Carole King is not primarily a lyricist. Primarily, she's a composer.
Now you'll read the hack books from time to time and come across some idiotic nonsense like "Carole King sat down at her typewriter and wrote Tapestry."
That's incorrect. Carole did write the lyrics to some songs on Tapestry (such as "You've Got a Friend" and "So Far Away"); however, the reality is that many more were not written by her.
And if I haven't shocked you (and some "rock critics" may be shocked because they repeat so many lies so often they apparently don't even realize it when it makes it into one of their books), let me go further. In the sixties, when Carole was writing hit after hit, she was the composer.
Gerry Goffin (not "Jerry Goffin" as one idiot refugee from Rolling Stone wrote in a book that's key element was "self-embarrassment) wrote the words, Carole wrote the music.
I don't know if it's a "girl's are so much better at verbal" nonsense vibe that assures them that King must have written lyrics and brought in composers as co-writers or if they're just lazy. But Carole is primarily a composer.
If there's still any doubt, put The Living Room (her new, double disc, live album) into your CD player. Cue up track four on the second disc. "Sweet Seasons."
I'm going to bet that a lot of you know the song. Maybe some fans of the song, including me, can play it on the piano. It's a great song to play, it's a great song to sing along with. It's a fun song but it's got a bit of truth in it, a bit of reality.
Or it did.
"What the f**k!" screamed Sumner.
"Start that over!" yelled Toni.
Maggie hadn't noticed.
Dak-Ho wasn't sure what he'd heard.
I don't know if it's enough to spoil The Living Room for you, but it's a problem. Maybe it will demonstrate finally to everyone who couldn't catch on before that Carole King is not primarily a lyricist.
In case you don't remember this 1971 hit single (off the album Music), it starts out:
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose
And sometimes the blues get ahold of you
Just when you thought you had made it.
Or it did, this song with lyrics by Toni Stern and music by Carole King. It did start off that way.
The Living Room Tour, we're told in notes and in Carole's spoken remarks between performances is the result of small performance during 2004 where she was usually in the room with one or more politicians. She was fundraising and getting the word out. She did that for John Kerry and other candidates.
There's nothing wrong with that. I voted for Kerry. Carole's always a performer who makes a point to be counted at election time. If this album was a recording of one or more of those performance, I'd roll my eyes and get over it.
E-mails keep asking, "Don't you love this album?" I so do not love this album. I so do not love this album that I don't intend to listen to it again.
"There's one word that politicians do not like." Carole says something like that as she sets up "Sweet Seasons." They don't like it and Carole strikes it. The word "lose."
Politician's don't like the word "lose." Well tough on politicians unless this album was made to be handed out to Congress.
Nobody gave me this album, I bought it. I bought it because I love Carole King's work.
She's ruined "Sweet Seasons."
She can't even see that. If she could, she'd have picked another track to include instead of "Sweet Seasons." If she could grasp how she has destroyed the song, she'd want to hide it away.
At best, it should have never been heard until a multi-disc boxed set needed something to round out the fourth disc.
If Carole was primarily a lyricist, she wouldn't have made this mistake.
She can sing whatever she wants for politicians, but this album is supposed to be for the fans. She's going to the well and pulling out some older songs, she's trying to please fans.
Maybe some will be pleased. Myself, I haven't been so enraged since I saw "Revolution" used as a commercial for Nike on TV.
Carole always seems like a warm, friendly, sweet woman. I've seen her onstage many times. I feel bad for pointing out the obvious here, that's she ruined "Sweet Seasons." I hadn't planned to. I put the CD away (under old Lemonheads CDs if that gives you an idea of how little I intend to ever listen to it again). I was planning to make my next review about Aimee Mann's new album (which I love). But people kept writing about it. "What do you think, Kat?"
And as more e-mails came in, it was obvious that I couldn't be diplomatic and just be quiet. A few people are angry about the CD but only one's noted why: "Sweet Seasons."
Sometimes you lose.
That's life, Carole.
It may offend a politician's delicate ears, but among non-politicians it was popular enough to reach number nine on the pop charts in March of 1972.
