeply into me during the years before I found my Texas Gal. It’s “Home Again” from Carole King’s 1971 masterpiece, Tapestry.

Summer Songs, Part Two

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

We’ll pick up today with summer songs, continuing from last week’s post that looked at the years 1968-70 as well as at 1972’s “Where Is the Love” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, the tune that sparked the idea.

So what about 1971? Well, that one’s easy. I spent most days that summer mowing lawns and cleaning floors at St. Cloud State and most evenings hanging around with Rick with a radio playing. And despite the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” and “Treat Her Like A Lady” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose and a few other records, it was the summer of “It’s Too Late” by Carole King. As I wrote in a post a couple of years ago: “There are few sounds that pull me back in time as potently as the piano figure that opens ‘It’s Too Late’.” And as friend and commenter jb said in response to that post, that piano figure is “the sound of the summer of ’71 distilled to a few seconds.”

Having taken care of 1972 in last week’s post, we move on to 1973. Several records bring back specific moments from that summer when I prepared to leave home for the first time: Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome,” Dr. John’s “Right Place Wrong Time,” Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round In Circles” and a pair of records by ex-Beatles, Paul McCartney’s “My Love” and George Harrison’s “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth).” But Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water” was just as present during that season. And it earns its place as the summer record of 1973 for that omnipresence and for one specific moment. Three years ago, I wrote:

Sometime during late July or early August of that summer, many of us who would spend the next school year in Denmark through St. Cloud State got together for a picnic at Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis. At one point during that evening, I was standing at the base of Minnehaha Falls – the waterfall that gives the large park its name – talking for the first time with a young woman who would turn out to be a very important part of my next nine months. Some distance away, another group of picnickers had a music source of some kind, and in that moment, those distant picnickers were listening to “Smoke On The Water.” Ever since, that opening riff puts me back at the base of Minnehaha Falls during the first tentative moments of a friendship that for a while became something else.

The first month of the odd summer of 1974 found me at home recovering from a still-unexplained illness, and for the rest of the summer I worked part-time at the St. Cloud State library. I also hung around with Rick and with folks from The Table in the student union as I tried to figure out how to fit my memories of my nine months away into the life I was resuming in St. Cloud. The music around me, as I look back almost forty years, seems as unsettled as I was that summer. There were some big hits and some good records: “Band on the Run” by Paul McCartney & Wings, “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot, “Rock the Boat” by the Hues Corporation, “Please Come To Boston” by Dave Loggins. But none of those sum up the summer, a season that seems to have been filled not only with relief that I was whole but with dissonance and odd angles and strange transitions. And the record from that summer that still feels both ways all these years later is Steely Dan’s “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.”

A year later, I felt like me again, going to school, working with folks I liked, spending time with friends from The Table and from elsewhere, playing some tennis and on one memorable evening, being hypnotized with several other patrons on the small stage of the Press Bar downtown. Music was all around me, from the jukebox in Atwood Center and from radios in many places, including my room, my car and the apartments and rooms of the several young women I dated that summer. I recall “Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John, “Love Will Keep Us Together” by the Captain & Tennille, “The Hustle” by Van McCoy & The Soul City Symphony, “I’m Not In Love” by 10 c.c. and several more. But there are two countryish records that pull me back more potently to the summer of 1975, and they both play in memory from the boothside jukebox at the Country Kitchen: “Wildfire” by Michael Martin Murphey and “I’m Not Lisa” by Jessi Colter. Same companion across the booth?  Yes. Same night? I think so.

That’s a nice place to stop for today. I had no plans to make this a three-part series, but that’s where it’s gone. We’ll pick up the last couple of college years and whatever other summers stick with me sometime in the next week.

Edited slightly.

‘Still I’m Glad For What We Had . . .’

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Last week, the Texas Gal and I watched the contestants on American Idol make their ways through the songs of Carole King. And as the evening moved on, I was reminded once again of the depth of King’s catalog.

It wasn’t exactly a surprise; one can’t dive too deeply into the history of pop music in the U.S. without running into the tunes that King has written, many of them with Gerry Goffin during the Brill Building era. That long list includes “Chains” by the Cookies (covered memorably by the Beatles), “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles, “Up On The Roof” by the Drifters, “Goin’ Back” by the Byrds, “Every Breath I Take” by Gene Pitney and on and on. I looked at the list of recordings of her songs at All-Music Guide and after the first nine pages, I was only up to the letter “G”. It’s an astounding body of work.

As I watched American Idol, I wondered vaguely if any of the Goffin-King songs had been included among the 228 records that I discussed here during the Ultimate Jukebox project. Well, I know that the Gene Pitney record was there, but other than that, nothing obvious stands out. I’m not certain, given the depth of the Goffin-King catalog. But what came to me as I thought about that was the realization that not a single recording by Carole King herself was included in the project.

