Tapestry, by Carole King
What is it that makes an album a classic? While I remember many of the songs of this album from my childhood, I remember it was not too many years ago when I finally listened to the album as a whole, and I instantly realized that it was a classic, but a peculiar kind of classic that depends greatly on Carole King as an artist. Before releasing this album in the early 1970’s, Carole King had toiled for many years in the dark satanic mills of the pop songwriting world, where she wrote many songs for other artists and groups. When this album was released, she had long been famous as a pop songwriter, but this album established her as a singer-songwriter with considerable force. Among the considerable achievements of this album, besides its massive sales and critical appeal, is that it manages to reframe Carole King as both a songwriter and an artist. It takes songs that are new as well as songs that were already well-known and re-frames them so that what seemed at first to be harmless and superficial pop tunes are shown to have unexpected and moving depths, and thus provides a powerful statement of how songs can be woven together to tell a resonant story about the life of a woman who was well-known in the music industry as a pop writer for hire, but had not previously been known as a powerful artist in her own right.
“I Feel The Earth Move” is the opening song of this album, and begins with a driving piano and Carole King’s urgent voice singing about the power of love and infatuation. “So Far Away” is a moving song about the loneliness of long-distance love, something that many artists have sung about regarding being on tour, but that few have sung about as movingly as Carole King. “It’s Too Late” is a mid-tempo song about a broken relationship where both partners have tried but it doesn’t work, without framing either of them as the bad guy. “Home Again” reflects on the enjoyment of home in the aftermath of traveling and work, a relatable song that deals with the stress of the music business but which is relatable to many others outside of it for their own reasons. “Beautiful” is an empowerment anthem, but one that is couched in a populist way that is, again, quite relatable through close observation of how ordinary people live, with grim determination but also humanity. “Way Over Yonder” is another song about distance and the search for home and refuge, which again is relatable. “You’ve Got A Friend” is a melancholy take on a song made much more famous by James Taylor. “Where You Lead” is another song about love and devotion, and one that sounds very winning coming from Carole King, it must be admitted. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” is a moving cover of a song she wrote that has far more devastating emotional depth when the production focuses attention on the lyrics. “Smackwater Jack” is a groovy sort of song that deals playfully with the limit of communication in the face of violence, which is a surprisingly dark theme for such a playful song. “Tapestry” is a reflective song about life and its rich complexity, with scriptural references and King’s usual observational precision. “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” is another solid take on a popular song written originally for other artists, again pointing out to Carole King as a woman.
What makes this album a classic? It ticks off some of the usual boxes–it has a few songs that are well-known and immensely beloved, and is without any filler. Yet this album manages to rise above that of even the ordinary classic because it does something important in changing the context of how one viewed Carole King as an artist and also how one viewed her songs. Songs that appear to be lighthearted when viewed in the context of pop radio are full of deep sorrow when looked at through the context of a saddish girl with a piano–Will You Love Me Tomorrow? being the most obvious but far from the only such example here. If no album that Carole King released hit the same popular appeal as this album, this album alone is sufficient to place her among the elite of the singer-songwriters of her age, and gave her enough critical appeal to last up to the present day. Few albums are sufficient to make the reputation of their artists for so long, and Tapestry is one such classic among classics.