10 Best Songs by Carole King

Even before she released her first solo album, New York’s Carole King had already enjoyed a prolific music career. She’d inspired Neil Sedaka’s ‘Oh! Carol’ and written a hit song for her daughters’ babysitter (Little Eva’s ‘Loco-motion’). The 1960s hits that she wrote with her husband Gerry Goffin helped make her the most successful female songwriter of the latter half of the 20th century. She achieved all of this after becoming a mother at the age of 18.

After separating from Goffin, King struck out for a solo career starting with 1970’s Writer. While Writer languished in obscurity, King’s next album was a mega-hit – 1971’s Tapestry was the longest-charting album by a solo female artist until it was displaced by Adele in 2017. While Tapestry overshadows King’s other albums, containing many of her best-known solo songs, it’s worth exploring records like Really Rosie and Wrap Around Joy from later in the 1970s.

This list covers King’s recordings during her solo career – King’s songwriting with Goffin in the 1960s, with classics like ‘One Fine Day’ and ‘Oh No, Not My Baby’, is a subject for a different post.

#10 Ambrosia

from Thoroughbred, 1976
1976’s Thoroughbred marked the end of an era for King – it was her last album produced by Lou Adler, who’d worked with her since Tapestry in 1971. Featuring Los Angeles musicians from The Section, like Russ Kunkel, Danny Kortchmar, and Leland Sklar, ‘Ambrosia’ wasn’t a single. It sounds like a soft-rock classic to me, even though I’m unsure if it’s spiritual, sexual, or about really good cosmetics.

#9 Nightingale

from Wrap Around Joy, 1974
King followed Joni Mitchell into jazzy pop – Mitchell’s Court and Spark was released in January 1974. King’s Wrap Around Joy followed in September and also featured members of the L.A. Express. For Wrap Around Joy, King wrote with lyricist David Palmer, a former Steely Dan vocalist. ‘Nightingale’ also features Carole King’s daughters, aged 12 and 14, on backing vocals. It’s a lovely piece of slick jazz-pop, buoyed by flute and creative drumming.

#8 Corazón

from Fantasy, 1973
King’s career drifted a little after Tapestry – her next couple of records were too close in tone, and remained in the shadow of her blockbuster. She stretched out with 1973’s Fantasy, which explored different genres and introduced the kind of social commentary lyrics you’d expect on a Curtis Mayfield record. The single ‘Corazón’ was entirely in Spanish and was dominated by Bobbye Hall’s funky bed of percussion.

#7 Snow Queen

from Now That Everything Has Been Said, 1968
Between leaving the Brill Building and starting a solo career, King cut a record with The City in 1968. The trio also featured Danny Kortchmar on guitar and Charles Larkey on bass. The record was lost to obscurity, but it features King classics like ‘Wasn’t Born To Follow’ (covered by The Byrds the same year) and ‘Snow Queen’. ‘Snow Queen’ is a Goffin and King composition dating back to the mid-1960s. It was recorded by the Roger Nichols Trio in 1966, so King was setting Hans Christian Anderson to music well before ‘Let It Go’.

#6 Jazzman

from Wrap Around Joy, 1974
King featured saxophonist Tom Scott on 1974’s ‘Jazzman’. Coupled with King’s warm piano, Scott is like a comforting blanket. ‘Jazzman’ is a tribute to saxophonist Curtis Amy, who served as musical director for Ray Charles and also appeared on Tapestry. Amy was married to Merry Clayton, famous for singing backing vocals on The Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’.

#5 I Feel The Earth Move

from Tapestry, 1971
The opener for Tapestry is upbeat and lust-fuelled. The duelling between King’s piano and Kortchmar’s guitar pushes ‘I Feel The Earth Move’ toward the boundaries of medium-rock. It perhaps speaks to King’s ubiquity that in 1991, twenty years after the release of Tapestry, a kid from my New Zealand school stood on his desk and sang this song. The reason? There’d just been an earthquake.

Carole King Tapestry

#4 Tapestry

from Tapestry, 1971
The cover of Tapestry finds Carole King seated one her Laurel Canyon home, accompanied by her cat Telemachus and holding a tapestry she’d stitched. The title track starts off biographical (“My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue”), but heads into allegory. King’s the only musician credited on the track, playing the lovely piano and filling the bottom end with some wobbly synths.

