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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Carole King

The Legendary Demos (Hear Music)

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Carole King is one of the few songwriters to make the leap from behind-the-scenes writer to successful recording artist. From the pre-Beatles era, penning hits for Bobby Vee and the Everly Brothers to her summit as a solo artist with the album Tapestry, which included tunes covered by the likes of Aretha Franklin, King has been a singular talent.

King initially penned tunes with her songwriting partner/husband Gerry Goffin.  Typically she would go into a studio and emerge an hour later with a simple recording, many of which turned into hits blasting from transistor AM radios in the 1960s.  These demos were often recorded on piano alone and King's genius was to imply what a full-band recording of the song could be. These arrangements, as if sprung fully formed from the head of King, were blueprints for producers and singers. Her demos relate a unique charm the hit versions don't always capture.

For The Legendary Demos, King's career can be divided between her New York years working with Goffin and a move to California where her solo recording career took off.  Revelations from the early years include "Take Good Care of My Baby", which in King's able hands suggest the influence of Gospel music (the dynamic shift of a tidy modulating bridge) and a spoken coda that nods to the Shangri Las.  King's demo effectively leaves Vee's hit in the dust. "Her Crying In the Rain" suggests the Everlys produced by Phil Spector.  "Yours Until Tomorrow", while never a hit, could be a Dusty Springfield outtake or better yet, a gothic-folk gem from Gene Clark-era Byrds.

In many ways King's Tapestry album set the tone for the singer-songwriter era. Turns out she was an engaging performer and could play the hell out of a piano. While Franklin 's version of   "(You Make Me Feel) A Natural Woman" seems definitive, King's demo here works on a slow smolder that rivals Aretha's.  While James Taylor's take on "You've Got a Friend" will be played on elevators until doomsday, King's demo recalls Nick Lowe's original "What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding", as genuine '60s sentiment.

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