Tuesday, April 24, 2012

CD Review: "The Legendary Demos" by Carole King

The beauty of Carole King’s long-awaited CD, “The Legendary Demos,” released today, is when you unwrap it and push “play,” your every expectation of anticipation and wonderment is met with pure delight and then some. At last, you hear how it was back in the day, the rough studio demo presented to other artists, producers, and label executives for their choosing. And it makes sense why so many people consider her a music genius.

Carole King’s ‘The Legendary Demos’ is a wrap around joy, exceeds expectations

Thirteen songs grace this CD, seven of them chart-topping smashes, and six of them wonderful compositions that are not as easily recognizable, yet they reflect the magic of King’s talent nonetheless. Several of the tunes on this track anchor her life’s story.

In “Pleasant Valley Sunday” I never knew the lyric was: “Creature comfort goals can only numb my soul. I need a change of scenery.” As much as I respect Micky Dolenz’ vocals, with all the musical buildup of the production behind The Monkees’ vocal tracks, I had no earthly idea that this was what he was singing, on another in a series of Carole King and Gerry Goffin compositions for the hitmaker teens of television fame.

At last the lyrics are clear, because Carole is singing them, beautifully, a song beloved for 45 years that is, in fact, the rhythmic anthem of discontent for Gerry Goffin living in a New Jersey suburb, for his family’s sake, when he’d much rather be back in Queens in the middle of the city. The song begins with a guitar, and even has a banjo sound to it. A slightly slower tempo, almost unnoticeable, is found here, vs. The Monkees’ version you’re used to hearing, more frantically paced in the group’s #1 version.

“So Goes Love” is less familiar, but a gentle and pleasant love ballad composed by King and Goffin. Had it been released as a single at the time it was written, circa 1966, it very well could have been a hit, just in how King delivers the message. As becomes clearer in King’s biography, presently at the No. 6 spot on the New York Times’ Best Sellers list, after being out for 2 weeks, for a myriad of reasons, she didn’t see herself as a recording artist, but rather as a songwriter. And that’s what she kept telling herself for the next 10+ years.

In “Take Good Care of My Baby,” sung with feeling, piano chords punctuating the song with charm, you hear the true studio sound. She’s sings “my baby” as though it were her own child. And, she even speaks the end lyrics, as if to make the message even more personal. The piano’s hollow sound in places brings to mind a multistory brick building, indiscriminately placed along rows of hundreds of other buildings in New York. Listening, you believe the only objects in the room were Carole and the piano, and that’s all. And yet, Bobby Vee took this King/Goffin tune and made it his very own. That’s what happens when the right material reaches the right artist: a big hit.

“A Natural Woman” is not only a favorite Aretha Franklin anthem, sung and repeated, wherein all women declare their devotion to their soulmate, but it has to be the highlight of all 13 songs on the CD. To be fair, though, you’ll likely feel that way about each of the tunes before you’re done listening. This song sprang to life as an idea from mega-producer Jerry Wexler, who drove down a street in his town car looking for King and Goffin, who were out walking. Don Kirshner’s Aldon Music-writing stable prizes, must have been predictable at the time. Wexler pulled over, rolled down the car window, and said, “I have an idea for a song for Aretha Franklin. The title is “A Natural Woman.” He then asked the couple a question: “Can you two write that song?”

And then he drove off. You already know the answer. An important reference book to the dynamics of that day and time of King, Goffin, Aldon Music et al. is found in Rich Podolsky’s biography, “Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear.” It’s a view from the other side of the piano that adds important color to the days when these transcendent songs were being created.

“Like Little Children” seems to have a very veiled biographical feel to it; once you read Carole’s biography, then you’ll possibly agree that it could be a Goffin/King song about their real-life relationship. Theirs was a classic love story in many ways between two kids who fell in love but grew up and apart in different displays of their passion and angst. And when they collaborated on a song, others observed and overheard that there were loud conversations and discussions/disagreements before the duo emerged with the final product.

“Crying in the Rain” was written by Carole and Howard Greenfield, a fellow collaborator in the Don Kirshner “brilliant building,” wherein you went to work and were in cubicles nearby your co-workers, most of whom were writing teams, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, Jack Keller and several people, and of course, Goffin and King.

The harmony between Carole and the other female demo singer here embodies the feel of the 60s girl groups’ blending of voices so naturally. The lyrics “...but since we’re not together, I look for stormy weather to hide the tears I hope you never see” are very close to the rhythmic feel of “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” so they have an authentic early 60s feel to them. It has a strong Everly Brothers feel to it as well.

“Way Over Yonder” (Carole King) The solid piano chords, played firmly and with such feeling introduce and hold the feel of this song from the very start. It must be one of her favorites, but it’s not as well known as the others.