#3 So Far Away

from Tapestry, 1971
‘So Far Away’ was released on the second single taken from Tapestry, paired with ‘Smackwater Jack’. It’s not an immediate, catchy single, but it’s lovely. James Taylor’s warm guitar picking and Larkey’s stuttering bass-line are gorgeous, while Curtis Amy’s flute provides the emotional centre-point as King laments a distant lover. Olivia Rodrigo named ‘So Far Away’ as her favourite classic song, along with Billy Joel‘s ‘Vienna’.

#2 It’s Too Late

from Tapestry, 1971
Along with ‘I Feel the Earth Move’, ‘It’s Too Late’ was issued as a double a-side in advance of Tapestry. King’s syncopated piano riff and Curtis Amy’s saxophone brought some jazz sophistication to the pop charts, where the single spent five weeks at US number one. King wrote the song with lyricist Toni Stern – Stern’s lyrics are about the end of her relationship with James Taylor, and capture a perfect bittersweet tone.

#1 Will You Love Me Tomorrow?

from Tapestry, 1971
The other songs featured from Tapestry were written for the album, but ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow?’ was a 1960s classic that King raided from her own vaults. It was a number one hit from 1960 for The Shirelles, launching King’s career as a professional songwriter. King’s mellow yet authoritative version captures the perspective of a more experienced woman. The harmony vocals from Joni Mitchell and James Taylor give the song some warm spontaneity.

Did I include your favourite Carole King song?

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  1. Do you like (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman…it doesn’t compare to Aretha’s version of course… but it’s a good version.
    Great list…I grew up on Tapestry… I Feel the Earth Move and Jazzman are probably my two favorites by her.

      • I heard Carole’s version before Arethas but yes I agree with you.
        Tapestry had to be one of the biggest surprise albums ever…in a year where some huge ones came out.

        • Yeah, she’d been trying to launch a recording career for years – did some singles in the 1960s, then The City record in 1968, then Writer in 1970. When she finally broke through she wasn’t just successful, she was record-setting huge.

    • I went through and reviewed her other albums last year – I’d known Tapestry for years, but wanted to go over the others because it’s unfair that she’s been reduced to one album in the canon. It’s hard to argue against Tapestry being the best, but I really enjoyed the others too.

      • You’re absolutely right. I’ve listened to Carole’s other albums as well, even beyond the ’70s, but I never paid as close attention to them as I did for Tapestry.
        There’s an album she released in 1989 called “City Streets”, which has some nice tunes. Haven’t listened to it in a long time.

        • I borrowed an early 1990s VHS from the library once, of a Carole King live gig. Seemed like she was trying too hard – had Slash guesting on guitar, dressed too young, barely played piano. Seemed like she’d forgotten what made her good in the first place.

    • I’m kind of trolling using the album cover from Music as my banner image, then not featuring any songs from it. It has some really good songs like ‘Brother Brother’ and ‘Songs of Long Ago’.

  2. That’s cool that you have Corazon cuz it’s awesome. Fantasy is actually pretty good album. I like Music, Rhymes and Reasons, and Writer just as much as I like Tapestry pretty much.
    I know there’s a good joke in there, but I don’t know what you mean when you said Ambrosia is about cosmetics. It went right over my head. lol.

    • I like Fantasy a lot more than the two previous ones. I feel like Tapestry towers over the other early ones, while Fantasy tries to do something different.
      I thought the line “I need to be replenished” sounded like a face cream… Not that funny really….

  3. I bought Tapestry in 1971 and found it difficult to equate it with a song from my early youth, It Might As Well Rain Until September, by somebody of the same name. I didn’t understand why James Taylor was interested in her. And I think You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman is vastly overrated, benefiting disproportionately from the bra-burning spirit of the times. My list would include It’s Too Late and So Far Away, although I thought the album struggled apart from those two (cue abuse from a million fans). It seemed like, without knowing it, every woman in the world had been waiting for Tapestry.
    After that I didn’t hear much else, but her 60s catalogue of songs not necessarily for herself to sing is quite amazing: The Locomotion, Up On The Roof, Going Back (covered by everyone from Dusty Springfield to The Byrds), One Fine Day, Pleasant Valley Sunday, the list goes on.

