CD Review: Carole King’s “Legendary Demos”

 Carole King

Legendary Demos (Hear Music/Concord Music Group)

by Devon Wendell

Carole King has earned legendary status under her own name as a singer/songwriter since her first solo album, Writer, in 1970 and her most critically acclaimed and top selling recording, Tapestry, in 1971. Prior to that she earned her stripes as a songwriter in NYC for Don Kirshner’s Aldon Records, creating hits for some of the most influential musicians of the 60s and 70s.  These artists included The Monkees, Aretha Franklin, The Turtles, The Righteous Brothers, Gene Pitney, Bobby Vee, and dozens of others.

Hear Music/Concord music Group has finally released King’s original demos ranging from the early to the mid-‘60s (with her then writing partner and husband Gerry Goffin) through the Tapestry era. It was well worth the wait.

Some of the demos are recorded with just King on vocals and piano and others with some top session players such as Al Gorgoni: guitar, Charles Macey: guitar and bass, as well as Garry Chester and Buddy Saltzman on drums.

The early 60s demos not only shine a light on the stellar songwriting chemistry between King and Goffin but also the effect they would have on producer Phil Spector, who was churning out hit after hit.

From the very first tracks recorded with a band, we go right into the heart of ‘60s pop with 1966’s “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” soon to be covered by the Monkees, and 1967’s “So Goes Love,” a hit for The Turtles.

What is immediately evident from the start of this historic collection is that the power of King’s performances makes you temporarily forget about the other artists who made these songs famous.

There’s a sense of vulnerability, longing, and sensuality to King’s vocals and piano playing that is beautifully haunting. This is especially clear on performances of  “Yours Until Tomorrow” (Covered by Paula Wayne) from 1966, and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” from 1967, before it was taken by Aretha Franklin and put on the map of pop music history.

King’s grasp of composition and arrangement is astounding, with or without a band backing her. She knows exactly how her songs are supposed to sound for herself and other artists. The proof is in her solo Aldon demos, from 1961’s “Take Good Care Of My Baby,” (which is far more soulful and introspective than Bobby Vee’s hit version) to sketches of songs that would later appear on Tapestry such as “Beautiful,” “It’s Too Late,” and the pure gospel of “Way Over Yonder.” It’s these recordings that are the highlights of this collection.

By the late ‘60s, King had divorced Goffin, moved to California, and signed to Screen Gems-Columbia Records (which had bought out Aldon Records). And much of the material recorded for Tapestry was written by King with California based songwriter/poet Toni Stern.

Throughout The Legendary Demos It feels as if you’re right there in the room with King with every nuance, hook, and chorus. There’s also none of the bubblegum pop feel of a lot of the chart toppers of the day who were made famous by these songs.  King’s piano playing is as tough, clear and confident as the strongest gospel players of and before her time, including that of Aretha Franklin’s — without losing dynamics.

King has always had the key to the universal song that would last forever and appeal to all genres of music from rock, soul, gospel, blues, pop, folk, and even jazz.

This is an historical collection for all music lovers to enjoy, from past to future generations to come.  King alone on piano singing this never before released rendition of “You’ve Got A Friend” is an apt description of her music.

Photos by Jim McCrary. 

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