That startled me, given that the Ultimate Jukebox was as much an exploration of memory as a dissection of musical value. And when memory takes me back to my first year of college – 1971-72 – one of the primary sounds on my internal soundtrack is Carole King’s Tapestry. It seemed like any time I visited a lady friend in any of the women’s dorms that year, I heard Tapestry coming from behind door after door as I walked down the hallways. It might have been “Beautiful” or “I Feel The Earth Move” or any of the other tracks on the album, but Tapestry provided the backing track for a good chunk of that time of my life.

And King’s absence from the UJ made me stop and wonder if that was an error. It probably was. As with other explorations of my Jukebox Regrets, I’m not going to figure out which record of those 228 I’d pull out to make room for Carole King. But I do have to acknowledge that she should have had one in there.

So, which track? Given the strength of memory associated with the album, the tune will likely come from Tapestry. After that, King’s albums were inconsistent. There were a few strong tracks, but King never came close to matching that 1971 classic. Well, how could she? Tapestry was in the Billboard Top 40 for sixty-eight weeks and was No. 1 for fifteen of those weeks. Two double-sided singles hit the Top Twenty, with “It’s Too Late/I Feel The Earth Move” spending five weeks at No. 1. So she couldn’t match Tapestry with her succeeding albums? If there’s a list of those who could, it’s a very short list.

(It should also be noted that sales and popularity are not the only criteria by which Tapestry was nearly unmatchable: King won four Grammy awards in 1972, including album of the year, record of the year [“It’s Too Late”] and song of the year [“You’ve Got A Friend”]. Note added August 14, 2013.)

Still, those later albums had some gems. Music, her 1971 follow-up to Tapestry, included the sweet regrets of “It’s Going To Take Some Time” as an album track. (It was covered nicely in 1972 by the Carpenters.) “Been to Canaan” was a No. 24 hit from 1972’s Rhymes & Reasons. I also like “Jazzman” from 1974’s Wrap Around Joy. It went to No. 2 and featured a sax solo by Tom Scott. And finally, I’d take a hard look at King’s own version of “One Fine Day” from her 1980 album, Pearls: Songs of Goffin and King. In 1963, the Chiffons took the song to No. 5 hit. King’s version went to No 12.

In the end, though, it’s impossible to resist the sirens’ sounds of Tapestry. But which track? “Smackwater Jack” and “You’ve Got A Friend” are easy to dismiss, the first because I’m not all that fond of it and the second because James Taylor did the definitive version. “Tapestry” drops out of the running because the story sometimes feels forced, and “So Far Away” gets trimmed because it reminds me of a place and time I’d rather not ponder too often.

That leaves eight tracks, and sorting through them, I come to the conclusion I thought was likely when I began writing this piece: There are few sounds that pull me back in time as potently as the piano figure that opens “It’s Too Late.” And its tale is universal; rare would be the person who hasn’t been on one end or the other of its sorrowful monologue. Given all that, it should have been among the tunes in the Ultimate Jukebox.

Chart Digging: December 9, 1972

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

As we sit in early December, the tale is well known among football fans:

The Minnesota Vikings, a good bet for the Super Bowl going into the season, have disappointed their fans with less than stellar play. Despite the return of a veteran quarterback bound for the Hall of Fame, the team has floundered. And fans are left wondering what the hell happened.

Football fans among my readers will recognize the scenario above. It sounds like this year, right? Yeah, but it’s actually about 1972. The quarterback in question was Fran Tarkenton, who returned to Minnesota via a trade with the New York Giants. Tarkenton was seen as the crucial piece for a team that had been defensively dominant but offensively challenged the previous two seasons. Certainly a team that had gone 23-5 during the past two seasons without a top quarterback would achieve greatness with a quarterback as gifted as Tarkenton under center.

Well, sometimes the ball bounces funny ways. The Vikings lost four of their first six games in 1972 – twice by three points, twice by two points – and couldn’t recover. They gave it a good shot, though. By this date  – December 9 – in 1972, the Vikes had won four out of five games and were 7-5 with two games remaining: One against Green Bay and one in San Francisco. If they won those two games, they’d win their fifth straight division title and head to the playoffs.

I’m tempted to say that I knew thirty-eight years ago today – it was a Saturday – that the Vikings would lose those final two games. But I was nineteen and blissfully unaware of the disappointments to come, both then and for the next thirty-eight years. So I had no doubts that the Vikings would take care of the Packers the next day and then defeat the 49ers. And on Sunday, a college friend and I headed to campus and joined a rowdy bunch in one of the dorms’ television rooms, where a newfangled thing called cable TV brought in the broadcast of one of the stations in Duluth. (The Twin Cities market was, as was the norm in those days, blacked out during Vikings home games.)

