As both a composer and a performer, Carole King’s place in music history can’t be overstated. Along with Gerry Goffin, she wrote some of the biggest hits for the biggest artists of the 50s and 60s, from Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield to the Monkees and the Animals. Her 1971 album Tapestry is one of the best-selling records of all time, having shifted a massive 25 million copies since its release. Although her output in recent years has been sporadic, she’s still a major influence on multiple generations of singer-songwriters. Here, we take a look at 10 of the best Carole King songs of all time.
10. I Feel the Earth Move
I Feel the Earth Move was released as one half of a double A-side with It’s Too Late. Together, the two songs stormed the charts, peaking at No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and staying there for five consecutive weeks. King’s vocals are a thing of wonder, sometimes harsh, sometimes earnest, but never anything less than arresting. Like most of King’s songs, it’s been covered extensively, with pop singer Martika achieving a No. 25 hit with her version in 1989.
9. It Might as Well Rain Until September
It Might as Well Rain Until September was originally written for Bobby Vee, but Vee’s management decided to bury it away as an album track rather than release it as a single. King’s own management decided it had the makings of a hit and convinced King to let them release her demo version of the song as a single. Released in 1962, it became King’s first commercial success as a solo artist, reaching No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100, and peaking at No. 3 in the UK singles chart.
8. One Fine Day
In 1963, The Chiffions scored a top ten hit with One Fine Day, which King had written with her then-husband and songwriting partner, Gerry Goffin. In 1980, King revisited the song on her 11th studio album, Pearls: Songs of Goffin and King. Although it didn’t chart quite as highly as The Chiffons version, it still performed well, peaking at No. 12 in the Billboard Hot 100 (which, incidentally, was the last time she made it into the top 20). Although it’s never been included in any of King’s “Best Of” compilations, it’s still essential listening for King devotees.
Named by liveabout.com as one of the best Carole King songs of all time, Jazzman got its first airing as the lead single from the 1974 album Wrap Around Joy. A jazz-inflected, saxophone-heavy number, it proved a major commercial hit, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 4 on the Billboard Easy Listening Chart. At the following year’s Grammy Awards, it picked up a nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, narrowly losing out to Olivia Newton-John’s I Honestly Love You.
6. You’ve Got a Friend
As pastemagazine.com says, while James Taylor put a light touch on his version of this classic song, King’s own rendition has a weightier feel, making it one of the most affecting and memorable songs from 1971’s Tapestry. According to King, the song was “as close to pure inspiration as I’ve ever experienced.” Taylor, meanwhile, has said that King was inspired to create the song after hearing the line “I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend” in his hit Fire and Rain. Either way, it was a huge hit for both of them. Taylor’s version peaked at No.1 and won Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Best Male Pop Vocal. King’s version, meanwhile, helped her shift 25 million copies of Tapestry to become one of the best-selling recording artists of all time.
5. Pleasant Valley Sunday
With its irresistible melody and insightful commentary about suburban life, the King and Goffin composed Pleasant Valley Sunday had all the makings of a hit. Which it was… for the Monkees, if not for them. Released as the lead single from the Monkees’ fourth album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, and Jones, Ltd., it peaked at No. 3 in the charts. King recorded her own demo of the song, which was later released on the 2012 compilation album The Legendary Demos.
4. It’s Too Late
Named as one of the best Carole King songs by Smooth Radio, It’s Too Late ranks among the best known and best-loved songs of King’s career. Released as a double A-side with I Feel the Earth Move in 1971, it quickly worked its way up the charts to the No. 1 spot, where it hung on for an impressive five consecutive weeks. Some people have speculated that the song was written about James Taylor – King has never confirmed as much, but regardless of the inspiration, there’s no denying its irresistible grooves or astounding lyrics. If you’ve ever wondered how Tapestry managed to become one of the best-selling records of all time, just listen to this.
3. So Far Away
Tapestry is full of classics, but even on an album as littered with gems as this, So Far Away still sparkles. King’s warm vocals weave in and out of James Taylor’s guitar effortlessly, infusing the song with a sweet sadness that adds an extra layer of poignancy to the lyrics. The addition of some tinkling piano from King is a fine touch, which Russ Kunkel, Charles Larkey, and Curtis Amy providing superlative backing support on drums, bass guitar, and flute. On its release, it hit No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 3 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
2. Will You Love Me Tomorrow?
By the time King got around to including Will You Love Me Tomorrow? on her 1971 album Tapestry, it was already familiar to most pop fans. In 1960, the Shirelles became the first black all-girl group to reach No. 1 in the US with their cover of the King and Goffin composition. Eight years later, The Four Seasons reached No. 24 with their version. Good though both renditions are, there’s something special about King’s version, which features Joni Mitchell and James Taylor on backing vocals. Although she didn’t release it as a single, it went on to become a regular fixture at her live shows.
1. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman
Of all the songs in King’s impressive back catalog, few can compete with (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. While Aretha Franklin turned it into a global sensation, King’s own performance on Tapestry is no less iconic. Her heart-rending, stripped-back reading is a far cry from Aretha’s belt and braces approach, but it’s still sensational. Since then, no end of artists have tried to make the song their own, including Celine Dion and Mary J. Blige. Some of them have come close, but King’s is still the definitive version.