And that's because, sometimes, you do lose.
Instead, Carole's now singing:
Sometimes you win, sometimes you win
Sometimes the blues get ahold of you
Oh just when you thought you had made it.
Okay, let's point out reality again: sometimes you lose.
Why would the blues get ahold of you otherwise? If we all win (she sings that, or babbles it, later), what's the point of blues? Ennui?
Outside of Steely Dan, no one selling ennui quickly springs to mind.
But forget the actual words for a moment, Carole's also trashed the melody. "Win." "Lose." Which one sings? "Lose." Which is why, in the original version, it's held twice as long as "win."
That's the melody. She screws up the melody.
Instead of being ba-bah-ba-bah-ba-bah-ba-BAAH, it's now ba-bah-ba-bah-ba-bah-ba-bah.
Even if she couldn't have grasped how insipid her word choice would make the song sound, she should have grasped the melodic change she was making to the song.
If you play the song, that's the part you play, over and over during the verse. She screwed up the whole song in terms of melody.
And, according to her recorded statements, she did so because politicians don't like "one word:" lose. Was that worth screwing up a song on an album that people are paying money for?
I don't think she grasps how much she's destroyed this song.
If she needed to act as the Marianne Williamson of the Barnes & Noble listening set, she could have chosen a word that kept the melody. (And one that actually sung -- "win" doesn't sing.)
Instead, politicians didn't like "lose" so she pulled it and shoved the first thing she could think of -- something that required no thought at all.
"They don't like 'lose?' What'll I sing instead? Oh, I know, 'win!' I'll just repeat win! 'Sometimes you win, sometimes you win!'"
We started the song over to listen again, sure that we must have misheard. We hadn't.
And just when you think it can't get worse, she revists the scene of her crime -- apparently so the whole world can grasp how she's destroyed the song. This compulision leads her to offer not the second verse of "Sweet Seasons" but some kind-of first verse, kind-of babbling (yes, I said "babbling"):
Sometimes you win
You know we're going to win
Most times you choose between the two
But we're not wondering*
We're America and you know we're going to make it.
Is this Carole King singing "Sweet Seasons" or doing a "The Pride Is Back" commerical for Chrysler?
And what "two" is being chosen "between" when the choices are "win" or "win?"
Carole King haters, and there are a lot of them, have often trashed her as "Pollyanna-ish," as "out of touch" and more prone to greeting cards than songs. Who knews Carole would elect to prove them right?
That's what she does here. This is hideous. This is destructive. She should be embarrassed, not out plugging this album. Toni Stern should be embarrassed. As the lyricist, it was Toni's job to protect the song's lyrics.
Tell her she can sing whatever she wants at her fundraisers, but don't let her put this down for posterity. Forget Toni, did no one else around Carole have the guts or sense to tell her she was trashing not just the song, but also her own image?
Songs can be changed. They can be reworked. Not just musically (adding a Latin or calypso beat/feel) but lyrically as well. A writer may want to update a work to reflect wisdom they've gained (or think they have) since they first wrote the song. I'm not a purist about that. At a concert, I don't scream out, "You changed the f**king words, man!"
Even if I end up thinking, "You have not gained the wisdom you think you have" after they're done with their reworking, it doesn't make my blood boil.
This did. And Sumner, who hadn't taken his copy out of the plastic, immediately returned it.
This isn't a great album to begin with for a number of reasons but her trashing "Sweet Seasons" makes it a hideous album. The first time she sings her win-win line, the audience is captured laughing. Did Carole think she was Fanny Brice?
This was a song you sung along with and thought, "True that." It was about the life you want and the life you get and the hope you have that you will get better at some point.
Now it's just a ditty about win-win. With babbles tossed in. It's embarrassing. And anyone who was primarily a lyricist would have been embarrassed to sing it.
What's the rest of the album like, Kat?
As long as I'm letting it rip, can someone please tell Carole no one needs to hear "Chains" again in their lives. The Beatles recorded her song (words by Gerry Goffin). Yeah, we get it. We got it years ago. We got it when she was doing it in concert in the eighties in a doo-wop manner while wearing a poodle skirt. We got in the nineties in some sort of mixture between that and a hard driving rock song. (I'm not kidding.)
