The Essential Carole King

carole-king-mainThat Carole King needs a boxed set of her individual hits and demo recordings along with an additional box of covers and demos and out-takes goes without saying. In the double liner notes to this Essential Carole King release there are two pages from Harvey Kubernik (author of the 2004 tome “This Is Rebel Music) and two pages from former Rolling Stones producer/manager Andrew Loog Oldham. Oldham comments that “Carole’s demos set out a musical map of ideas for the artist, the producer and the arranger…a guide for making the record.” Oldham also makes a special point that “…with hubby Gerry Goffin, (King) was as prolific and chart-storming as the Beatles would be.”

So true! And as Carole King’s “Greatest Hits” packages continuously reiterate her blockbuster Tapestry album, the King collector has a bit of a double-edged sword at play. Yes, we love hearing “You’ve Got A Friend”, “So Far Away” and the Toni Stern couplings repeatedly, but decades after the fact there are numerous compilations to choose from. This one is superb, but let’s give a brief history before jumping into it. 1978’s Her Greatest Hits: Songs of Long Ago was the start of the documentation but is one of the most deficient – how can you pack so much into such a small space? 1994’s A Natural Woman: The Ode Collection (1968-1976) did a much better job – including the original 60’s hit “It Might As Well Rain Until September” along with a live rendition of “Up On The Roof”. There’s a 36 track version of this release noted on and that epic includes her band The City’s renditions of Up On The Roof and Hi-De-Ho. In between there are many recordings which find their way to collectors in markets that are shades of gray…and sifting through them is as delightful as it can be maddening.

The 18 tasty, very tasty, tracks from Carole King on this set get a renewed appreciation 39 years after Tapestry broke records and broke new ground… as Wikipedia correctly states…four Grammy awards, ten million sales and a sparse production from Lou Adler of Spirit and Rocky Horror Picture Show fame, this disc covers the magic though that period as well as what happened before and after. Now That Everything’s Been Said by The City is the album which preceded Writer, and Writer the album which came right before Tapestry. That wonderful Now That Everything’s Been Said has key nuggets that need to be included in “greatest hits” or “essential” packages. Where Blood Sweat & Tears recorded for Columbia their rendition of Hi-De_ho is conspicuous in its absence, a Top 15 hit from August of 1970 that would fit nicely here – either Carole’s version or B S & T’s classic. And then there’s King’s own 1973 45 RPM “You Light Up My Life” (not to be confused with the #1 1977 hit by Debby Boone courtesy of songwriter Joe Brooks and original singer, the late Kasey Cisyk, the actual voice in the soundtrack, not the actress who looks like she’s singing it in the film). It is missing as is the Top 30 “Believe In Humanity” from 1973. “Hard Rock Cafe” and “One Fine Day” from the Capitol Records period (1977) are also m.i.a., but, again, you can expect this when it is a collection of two single discs, one from Carole, one from some of the artists who covered her. To get a grasp of how much music is out there read my review of the Carole King Pearls album in the book The All Music Guide to Rock: the definitive guide to rock, pop, and soul By Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra, Stephen Thomas Erlewine…for Pearls is an important album…and the fact it didn’t follow Tapestry immediately is something that puzzled this observer, fan and critic.

Why Carole King didn’t milk the goldmine, her illustrious catalog, right after success of Tapestry was an error in this critic’s opinion. It wasn’t as much of an intentional blunder as Lou Reed releasing Metal Machine Music after his RCA successes, but it was also not as strategic as Michael Jackson and The Rolling Stones in respect to being able to totally package entertainment for the now-rabid fan base. The 1978 collection of Pearls was seven years after the fact, a lifetime in those hot Top 40 days of the seventies, though nebulous in this new millennium when music moves slowly through the maze of so much competition.

King’s version of “Hey Girl” on Pearls is majestic and would have fit nicely here, though the “Will You Love Me Tomorrow/Some Kind Of Wonderful/Up ON The Roof triple play with James Taylor from a live show are certainly delicious morsels to absorb and appreciate.

Seeing Billy Joel’s name attached to “Hey Girl” is not as horrifying as it sounds…for one of the millions of the anti-Joel coalition out there it is a complete surprise that this gem from his third volume of Greatest Hits is so good, Joel more of a selling point these days than Freddy Scott’s Top 10 1963 break-through hit. Hearing The Shirelles, Gene Pitney, The Everly Brothers, Maxine Brown, The Drifters, The Chiffons…it is all a superb trip down memory lane. The Byrds and Dusty Springfield covers are not as well-known to the general public, but they are classic pieces of production and songwriting that fans of both artists cherish dearly and if the world gets an introduction to those masterpieces, all the better. Just listen to those guitar sounds on The Byrds’ track. The Monkees amd The Righteous Brothers have righteous placement here…and what a coincidence that this writer just interviewed Margaret Ross Williams of The Cookies less than two weeks before receiving this package with her immortal track which inspired The Beatles to cut “Chains”

One of the greatest hit records of all time is included here, Little Eva’s immortal “The Loco-Motion”…not Grand Funk (superb on its own), not Kylie Minogue, but the original which is still the greatest. Up there with “Hey Jude”, “The Twist”, “Stairway to Heaven” and “Louie Louie” as an indelible artifact of the 20th Century, “The Loco-Motion” and the songs from Tapestry and everything over, under, sideways down about this Essential Carole King Collection is superb and leaves one breathlessly waiting for a boxed set or two.