The rowdiness went away quickly that Sunday afternoon. And my pal Gary and I and a bunch of guys I never knew watched mostly in silence as the Packers of quarterback Scott Hunter and the marvelously named running back MacArthur Lane took down the Vikings 23-10 and quashed that season’s hope. (I wonder if the Packer fans among my readers recall that game.) On the following Saturday, I watched the Vikings blow a late lead and lose 20-17 to San Francisco and finish the season at 7-7.

But all that was ahead on December 9, 1972, the Saturday before the Green Bay game. There was hope. And, no doubt, there was music at one point in the day or another. If I turned on the radio at some time during that Saturday – and I probably did – I most likely heard something from the Billboard Top Ten released that day:

“I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy
“Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” by the Temptations
“If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
“I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash
“You Ought To Be With Me” by Al Green
“Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul
“It Never Rains In Southern California” by Albert Hammond
“Ventura Highway” by America
“Clair” by Gilbert O’Sullivan
“I’m Stone In Love With You” by the Stylistics

Boy, there’s some good stuff in there, but there’s also some stuff that, well, overstayed its welcome in my ears after very few listens. I can live without ever hearing “Clair” again, and I was never fond of the Albert Hammond single, either. And I’m of two minds about “I Am Woman.” Its anthemic quality and its obvious popularity make it an aural landmark, one of those time-and-place tunes that can – when I am reminded of it – toss me back into the fall of 1972 when the only places I felt sure about what I was doing were my music theory classes and the college radio station, where I dabbled in sports reporting.

On the other hand, when I hear “I Am Woman” rather than just think about it – and I do hear it on occasion, as it is in the RealPlayer and shows up every couple thousand hours or so – I note immediately that the record’s deficiencies, chiefly its clunky earnestness, have not helped it age well.

Anyway, take “I Am Woman,” “Clair” and the Albert Hammond tune out of that bunch, and you’ve got a decent half-hour of listening with a few stellar moments from the Temptations, Harold Melvin and his guys and the Stylistics.

And there were – as there almost always are – interesting things a little lower in the Hot 100. Carole King’s “Been to Canaan” was sitting at No. 40. The record, King’s seventh Top 40 hit, would peak at No. 24, spending the first two weeks of 1973 at that spot. (“Been to Canaan” would top the Adult Contemporary chart for one week.) King would have six more Top 40 hits, with the last coming in 1980.

Two spots further down, J. J. Cale’s “Lies” was in its second week at No. 42 and would go no higher. Cale’s only Top 40 hit was 1972’s “Crazy Mama,” which went to No. 22.  According to All-Music Guide, Cale had two other records reach the Hot 100: “After Midnight” went to No. 42 in 1972, and “Hey Baby” got to No. 96 in 1976.

Blue Haze, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, was a group of studio musicians assembled in England by producers Johnny Arthey and Phil Swern. The group’s reggae version of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” – the pop standard written by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach – was sitting at No. 54 thirty-eight years ago today, on its way to No. 27 on the pop chart and to No. 5 on the Adult Contemporary chart. This was the second time a version of the song made the Top 40: The Platters’ version sat at No. 1 for three weeks in 1959. As for Blue Haze, AMG lists several other songs the group recorded, among them the standards “Unchained Melody” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Those might be interesting listening.

Dropping a little further down into the Hot 100, we find Tower of Power. “Down to the Nightclub” was sitting at No. 66 on December 9, 1972, but would go no higher. Earlier in the year, “You’re Still A Young Man” had reached No. 29. Two more Top 40 singles would follow: “So Very Hard To Go” would go to No. 17 in 1973, and “Don’t Change Horses (In The Middle Of A Stream)” would reach No. 26 in 1974. A few other releases over the years would hit the Hot 100, and ToP had – by AMG’s count – thirteen singles on the R&B chart in the 1970s. I can’t find a video of the studio version of “Down to the Nightclub,” but I did find a good recording of a 1986 performance at the Maintenance Shop at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

I don’t recall the group Brighter Side of Darkness at all, nor do I remember the group’s one hit, “Love Jones.” But listening to it this morning, it sounds exactly like 1972. Thirty-eight years ago today, the record was sitting at No. 80, on its way to No. 16. According to AMG, the group was made up mostly of high school students from Chicago, and lead singer Daryl Lamont was only twelve years old. (The video here presents, I think, the album version of the tune. The single ran about 3:20, from what I can tell.) The record was the group’s only hit, but when you come up with something as good as this, once is good enough.

Valerie Simpson is far better known as part of Ashford & Simpson, the stellar song-writing team she formed with Nickolas Ashford. (The duo then began recording and performing in 1973 and married in 1974, reaching the Top 40 twice – in 1979 and 1985 – and the R&B and dance charts many times.) In 1971, Simpson released the album Exposed and followed that a year later with a self-titled album. “Silly Wasn’t I” came from the latter album and was sitting at No. 96 on December 9, 1972. It would peak at No. 63 on the Hot 100 and at No. 24 on the R&B chart.