Before she released her record-breaking solo album Tapestry in 1971, Carole King had already enjoyed a prolific musical 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.
We have a guest post to enjoy this week – regular reader KingClover suggested a list of the 10 best Carole King covers. I suggested he write it himself since he’s much better versed in 1960s singles than I am. For the record, not all of KingClover’s views align with mine – in particular, I think he’s a little harsh on Laura Nyro’s Christmas and the Beads of Sweat. But, enjoy….
10 Best Covers of Carole King Songs
#10 – Is This What I Get For Loving You? by The Ronettes
non-album single, 1965
……..I think this is the weirdest Phil Spector record. I couldn’t believe my ears the first time I heard it. It’s more like a song that the Shangri-La’s would do, because of the way that the music almost come to a stop every once in a while so that she can say these ridiculous lines, or for this little break where it sounds like it’s just bongos or something. It’s just very strange, but I think it’s The Ronettes’ most fun record.
#9 – I Happen to Love You by The Electric Prunes
from Underground, 1967
If you know and love ‘I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night’, then you’ll like this one too. It’s got all the psychedelic guitar effects and other trippy sounds that you heard on that song and on their first album. This is from their second album Underground, which is even weirder than the first one. It’s the same kind of psychedelic garage rock that they do, but the songs are even stranger. It doesn’t seem like a Goffin-King song would fit in very well, but it does. Because it’s the kind of song that rhymes “confiscated” with “overestimated”, which is exactly the kind of song that the Electric Prunes write themselves. Meaning that it was meant to be all far-out and weird. And besides the song, I really like the way the music goes back and forth from slow and quiet to hard.
#8 – I Can’t Make It Alone – Vanilla Fudge
from Rock & Roll, 1969
Actually, this might be the weirdest one on the list and not Electric Prunes. Well, I guess if you’re familiar with Vanilla Fudge it wouldn’t seem very weird. It’s just exactly the same kind of thing that they made a career out of, which is making slowed-down, stretched out, hard psychedelic Acid Rock covers of famous songs. Songs like You Keep Me Hanging On, Ticket to Ride, Eleanor Rigby, She’s Not There, Season of the Witch. And also things like The Look of Love and Windmills of Your Mind, believe it or not. And they’re sung in an overly-dramatic and deliberately over-the-top way. Which I always thought was at least partly tongue-in-cheek. But once you get into it, it has real appeal in a hard and heavy kind of way. I think this song here was originally done by one of the Righteous Brothers, but I’m not sure which one. I can never remember their real names. And also I know it from Dusty in Memphis. I really didn’t think much of this song until I heard this version, and now I think it’s a pretty good song. I guess Vanilla Fudge isn’t for everybody, but they are actually very good musicians and the singer has a good voice, and he’s really pretty good. And I know a lot of people like the song.
#7 – Will You Love Me Tomorrow – versions by Dave Mason and Roberta Flack
from Mariposa De Oro, 1978
I have two favorite versions of ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’. The first one is by classic rock guy Dave Mason. First of all, I’ve only heard one other version of this song with a man singing. I know there’s more, but I haven’t heard them other than the Four Seasons one, which I don’t like that much. But this one by Dave Mason is one of those big rock ballad productions that they used to have in the late seventies, but this one is really good. I always thought he had a really great voice and the way that they multi-track him doing all the harmonies is great sounding. And of course, since this is Dave Mason you also get a guitar solo. But I wish there was more or at least two of them instead of just one.
from Quiet Fire, 1971
My other favourite one is Roberta Flack, which was a single the same year as Tapestry, which is maybe why the Carole King one was never put out as a single. Except for a couple of her hits, I never really liked Roberta Flack all that much, but she has a real pure voice and she sings this in a real straightforward kind of way that just makes her sound better than she usually does. The only other music is just her piano playing and some light strings. I think she was some kind of classical music student in college or something like that, and sometimes the piano on this sounds like classical music to me. That kind of classical music that’s just piano. It sounds kind of like that.
#6 – Brother Brother by The Isley Brothers
from Brother, Brother, Brother, 1972
Well, to begin with, I like the brilliant idea of the Isley Brothers doing a song called ‘Brother Brother’, since they are brothers. And that they named the album Brother, Brother, Brother since there are three brothers. This isn’t as speedy as Carole King’s version but instead, it’s done in a slowed-down dreamy style. And I miss the great sax solo in the Carole King one. Instead of the usual guitars, this is mostly piano that’s played kind of in her piano style. They also keep the same double vocal tracks from the original, and he does it really well. The whole thing is kind of swirly and dreamy and just really beautiful. It’s totally different from the hard funky 10-minute version of It’s Too Late on the album with its long rock-style guitar solos. There’s also a third Carole King song on the album, which seems like a lot, but their early 70s albums are about half covers of rock songs and half originals. They said that they were rock fans and their good taste in rock songs proves it. They did covers of great songs by people like Neil Young, CSNY, Bob Dylan, Doobie Brothers, James Taylor, Jimi Hendrix. I guess this really isn’t surprising considering that Jimi Hendrix was once in their band in the sixties. But their very best song is That Lady, and that was an original. I like Twist and Shout too, but I don’t think they wrote that one. The latter-day Supremes also did a version of ‘Brother Brother’. And also guitarist David T. Walker, who played on a couple Carole King albums. She also sings on that one.