Everybody repeat after me, "Lennon & McCartney recorded Goffin & King, Carole King never recorded Lennon & McCartney."
We all got it? Good. Now maybe Carole can drop the insipid song that's wasted time on the lineup of far too many concerts.
I knew "Chains" would be on this album. I didn't need the TV commercials for the album to know it. You can't see her in concert without her coming to the mike (she doesn't stay at the piano for this song). So you know you're stuck with it. Buy a ticket, know you're going to have to hear that piece of crap one more time.
You might not get "Up on the Roof" or even "Don't Bring Me Down," but you know you're stuck with "Chains."
But the commerical tells you that you also get "Take Good Care of My Baby," "It Might As Well Rain Until September" (a bigger hit in England, but her first singing hit in this country), "Go Away Little Girl," "I'm Into Something Good," "Hey Girl," "One Fine Day" (which she actually remade in the early 80s and landed just outside the top ten with) and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow." They don't tell you that all those songs come in a medley.
A medley, that might be fun, right?
Wrong. In concert, she usually does a bit here and there connecting them with spoken details. On this album, she starts the medley that way but quickly drops it. So we're left with bits of songs. And sorry, there's no tapestry they get woven into.
Considering that "One Fine Day" remains her last big hit, I think people may rightly feel cheated that it's reduced to this medley. "I'm Into Something Good" just passes by. She's got no reason to perform it apparently because she brings nothing to it. ("Hey Girl" she sings, as she usually does, with amazing power, but she sings very little of the song.) In the past, when you heard "Take Good Care of My Baby" and then, right after, "It Might As Well Rain Until September," she would explain that it was basically a rewrite of the same song. That explanation isn't on the album. So why are the songs paired together on the album?
A new song, "Loving You Forever," seems promising. Then it gets handed over to a Lee Greenwood sound-alike (Gary Burr) and you're left wondering why he was even on stage with her, let alone recorded for posterity. Their voices don't mix. They don't even mingle.
Burr comes back to destroy "You've Got A Friend." If the message here is supposed to be, "I wrote this song and James Taylor took it to number one" (his only number one), we get it. We all know that already. But, as Maggie -- of all people -- pointed out, "Why is Carole giving the best part of the song over to some nobody?"
I have no idea. Maybe her voice needed a rest. But the section he sings is the most emotional part of the song, the part where her voice always rises and breaks. And the audience that paid to hear Carole at the concert and the people buying this disc have a right to feel disappointed that she's handed over the strongest part to some guy I doubt most of us have ever heard of.
Daughter Louise Goffin comes out to sing a duet of "Where You Lead I Will Follow" (forever known now as the theme to The Gilmore Girls). Louise is actually a strong singer. She's also a talented writer. For whatever reason, she's never broken through. Though she sings the duet well enough, I seriously doubt mother & daughter duets are going to help her career. Still, it's one of the few highlights on this album -- the other ones are "Lay Down My Life" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman."
(Then again, I could have never predicted The Judds.)
"Pleasant Valley Sunday!" She does that song, Kat!
Yes, she does. And I was looking forward to that. I thought I'd heard her perform it in concert in years past. I must either be remembering wrong or she just wanted to have fun this go round. As I remember it, she invested it with a detachment that made it work on a new level.
Here, she's competing with The Monkees to see who can sound the most stupid. (And Carole wins, sadly, mainly because she never gets into the melody but makes it all about the surface.)
In concert, it's always seemed like she never grasped how amazing "I Feel the Earth Move" was as a recording. Sometimes, she'll use it as an excuse to step away from the piano and start jumping around onstage. I honestly wish she'd done that here. Instead, she's pounding away like the song's nothing but pounding. It's so overdone that it's frightening.
Kat, isn't there anything to praise?
Her piano playing with the exception of "Pleasant Valley Sunday" (all surface) is strong throughout.
