By Brian Ives
Earlier this month, Carole King was one of the recipients of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors award at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, along with filmmaker George Lucas, actress/singer Rita Moreno, conductor Seiji Ozawa, and Broadway star Cicely Tyson.
Tonight, the ceremony airs on CBS. Among the artists paying tribute to King will be James Taylor, Sara Bareilles, Janelle Monae and Aretha Franklin, and that lineup reveals how King’s music has spanned genres and generations (this was also on display when King was honored as the MusicCares Person of the Year in 2014).
King was a hugely successful behind-the-scenes songwriter before starting her own career as a recording artist. Here, then, are five of her songs recorded by other artists, and five sung by King herself (and we won’t draw all of them from her classic 1971 album Tapestry) and one that’s both of the above.
The Beatles – “Chains”: Carole King and her husband/songwriting partner Gerry Goffin wrote this song for a group called the Cookies, but it was later covered by the Fab Four, with George Harrison taking lead vocals.
The Shirelles – “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”: One of her most iconic songs. The Shirelles’ version, a #1 hit in 1960, was straight up pop that seemed to be about a teenager hoping that her relationship lasts and isn’t just a fling. Ah, youth! King later recorded her own version on Tapestry, and that sadder, slower, version seemed inspired by the dissolution of her marriage with Goffin. Among the many covers of this song was one by Amy Winehouse for the soundtrack of Bridget Jones: The Age of Reason.
Little Eva – “The Loco-Motion”: One of King/Goffin’s most rocking songs, it was a huge hit in the ’80s when Kylie Minogue recorded it, and in the ’70s thanks to Grand Funk Railroad. But the best version is the first one, which was a #1 hit for Little Eva in 1962.
The Animals – “Don’t Bring Me Down”: Another rocker from the King/Goffin cannon became one of the legendary British band’s signature hits.
Aretha Franklin – “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”: The gold standard of soul and pop: written by King and Goffin with Jerry Wexler and sung by the Queen of Soul. It doesn’t get any better than that. Many others have taken a crack at the song in the decades since, but no one holds a candle to Aretha’s original.
“Child of Mine”: From King’s 1970 debut album Writer, it’s the rare pop song about being a loving, tolerant and responsible parent. “You don’t need direction, you know which way to go/I don’t want to hold you back, I just want to watch you grow.” Is there any lovelier sentiment that a mom has written to her child in a song?
“Jazzman”: We could have gone with Lisa Simpson’s cover from The Simpsons season 6; while it’s not a great version, it does show the effect that music, played well, can have on those who appreciate it. And that’s kind of what the song is about. But Carole’s own version, from 1974’s Wrap Around Joy, is the best.
“You Can Do Anything (featuring Babyface)”: From King’s most recent album of new songs, 2001’s Love Makes the World. It’s a beautiful collaboration between two of the most comforting voices in pop music. It showed that King, five decades into her career, was still writing great songs.
“I Feel the Earth Move”: One of her sexiest, and funkiest songs, this 1971 #1 hit (written by King on her own) from Tapestry allowed King to show off her piano playing skills (but she still gives guitarist Danny Kortchmar some space to rock out as well).
“It’s Too Late”: The flip side of the “I Feel The Earth Move” single, literally. While the former is about the excitement of a relationship while it’s going well, “It’s Too Late” (written by King with lyricist Toni Stern) laments the dissolution of a relationship. “I can’t hide, and I just can’t fake it” would be devastating to actually hear from your soon-to-be-ex. This was also from Tapestry, and also went to #1 in 1971.
Carole King and James Taylor – “You’ve Got A Friend”: King wrote and recorded it for Tapestry, although her friend James Taylor had the bigger hit with the song when he covered it on his 1971 album Mud Slide Slim; he had a #1 hit with the song. The best version, however, is when the two friends perform it together, as they did on their 2010 tour.
Watch the tribute to Carole King tonight at the Kennedy Center Honors on CBS at 9 pm ET.