“Yours Until Tomorrow” (Carole King/Gerry Goffin) is also a less familiar tune, but not for lack of trying. As respected rock writer, editor and biographer, David Browne, shares in the liner notes that accompany the CD digipak, the song “was recorded by Gene Pitney, Irma Thomas and Cher, among others," and yet it is not one you know. Once you hear it, you will still see why Carole selected it.

“It’s Too Late” (Carole King/Toni Stern), marks the product of Carole’s writing in her home on Wonderland Drive in Laurel Canyon, a new step for her life, having relocated to California so her “Goffin children” as she distinguishes them from her “Larkey children” could be closer to their father.

Toni Stern proved to be an excellent co-writer for Carole, who relished working with a fresh talent during this phase of creating King’s own style of new music. Eventually, Carole would transition back to solo writing, just as she did in her earliest childhood days writing songs for Don Kirshner’s and Al Nevens' Aldon Publishing Company in New York, weekday afternoons after school. But this was the first step along the pathway to finding her own, strong solo voice again.

“Tapestry” (Carole King) represents Carole’s transition from caterpillar to butterfly, with the exceptional producer and label executive, Lou Adler, gently cradling the caterpillar along until she found her way to brilliance. Adler’s best achievement was to preserve every nuance of her songs on that album, including the title track, as Carole herself envisioned them, only better. If ever a verse was characteristic of King’s life, this is an incredibly close encapsulation.

"My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold"

“Just Once in My Life” (Carole King/Gerry Goffin/Phil Spector) is ironic, because you may well have so permanently associated the song as having “belonged” to the Righteous Brothers that it’s virtually impossible to imagine someone else having written it.

The power of that anthem of a man looking for how to hold on to the woman he’s found (“For once in my life, let me get what I want girl, don’t let me down”) just seems to have evolved out of thin air. And yet, Carole King and Gerry Goffin teamed up with Phil Spector and made it dynamic. The “Wall of Sound” feel to the production is powerful, but in fact, Carole’s demo will show, complete with the harmony of her studio singer is every inch the song you heard Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield make it their own.

“You’ve Got a Friend” (Carole King), has become as much a signature of two artists, King and James Taylor, both great friends, both sharing history during troubled times in their lives, as well as overcoming times of despair separately. All these experiences are poured into the tune and woven together most powerfully when they did the song on their successful Troubadour tour.

“The Legendary Demos” is a dynamic, charming revelation of King’s lifelong talent, which she’s worked hard to shape into her imprimatur, a signature of a perfectionist who pours her soul and heart into each of her works until she says, “done.”

Carole King is not as much a legend as she is a young woman who fell in love as a teenager, and stayed there. Her love of Gerry Goffin, of Charlie Larkey, and of life in general because of her music, is ever much who she is, as reflected in her musical biography.

The only thing that makes this any better is to hold her biography, “A Natural Woman: A Memoir” in your hands and read along in your favorite chair, while this is on your CD player.

Comments from original story published on examiner.com

Richard Podolsky · Author of "Neil Sedaka: Rock 'N'Roll Survivor--The Inside Story of His Incredible Comeback" and "Don Kirshner; The Man With the Golden Ear" at Rich Podolsky Communications

It's a shame more demos weren't included. As it is, you can tell what a strong influence Carole KIng's presentation had on the final recordings. In the case of "One Fine Day," which is not included, they used everything but Carole's voice... By the way, Gerry Goffin was adamant that Phil Spector "didn't write a god dam thing" on "Just Once in My Life," but took a writing credit anyway for giving it his Wall of Sound production.--Rich Podolsky, author of "Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear."

Unlike · Reply · 5 · Apr 25, 2012 7:40am

Richard Podolsky · Author of "Neil Sedaka: Rock 'N'Roll Survivor--The Inside Story of His Incredible Comeback" and "Don Kirshner; The Man With the Golden Ear" at Rich Podolsky Communications

Tell him to compare her "take Good Care of My Baby" to Bobby Vee's version and he'll see why vee had a hit.

Like · Reply · May 3, 2012 8:01am

Artie Wayne · H.S. of Music and Art, NYC





"I occasionally baby sit for Carole King, while she’s in the studio doing demos. In return she plays keyboards, arranges, and sings all the background parts on my demos. I remember one day she comes in to play her new song for Donny Kirshner, but he’s still out to lunch. She asks me if I’d like to hear it while she rehearses it.

She sits down at the old upright piano and starts to sing,

“Tonight you’re mine completely, You give your love so sweetly….”.

I sit there as she goes over “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” a few more times, even though I know I won’t be able to write anything of my own for weeks!

Then she’s summoned to Donny’s office. I think he likes it too…I can hear him yelling through the door, “It’s a Smash! It’s a F@#in’ Smash!”.

From Artie Wayne's book,"i DID I IT FOR A SONG" available at AMAZON.COM.

Like · Reply · 6 · Apr 26, 2012 9:19pm

Cal Jennings · Houston, Texas

At least you got to live the dream.

Like · Reply · Apr 26, 2012 9:23pm