So, how do you top an album that sold 25 million copies worldwide, won four Grammy Awards, and spent 15 consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart? Such was the dilemma that Carole King found herself in when she went back into the studio to record the follow-up to Tapestry. The answer, of course, was that you don’t, but you can come very close.
Carole King released Music a mere 11 months after Tapestry. Since its release, for better or worse, it has always been associated with her greatest work. When put in that context, it comes up just a little short. When taken on its own merits, it was a brilliant album in its own right, eventually selling four million copies worldwide and topping the United States album charts for three weeks.
It was an intimate album that exuded warmth. Her vocals were passionate and soulful. The music was simple and the lyrics had intelligence about them. It’s not really a cohesive album as the material traveled in a number of musical styles and directions, but most of the songs, when taken individually, have a simple elegance.
I don’t know if I would rate Carole King as one of music’s great pianists, but she gets the job done. Her music on this album was simple and the preciseness of her playing was the perfect backdrop. She was the vocal and instrumental center of the album and her piano and voice go hand in hand.
The best two songs were “Sweet Seasons” and “Song Of Long Ago.” The first was a successful single that was filled with catchy piano hooks and presented the joys of life. The second, with background vocals by James Taylor, was really a folk song as it talked about family, friends, and time passing. It is one of those songs that I would like to ask the artist what she thinks about it 40 years later.
There were a number of other songs to like here. “Brother Brother” and “Carry The Load” both had some social bite, and the first had an R&B flavor. “It’s Going To Take Some Time” was a lush hit with strings by the Carpenters, but I have always preferred King’s simple and sparse rendition. Likewise, “Some Kind Of Wonderful” was a huge hit for The Drifters during 1961, but here she turned this old Goffin/King composition into a beautiful and soulful love song. “Surely” was the album’s longest track, which gave her the time to develop and tell a story.
Music is many times over shadowed and underappreciated but it remains a minor classic. If you have only been exposed to Carole King through the music of Tapestry or one of her compilation albums, then Music is a good place to begin to know her a little better.