    • I always thought ‘It Might As Well Rain Until September’ sunk into obscurity – was it reasonably big? Listening to Aretha Franklin’s stuff recently, ‘Oh No Not My Baby’ was the big discovery for me – never heard any version of it before, but it’s great.

      • Might as well rain until September was a top 10 hit. It was actually just a demo and some other artists was supposed to sing it. I think Bobby Vee or somebody. But her demos were often so good they just released them the way they were or with someone else singing over them. The hit version of oh no not my baby was by Maxine Brown I think her name was. Something like that. And also Manfred Mann had a hit in the UK with it. And Rod Stewart had a single of it and also Merry Clayton recorded it the early 70s. I think it’s on the Gimme Shelter album. Or somewhere. I used to have a couple of her albums but I forget which album is on

          • I never really liked Oh No Not My Baby. By anybody. But I’ll say that Rod Stewart’s is by far the best. He recorded it when he was at his peak and the band is quite good on it. Faces play on it. Carole King sings at the end on the Merry Clayton version. Which is the only interesting thing about it actually. lol. I don’t even like Carole King’s own version of it.

          • Yeah, it was 1980. It wasn’t very good. Except for new versions of Snow Queen and Goin Back. Hey Girl and Wasn’t Born to Follow were okay too.

      • “It might as well…” reached number 3 in the UK in 1962 but she didn’t really follow it up. Too busy writing hits for other people, maybe. “Oh no not my baby” was big in the 60s in the UK for Manfred Mann, and Rod Stewart did a version in the 70s, in his role as the male Linda Ronstadt, self-appointed reinterpreter of guaranteed hits (see also I Don’t Want to Talk About It and Sailing).

        • I just looked at Wikipedia – she recorded 8 singles between 1958 and 1966 and that was the only one that achieved any success. I think her voice certainly suited the singer-songwriter era better – she’s much better at small and intimate songs.

  4. I think she needs a new updated list in honor of her induction into the Rock and roll Hall of Fame for the second time. Cuz now she’s in as a performer and as a writer, therefore she needs a list of her songs by other performers too. And a list for herself.

    Other performers: (no particular order)

    Pleasant Valley Sunday – The Monkees
    The Locomotion – Grand Funk Railroad
    I Happen to Love You – Electric Prunes (also Them)
    Don’t Bring Me Down – The Animals
    Wasn’t Born to Follow – The Byrds
    Will You Love Me Tomorrow – Dave Mason (also Roberta Flack)
    Hey Girl – Freddie Scott
    Sometime in the Morning – The Monkees
    No Easy Way Down – Barbra Streisand
    Up on the Roof – The Drifters (also Laura Nyro)
    Brother Brother – Isley Brothers

    Herself (in no order)

    Home Again
    It’s Too Late
    It’s Going to Take Some Time
    Brother Brother
    Been to Canaan
    Goin’ Back
    Natural Woman
    Up on the Roof

    (Honorable Mention) –

    Snow Queen (with The City)
    Wasn’t Born to Follow (with The City)
    You Light Up My Life
    Sweet Seasons

  5. A few more good ones:

    Is This What I Get for Loving You? – The Ronettes
    I Can’t Make it Alone – Vanilla Fudge
    Go Away Little Girl – Steve Lawrence
    I’m into Something Good – Herman’s Hermits
    Don’t Forget About Me – Dusty Springfield
    Every Breath I Take – Gene Pitney
    It’s Too Late – The Isley Brothers

    • I know we’ve had this discussiom before, but I like Aretha’s “Oh No, Not My Baby” a lot. and would probably plump for the original Shirelles version of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’

      Also, why isn’t Jimmy Webb in the RRHOF as a songwriter? I guess he’s not very rock, but neither is King really.

      • Jimmy Webb seems exactly like the type of person who should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a songwriter. The reason that King is in it twice and he isn’t is probably because she’s always had more of a relationship with rock and roll than he has. I don’t think people associate him with rock artists. But then again, a lot of people in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame don’t have much to do with rock and roll either.
        I like The Shirelles version of Will You Love me Tomorrow, but there are about three or four other ones that I like better. I actually like all of the slower versions more.

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