Tapestry by Carole King

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Tapestry by Carole KingAfter spending most of the 1960s writing hits for other artists, Carole King started a solo career at the dawn of the 1970s. Her 1971 second studio album, Tapestry, became her breakout work as a phenomenal commercial and critical success. This multiple Grammy Award winning album features a dozen tunes written on piano,  mostly new, but also a few classics from King’s hit-making days in the sixties. And those hit-making days continued as two singles from the album topped the pop charts.

King was born Carol Klein and she was musically inclined from a young age. She attended high school with Paul Simon and he helped record her first promotional single in 1958 called “The Right Girl”. Another high school classmate Neil Sedaka, who King had dated, had a hit in 1959 called “Oh! Carol”. When in college, King met Gerry Goffin, who became her songwriting partner, husband and father to her daughters. In 1960, King and Goffin wrote the Shirelles’ hit “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, which became the first Billboard Hot 100 number 1 hit by an all female black group. Further hits followed through the 1960s for various and diverse artists ranging from Little Eva to Bobby Vee to the Drifters to the Monkees. In 1968, Goffin and King were divorced and Carole relocated to Laurel Canyon, CA and formed a music trio called The City with Danny Kortchmar on guitar and future husband Charles Larkey on bass. The City produced and released a single album in 1968, Now That Everything’s Been Said.

While in Laurel Canyon, King befriended fellow musicians James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Toni Stern, who encouraged her to launch a solo career. In 1970 King released her debut solo album, Writer, to minor commercial success. In January 1971, King recorded Tapestry concurrently with Taylor’s album Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon with both records using many of the same musicians. Tapestry was produced by Lou Adler (King’s longtime publisher and founder of Ode Records) Lou Adler, who wanted the album to sound like the simple demos she recorded through the years with her piano and vocals in the forefront.

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Tapestry by Carole King
Released: February 10, 1971 (A&M)
Produced by: Lou Adler
Recorded: A&M Recording Studios, Hollywood, January 1971
Side One Side Two
I Feel the Earth Move
So Far Away
It’s Too Late
Home Again
Beautiful
Way Over Yonder
You’ve Got a Friend
Where You Lead
Will You Love Me Tomorrow?
Smackwater Jack
Tapestry
A Natural Woman
Primary Musicians
Carole King – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
Danny Kortchmar – Guitars, Vocals
Curtis Amy – Saxophones, Flute, Strings
Charles Larkey – Bass
Russ Kunkel – Drums, Percussion

Built on choppy piano octaves and jazzy overtones, the opener “I Feel the Earth Move” introduces the hook right away and it is repeated often as King shines with melodic vocals and lead piano throughout. The song was released as a double A-sided single along with “It’s Too Late”. Together, this single became one of the biggest mainstream pop hits of 1971. “It’s Too Late” features lyrics by Stern and is driven by Larkey’s bass and the subtle rhythms of Joel O’Brien. The lyrics describe the end of a loving relationship with a musical arrangement that blends pop/jazz with the soft folk of the L.A. music scene.

“So Far Away” is a simple and beautiful piano ballad with limited arrangement done expertly with just enough moody counterbalance added to King’s piano and vocals. A very slight flute by Curtis Amy closes out the song. The short “Home Again” seems like a natural companion song to “So Far Away” with slightly more vigorous vocals. “Beautiful” abruptly follows as a show-tuny tune, not quite as cohesive as the prior excellent compositions, but entertaining nonetheless. “Way Over Yonder” is built on a slow, 3/4 bluesy waltz and features gospel-tinged backing vocals by Merry Clayton.

Carole King

The second side features several songs made popular by other artists, starting with “You’ve Got a Friend”, which was recorded by Taylor during the same duo-album sessions and became a number one hit for him, while winning Grammy Awards for both King and Taylor in 1972. Carole’s version features both Taylor and Mitchell on backing vocals. King’s new version of her first songwriting hit, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”, features a slower and more methodical delivery, while her version of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” does an outstanding job stretching her own vocal range without going over the top or trying to replicate the hit version by Aretha Franklin. The balance of the album includes “Where You Lead”, featuring a second lyrical contribution by Stern with an upbeat pop/rock arrangement, the upbeat folk/rock of “Smackwater Jack” which features a fine electronic piano by Ralph Schuckett, and the haunting but beautiful “Tapestry”. This folk-based title track is almost religious in nature with a bare-bones musical arrangement and lyrical metaphors on the nature of life, death and resurrection.
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Tapestry is one of the 100 best-selling albums of all time, with over 14 million sales worldwide, achieving Diamond status in mid 1990s. After it’s initial release, it remained on the Billboard charts for 313 weeks, the second most weeks to chart behind the 724 weeks of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. Barely 30 years old, Carole King would continue to have success for decades to come, but this album was her career masterpiece.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums.