"Lay Down My Life for You" is rescued from Colour of Your Dreams. (Don't e-mail me, "Colour" is how the word's spelled in the title -- she must have been feeling British.) I'm less enchanted with "Wishful Thinking" than she is. (I was less enchanted with it on Colour of Your Dreams as well. I can think of three songs off that album that were more effective.)
She seems to be going for a mood. And she seems to be choosing by lyrics to get the theme across. That explains "Being At War With Each Other" (a song that should only make a brief appearence in a medley) and "Peace In the Valley" (ditto).
Obviously, she could do an album (maybe a double-disc one) on just her sixties catalogue. That might make for a better album. Or she could pair it up with one disc being sixties, one being seventies.
But before she records a live album again, somebody better sit her down friend to friend and explain that "deep" lyrics (written by others) don't make for a good song. People aren't reading the lyrics while someone performs. They're at a concert for the songs. That means the music has to be strong to whatever song you choose.
So next time, she should pull "Venusian Diamond" off Welcome Home (the weirdest thing she's ever written musically -- weird in a good way, she compared it to her attempt at Lennon & McCarthy) or "Time Gone By" (from the album of the same name). And if she wants to go all Eagles and grab a peaceful, easy feeling, someone should remind her that she achieved that (and a message) with her seventies hit "Been to Canaan" (which doesn't make an appearance on the double disc set). Digging into the sixties, "Keep Your Hands Off My Baby" and "Some Kind of Wonderful" are both more musically interesting than some of the songs she's selected for this double disc set. (As is anything off her first album, Writer.)
Unless I've forgotten one, there have been only three studio albums since 1989. "Ain't That The Way" would probably be too "realistic" for some politicians, so she might want to consider redoing "I Can't Stop Thinking About You" (City Streets). "Tears Falling Down On Me" would probably make some politicians blanch and changing it to "Puppies Falling Down On Me" might seem good since everyone likes puppies, but puppies falling might frighten off a candidate so better to skip that and focus on something like "Just One Thing" (Colour of Your Dreams). "Love Makes the World Go Round" (from the album of the same name) is pure corn mush, so naturally it ends up on The Living Room Tour. There's really nothing to suggest from that album -- her last studio album. "Monday Without You" might be too much of a downer and "An Uncommon Love" (which she sang as a duet with k.d. lang) might scare off the pols.
But having done two live albums in eleven years (three discs), it's probably time for someone to suggest that "The Locomotion" though a fun song, isn't a requirement for a live album. Someone might also explain to her that the lyrics she wrote for Time Gone By say more than any "Peace in the Valley" or "Being At War With Each Other." Musically, the songs are solid and if she's missed it, "You Still Want Her" and "Eagle" lyrically top much of what makes it onto The Living Room Tour.
Look it, maybe you'll love The Living Room Tour. Maybe you'll be able to stomach the destruction that is "Sweet Seasons." But the idea that Carole is once again going to be sitting down at the piano and performing in an intimate manner requires strong songs. Sure, the TV commerical got me excited. Jess and I learned of this album from C.I. and we both love Carole King's work so were were both thrilled at the thought of her doing a live album, double disc, revisiting some of her finest songs. I asked Jess what he thought and he said, "I'm still waiting for that album."
I wasn't expecting Tapestry. I was expecting a mature artist to revisit her past and find richness and wonder in what she presented. The concept for the album was a good one. It just wasn't executed properly.
Sometimes you win
Sometimes you win
Not on this album. Maybe on the next one she can say, "Screw what the politicians like, this one's for my fans." Carole King still has something to say. The two new songs prove she can still write. Certainly "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" demonstrates that when she's paying attention to the music, she's unbeatable. Somewhere along the line, she or someone decided that what her fans really wanted, really needed, was a scattering of songs guaranteed to make everyone (especially politicians) feel good. Regardless of the song, it's always been her dedication to the music that's given you the warm feeling. I wish I could tell you to rush out and buy this album. As it is, I'm now scared off the Carly Simon album coming out today. Though hopefully, Carly will have enough sense not to write in the liner notes: "this is the version that is designed not to offend policitians."