#5 – Don’t Bring Me Down by The Animals
non-album single, 1966
This is one of the songs that The Animals recorded when they were right at their peak. They actually did pretty well when they did Brill Building material like this. This song could be where they started their psychedelic phase since it’s got that fuzzy vibrating guitar sound that everybody used on their psychedelic records. And Alan Price’s famous organ playing is also really great on this one. Not that the rest of their psychedelic music was all that great, but some of it was. Like Sky Pilot.
#4 – The Loco-Motion by Grand Funk Railroad
from Shinin’ On, 1974
This is a cover of the 60s dance song by Little Eva. And it’s the second Todd Rundgren-produced #1 song in two years by Grand Funk. It’s not really much of a song, but it’s a great record just because it sounds so great. The best part is the totally insane guitar solo in the middle, which is also pretty hilarious. I heard that The Locomotion is the only song to ever reach number 1 three separate times. Little Eva in the 60s, Grand Funk in the 70s, and Kylie Minogue in the 80s. I never checked this out though to see if it’s correct. But it sounds like it could be right.
#3 – Wasn’t Born to Follow by The Byrds
from The Notorious Byrd Brothers, 1968
Two of the all-time best Goffin-King songs are on The Notorious Byrd Brothers album, and I like the Carole King and Byrds versions just about the same. This is really different from hers though. The Byrds make it all country-ish and bouncy, and hers was all grand and solemn sounding. They rearranged and changed around the lyrics, and when I listen to it I get all confused about exactly where I’m at in the song, because they moved the lyrics all around. And I also used to get all confused when without warning the song suddenly changes into a kind of psychedelic freak-out in the middle, and then it suddenly returns without warning to the way it started. But I really love that part now, and I think it makes the song fit in better with the rest of the album. Because the album is kind of a mixture of country and psychedelic.
#2 – Up On the Roof – versions by The Drifters and Laura Nyro
from Under the Boardwalk, 1964
I couldn’t decide if I like The Drifters or the Laura Nyro one better, but they’re both great. Actually, I like Carole King’s the best, but these are the other best ones by far. The Drifters is the only really upbeat one that I know. I don’t know why everyone slows it down, because this was the original. Other than ‘On Broadway’, this is The Drifters greatest song. They also did a couple other Goffin-King songs that were hits, but they’re not nearly as good as this one.
from Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, 1970
Laura Nyro’s is slow too, but the music is so good on it that it seems perfect just the way it is. It’s easily the best thing on Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, which is the album that it comes from. There’s only one other song on the album that I like a lot. Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals was one of the producers of the album, but you’d never know it. I don’t know why she hired him, because it certainly doesn’t sound like it. Why would you hire Felix Cavaliere if you didn’t want the album to sound anything like the Rascals records? What a waste. It certainly could have used it, I’ll tell ya that. Most of the album is a real drag. I’m not sure which producer did Up on the Roof, but it is excellent. I think it’s totally weird that the only song on the album that she didn’t write is the best one.
#1 – Pleasant Valley Sunday by The Monkees
from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., 1967
This is probably everyone’s favourite Monkees song and the best of the 7 or 8 Goffin-King songs that they recorded, including the two on the soundtrack album to the Head movie. And probably the most fun one too. The lyrics are a riot. Gerry Goffin wrote this when they moved out of New York to a suburb in New Jersey, and apparently he didn’t like it much. He tells us all about Mr. Green and his TVs, and Mrs. Grey and her roses, and the local rock band practicing in the garage down the street. I think the thing that most people remember about the music is the guitar riff that’s similar to Paperback Writer. And the really unusual and memorable tune. By the way, there’s a version of this song by Carole King on her Legendary Demos album and it’s her best early record.
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I did not know that Carole wrote “Don’t Bring Me Down” nor was covered by the Electric Prunes. I’m sure the words “I did not know” are reverberated everywhere, because, like Dylan and Joni, she was just so prolific and talented. Thanks for this list. Also, a shout-out for the Byrds’ version of “Goin’ Back” and the Turtles’ version of “So Goes Love,” especially the latter, which they never released on an official album.