 

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Brand New Day by Sting

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Brand New Day by StingSting‘s sixth solo record, Brand New Day was a 1999 critical and commercial success that ultimately earned a Grammy Awards for both Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. The album is filled with tracks of generous length composed through an easy approach and recorded with expert studio production. The result is a multi-million selling Top 10 album that closed out the decade and century on a high note for the former Police front man.

Sting decided to leave the Police (albeit unofficially) after the tremendous success of 1983’s Synchonicity II and the subsequent stadium tour. The trio agreed to next concentrate on solo projects with Sting’s 1985 debut The Dream of the Blue Turtles achieving multi-platinum success. Sting was now an established solo artist who collaborated on several other pop projects and allowed him to transcend the Police as a pop icon. 1987’s Nothing Like the Sun was nearly as successful as its predecessor as was the Grammy winning 1993 album (his fourth solo effort), Ten Summoner’s Tales. However Sting’s 1996 album, Mercury Falling was a commercial disappointment.

Producer Hugh Padgham was originally slated to produce the album which would become Brand New Day, but Sting changed direction and decided to co-produce it with Kipper. The album was recorded in various European studios throughout 1999.


Brand New Day by Sting
Released: September 27, 1999 (A&M)
Produced by: Sting & Kipper
Recorded: Il Palagio, Italy, Studio Mega, Paris, Right Track Recording and Avatar Studios, New York City, Air Lyndhurst Hall, London, 1999
Track Listing Primary Musicians
A Thousand Years
Desert Rose
Big Lie, Small World
After the Rain Has Fallen
Perfect Love… Gone Wrong
Tomorrow We’ll See
Prelude to the End of the Game
Fill Her Up
Ghost Story
Brand New Day
Sting – Lead Vocals, Bass, Synths
Dominic Miller – Guitars
Kipper – Keyboards
Manu Katché – Drums
Vinnie Colaiuta – Drums

Brand New Day by Sting

 

A long synth swell intro leads to the percussion driven verse of “A Thousand Years”, with Sting’s voice oft mimicking the string melody. The hit “Desert Rose” follows and the world influences are evident with an Arabian feel to it throughout. This song, which features a duet performance with Algerian singer Cheb Mami, was a hit worldwide including the Top 20 in the UK and the US.

“Big Lie, Small World” is a jazzy song throughout with choppy guitar and bouncy bass under a fine melody leading to an equally fine horn lead to complete the track. “After the Rain Has Fallen” is the most upbeat and most intense song thus far as a funk/rock arrangement with strong hook and more subtle use of synths, while “Perfect Love… Gone Wrong” ranges from cool jazz to French rap but the novelty wears thin pretty quickly.

Sting

The real heart of the album comes on its original second side, starting with “Tomorrow We’ll See”, a fine track which builds in intensity as it maintains its cool jazz format throughout. “Fill Her Up” is where the album takes its biggest left turn with a lyric heavy Western arrangement with catchy melodies and rhythm, featuring guest James Taylor and pedal steel guitar by BJ Cole. “Ghost Story” at first sounds like Medieval English folk but then morphs into a more pop oriented love song for another interesting track, This all leads to the closing title track “Brand New Day”, as Sting saved the best pop song for last, with Stevie Wonder‘s harmonica adding a perfect compliment.

Following the success of Brand New Day, Sting found continued success as a solo artist into the new century and finally reunited with the Police for a world tour in 2007.

1999 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.

 

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Harvest by Neil Young

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Harvest by Neil YoungHarvest is an album of Americana personified by Neil Young. It is where rock and roll goes to Nashville (literally), with simple and tight rhythms and subtle acoustic guitars are flavored by distant steel guitars and harmonica all under clearly vocalized lyrics about the simple struggles of life. This was the fourth studio album by the Canadian native and included a rich list of contemporary musicians who provided cameos on the album. It was Young’s most successful album commercially, becoming the best selling album of 1972 in the US.

