Carole King: The Legendary Demos
Not many artists deserve the title “legendary.” Carole King, whose second solo album, 1971’s Tapestry, went on to sell 25 million copies worldwide and was #1 on the Billboard charts for 15 straight weeks, is certainly worthy of that distinction. Prior to becoming one of the most successful female solo artists of the 70’s, King was a highly sought-after songwriter, co-writing tunes covered by the Shirelles (“Will You Love Me Tomorrow), Little Eva (“The Loco-Motion”), The Drifters (“Some Kind of Wonderful”) Aretha Franklin (“(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”) and James Taylor (“You’ve Got a Friend”). Even The Beatles, the greatest band of all time, covered King, recording “Chains.”
Thirteen of King’s early compositions appear on The Legendary Demos, including six destined for Tapestry. Many of the demos feature just King alone in the studio, on piano, which coats the tunes with an intimate “you are there” feel.
One of King’s most recognizable solo hits, “It’s Too Late,” is given a slower, more desperate reading, but the sinister signature piano figures before each verse are already in place. King sounds more emotionally invested in the demo for “Way Over Yonder” than she did in the final version, and the song’s gospel influence is more evident. Aretha Franklin may own “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” but King’s expressive vocals undoubtedly helped point Lady Soul in the right direction.
The artists that covered King’s songs used her demos to structure their own hits, so King’s performances accentuate the song’s structure and lyrics. What makes Demos a worthwhile listen are the early recordings of songs by a teenaged King that didn’t make it onto her own albums, such as “Crying in the Rain” (the Everly Brothers), “Take Good Care of My Baby” (Bobby Vee) and “Just Once in My Life” (the Righteous Brothers).
Demo’s gem is “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” a #3 hit King wrote for the Monkees. King’s vocals are more melancholy, less cynical (and more intelligible) than Micky Dolenz’s. Instead of opening with electric guitar, King’s demo commences with an acoustic intro and her arrangement focuses on its overlapping harmonies, sold drumming and fable-like lyrics.
Listening to The Legendary Demos is like watching Picasso paint a masterpiece. It tunefully illustrates why Carole King is considered one of the queens of popular music.