The Essential Carole King

Carole King

Ode/Epic/Legacy, 2010

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The Essential Carole King sounds like it should be the name of an unauthorized biography rather than a record album.  It’s hard to imagine an artist more essential to the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s than the woman who wrote Top Ten hits for artists as diverse as the Everly Brothers (“Crying In The Rain”), The Drifters (“Up On The Roof”), the Monkees (“Pleasant Valley Sunday”) and Aretha Franklin, (“[You Make Me Feel Like] A Natural Woman”) – and then went on to record and release an album of her own (1971’s Tapestry) that both virtually invented the singer-songwriter genre and was the best-selling album of all time for more than a decade.

Essential?  You’d better believe it.

The adjective holds up just as well when applied to this collection as when applied to its author.  The Essential Carole King is split into two discs, one (“The Singer”) featuring King’s own recordings, while the other (“The Songwriter”) presents familiar recordings of many of the hit songs she penned for others, often in collaboration with former husband Gerry Goffin. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The first disc effectively encapsulates the long arc of King’s career as a solo act, beginning with the demo-like 1962 single “It Might As Well Rain Until September,” followed by a single cut (“Child Of Mine”) from 1970’s formal solo debut Writer, and then diving headlong into a quartet of hits from Tapestry.  To this day these four cuts – “I Feel The Earth Move,” “So Far Away,” “It’s Too Late” and “You’ve Got A Friend”-- remain the beating heart of King’s songbook, immortal compositions that disarm with their directness and sincerity, still offering familiar comfort after all these years.

The rest of King’s tremendous early-’70s run is well-represented here with melodic mid-tempo tunes like “Sweet Seasons” and “Been To Canaan,” as well as upbeat numbers like “Jazzman” and “Nightingale.”  A special treat is the inclusion of a medley of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Some Kind Of Wonderful” and “Up On The Roof” from The Carnegie Hall Concert – June 18, 1971, featuring James Taylor on harmony vocals.  The late going of disc one is the weakest part of this collection, as King tries a little too hard to make herself relevant on 2007’s Love Makes The World album by teaming with Babyface (awkward but bearable) and Celine Dion (yikes). 

Disc two is naturally uneven stylistically – how could it not be with 15 different artists represented – but both fun and revelatory in demonstrating the breadth and consistency of King’s craft as a songwriter.  From the goofy fun of “The Loco-Motion” (Little Eva) to the warm romanticism of “Just Once In My Life” (The Righteous Brothers) to the indomitable spirit of “One Fine Day” (The Chiffons), King’s skill at creating word pictures that illustrate basic human emotions in resonant ways is made clear again and again.

King is back in the spotlight this year thanks to her wildly successful joint tour with James Taylor, and the attention is well-deserved.  One of the premier songwriting talents of her generation, King is not just essential; along with fellow traveler and musical other half Taylor, she’s practically a national treasure.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


I don't have this album, but I give it an A because of the line up you mentioned. Because of personal happenings in my life I feel like she read my mind with "It's too late". I love that song by the Stylistics also, it wasn't written for them, so I'm sure it's not on the set. Any Carole King songwriting fan should check it out on their roun two album.

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