After his brief stint with the super group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Young recruited a group of country session musicians, whom he would name “The Stray Gators”. These included pedal steel player Ben Keith, bassist Tim Drummand and drummer Kenny Buttrey, all of whom would reunite for Harvest Moon, 20 years later in 1992. In contrast to this “Nashville” sound, Harvest also includes two tracks featuring the London Symphony Orchestra and were produced and arranged by Jack Nitzsche.

The project began in February 1971 when Young traveled to Nashville to appear on the Johnny Cash television show. He was approached by producer Elliot Mazer, who had just opened Quadrofonic Sound Studios and wanted him to record at the studio. Being a fan of the Nashville studio musicians known as “Area Code 615”, Young made the decision to start recording that very evening. As it turns out, most of those musicians had gigs that night (it was a Saturday), Mazer had to “scrape up” the three players who would become the “Stray Gators”. Young re-recorded some of the new material he had used the previous month on a live recording at UCLA in California. Although it got off to a quick start, the album would not be completed and released for over a year due to a back injury that Young suffered.

 


Harvest by Neil Young
Released: February 14, 1972 (Reprise)
Produced by: Neil Young, Elliot Mazer, Henry Lewy, & Jack Nitzsche
Recorded: Quadraphonic Studios, Nashville, January–September 1971
Side One Side Two
Out On the Weekend
Harvest
A Man Needs a Maid
Heart of Gold
Are You Ready for the Country?
Old Man
There’s a World
Alabama
The Needle and the Damage Done
Words (Between the Lines of Age)
Primary Musicians
Neil Young – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Harmonica
Jack Nitzsche – Piano, Guitar, Orchestration
Ben Keith – Pedal Steel
Tim Drummand – Bass
Kenny Buttrey – Drums

 
The simple rhythm of “Out On the Weekend” grabs you from the beginning with Drummand’s bass guitar and Buttrey’s kick drum locked in perfect time. This mellow country two-step is followed by the even more gentle country waltz Of the title song. Harvest brings you onto the farm with a great melody by Young, who offers uplifting lyrics in a portrait of vulnerability and sincerity.

The two Nitzsche produced orchestral tracks may try a bit too hard to contrast with authentic Nashville sound. “A Man Needs a Maid” sounds authentic enough at first with just piano and vocals but soon morphs into an overblown orchestral section which strays far from the theme of simplicity. Lyrically, the song contrasts the fears of committing to a relationship with simply living alone and hiring help. “There’s a World” is not quite as deep and drifts far too much towards the Moody Blues on Days of Future Passed, trying to be dramatic and operatic.

The song “Heart of Gold” was released a month before the album and would go on to top the charts. It is pure pop with country flavoring and just a dash of Dylan with the ever-present harmonica, a sound which did very well in 1972. The song features backup vocals by James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, who were also doing the Johnny Cash show the same night as Young, and agreed to come to the studio to “help out”. Taylor and Ronstadt also provide vocals for “Old Man”, the most philosophical and musically deep song on the album. Taylor further provides banjo on this song which Young wrote about an aging caretaker of a ranch Young acquired in the early 1970s. The song is both haunting and poignant, as the 24-year-old sees some of the same needs and desires he has in the old one.

Young also wrote a handful of electric guitar based tunes for the album, while maintaining the same basic rhythm section. “Are You Ready for the Country?” starts with boogie piano introduction by Young and morphs into a loose jam with good slide guitar to end the first side. “Alabama” is a sequel to “‘Southern Man” from Young’s 1970 album After the Gold Rush. It contains some harmonies from ex-band mates David Crosby and Stephen Stills and is probably the hardest rocking song on the album musically. Lyrically, it tackles the history of prejudice in the state and sparked an answer by Lynard Skynard in the song “Sweet Home Alabama”, who address Neil Young directly in that songs lyric.

“The Needle and the Damage Done” is the only live recording and the most haunting song on the album, with lyrics that speak of a friend’s descent into heroin addiction. Young said of the song;

I am not a preacher, but drugs killed a lot of great men…”

Unfortunately the mood of the subtle “Needle” is abruptly broken by the weak mixing into the album’s closer “Words (Between the Lines of Age)”. This song features a lengthy guitar workout with the band with multiple improvised solos and alternating time signatures between standard 4/4 and the more unusual 11/8 for interludes.

The mood on Harvest is melancholic with songs that describe the longing for new love. The success of the album was met by Young with extreme mixed feelings, who was never one to play the role of “pop star”. Whether by design or by fate, Young never again quite hit the commercial success of this 1972 album, although he certainly put out several more quality works.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1972 albums.