It’s a guest post today, but glad you enjoyed it!
I didn’t know the Turtles did So Goes Love. I really don’t know that song very well. It’s on her Demos album, but I only heard it a couple times and I don’t really know it yet. And Goin Back used to be my favorite over Wasn’t Born to Follow until kind of recently. I really didn’t know which song I wanted to put in the list but either one of them would have been fine.
I was surprised she wrote The Animals and The Byrds one. Isn’t that Byrds cover in Easy Rider? Seems like it is. There’s no doubt Carole King is a very talented songwriter!
I didn’t remember it being in Easy Rider actually – but I’ve listened to Notorious Byrd Brothers a lot…
Aha! I was right. Check it out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easy_Rider_(soundtrack)
It sure is on the Easy Rider soundtrack. But I don’t remember where it was in the movie.
I think it’s in the part where they are at the commune, but I could be wrong…
Ok, Wikipedia says ” In the end, only “Wasn’t Born to Follow” was used, accompanying the two bikers riding through the mountains and taking a hitchhiker to a commune” I don’t remember it being in the film.
I like the list…it’s hard to go wrong with Carole King
Personally, the one missing song I would have on my list would be (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman…by Aretha of course…I would have to have that one but it’s a matter of personal taste.
I’ve always considered Will You Love Me Tomorrow as one of the greatest pop songs period. The version I like is the Shirelles but the song stands on its own.
The only one I didn’t know was I Can’t Make It Alone…. a good version though!
What I like about the list are the varied artists that were picked.
There are a bunch I didn’t know in the lower half of the list – so I was educated too.
I thought you were going to rewrite it, so then people wouldn’t see how bad my grammar is. I have really bad grammar No, I’m just joking. I think I was being more conscious of it than I usually am. I’ve got Grammar Check, but usually I don’t even correct the things that are underlined in blue. I don’t know what’s the point of having Grammar check if I’m not even gonna do the corrections. Ha ha. I like the picture sleeve you put of The Animals. I’ve never seen that one before. I like when they have pictures on them that I’ve never seen.
I tidied it up a wee bit, but I wanted it to retain your voice. Thanks for writing – seems like people are enjoying it.
I find I never quite like most of the Byrds originals as much as I feel I should – but they seem to do a remarkable job with covers. I guess it doesn’t hurt when the source material is by Carole King or Bob Dylan!
There are some originals that I really like, but they did have great taste in covers.
There are some great songs she wrote for the Monkees (RIP Michael Nesmith) especially ‘Porpoise Song’. What a tune.
Yeah. I almost put two Monkees songs on the list but then I didn’t. The ones I didn’t put were Porpoise Song and Sometime in the Morning.
Hmm. Sometimes these posts make me feel I haven’t been paying attention all these years. I would have said i knew a lot of Carole King’s stuff, but there are songs here I’ve never heard of, so I’m going to have to check them out.
One quick comment: having heard both songs hundreds of times, I have never thought the guitar riff of Pleasant Valley Sunday owed anything to Paperback Writer. Okay, it’s the same time signature, same tempo, same length, but that’s not the same as being derivative. In my humble opinion, that is.
No, I don’t think it’s derivative, I just said it was similar. In other words I just think it works the same way. That’s all.
You see – you can write – and really well too. I enjoyed reading this.
Well, that’s good to hear. I’m glad.
You are the Mott the Hoople of writing – a bit rough around the edges, maybe, but honest and passionate. You’re a dude, man 🙂
Ha ha. You know what happens though? Your mind goes off track so easily. Like you’ll be talking about one thing and then your mind goes off track and suddenly you start writing about something else that you didn’t really mean to. And then there’s just too much there. It’s not like when you’re just talking to someone and it really doesn’t matter how much you say.. But when you’re writing it just doesn’t sound right
I know exactly what you mean. I read back what I have written on my reviews and it is absolute shit. Many is the time I have almost deleted my entire blog! As you say, it is much easier talking.
I have to say I do enjoy reading your comments, you always make me sit up and take notice, so you must be saying something right, somewhere!
I like writing more – I’m actually pretty shy in real life about expressing opinions, but have no compunctions about doing it in blog form.
The Drifters cut is my theme song. The Animals cover is also a fave.
Cincinnati Babyhead is having a laid back beer on the roof? Very in character.
You have me pegged.
I wasn’t aware there were so many covers, but it makes logical sense as she’s just that important.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg – “King is the most successful female songwriter of the latter half of the 20th century in the US, having written or co-written 118 pop hits on the Billboard Hot 100.”
So she was pretty good, then? 😉
Got in there early too.
Review The Monkees!
They’re on the list. I’m not that familiar with any of their albums though, so it will be a while off.