Carole King. The name instantly conjures up a couple of images. First and foremost, we think of the groundbreaking singer-songwriter that created “Tapestry,” one of the best-selling albums of all time. Secondly but no less importantly, we envision half of the Goffin-King songwriting team, one of the most successful writing partnerships in Twentieth Century pop music.
Mention the name Carole King around me, and I certainly associate the two obvious points above, but I very quickly reflect on The City. Oh, you’ve never heard of The City? Don’t feel bad. Few have. But once you’ve experienced The City, you’ll wonder how you missed out on it all these years.
I knew nothing of The City until one random day, poking around the old Borders store in my old haunt of West Lebanon, New Hampshire. You see, in the early 2000s, Borders had a fairly impressive music selection. Enough that I could grab a latte from the café, drink the whole thing, and still be sailing the seas of the CD racks an hour later, trying to narrow down what I was going to buy. One day, I happened to see a reissued album, filed in the “C” section. It had a vintage look, a shot of two men and a woman in front of an old car carcass with typical typography of a late 60s album cover. A closer look and I could clearly see the woman was Carole King.
Like many millions who appreciate good music, I was already an owner of “Tapestry.” This was an intriguing find for me. A quick scan of the tracklisting revealed a number of familiar song titles: “Snow Queen,” “Hi-De-Ho,” and “I Wasn’t Born to Follow,” a song I knew very well from The Byrds “Notorious Byrd Brothers.” Purchasing this was a no-brainer, having never heard her own takes on these tunes.
The City was made up of King on piano, vocals and songsmithing, bassist Charles Larkey, future sideman-to-the-stars Danny Kortchmar on guitar, and future tragic figure Jim Gordon on drums. Lou Adler produced the album for his own Ode label. From the jazzy opening swells of “Snow Queen” to the leisurely longing of “Wasn’t Born to Follow,” I was hooked right away. Released in 1968, this was the Seventies Singer-Songwriter album before it was actually a thing. Yet as much as Carole King dominates the album, this is the work of a unified band, as well. Sadly, it never sold, apparently due to an untimely record label distribution switch (and failure to secure rights to said album), and a general reluctance to tour the album.
I gave this album a listen while tidying up the evening’s kitchen mess, and remembered especially how much I love the track “Why Are You Leaving.” The song’s breezy pathos is really quite striking; nothing on “Tapestry” sounds quite like this, even if songs like “It’s Too Late” covered similar emotional ground.
Good music knows no season, but I tend to gravitate toward my favorite singer-songwriters in the fall. I have a feeling this one’s going into rotation on my leaf-peeping adventures in the next month. Yeah, I’ll still bring a Hawkwind album with me. Lemmy likes crisp autumn days, too. Probably.