Carole King – Tapestry: Round 69, Nick’s choice

CaroleKingTapestryIt’s my fault, of course; I mentioned that I was on holiday the day after this meeting, and we’re approaching our usual summer break, so Graham said that “holidays” would be the theme. Now, growing up in Dawlish, everyday is a holiday, and growing up the son of Yorkshire folk, holidays are the maddest indulgence of all time, so I don’t have much experience of them; Emma’s dragged me abroad several times (I’m typing this in a log cabin by a lake in Sweden, as it happens), but they always seem like such an expensive faff when you could just stay at home and ride bicycles over Dartmoor every day for a week instead.

So when Graham said that fateful word, I had no inspiration at all. But one album, which I don’t associate with holidays and which lyrically has sod-all to do with vacations, popped into my head, and stayed there. So I decided to play that, rather than force some tenuous link, like I was sure the other guys would do.

And that album was this; Carole King’s multi-multi-multi-million-selling 1971 masterpiece of sophisticated, melancholy pop. I first bought it when I was about 20 or 21 at university, some 30 years after it came out. I knew it was famous, that it had sold a lot of copies, and I recognized a handful of the song titles. I didn’t realise how many of the melodies I would recognize, though, which was pretty much all of them; this is one of those albums that seems to have woven its very DNA through our pop-cultural landscape. Some might say it’s inoffensive, and it is, in that my mum and your grandad and nextdoor’s small children would all find something absolutely pleasant and pleasurable about it, but that’s not a pejorative at all.

Because Tapestry is an absolutely remarkable feat of songwriting (and not a bad feat of production and performance, either); when you realise how many songs Carole King wrote, up there in the Brill Building, for all sorts of other artists in the 60s and early 70s, and then you realise how many of her own performances of her songs are the definitive versions, too, then it becomes apparent just what a massive, seismic talent she was. And perhaps still is; I’ve never investigated beyond this album, because it just seems so perfect and of its time – I’d hate to hear artificial 80s production, for instance, dilute the warmth of her voice and her melodies, which fit so well here under a comfort blanket of homely arrangements played out on piano, guitar, bass, and drums, that sound at once timeless and absolutely of their time.

Possibly the most remarkable thing about Tapestry is how personal and intimate it feels, for a record that has sold so many copies to so many different types of people. Showered with Grammies and diamond discs and included in the National Recording Registry of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States”, Tapestry is one of those rare things – a beautiful record that deserved enormous recognition, and received it. Plus, there’s a cat on the cover.

Rob listened: I don’t expect, reader, that you’ve been following the character development arcs that underpin The Adventures of Devon Record Club, but if for some perverse reason you have you’ll be expecting me to say that i’ve never heard nor felt the need to hear ‘Tapestry’. And you’d be right.

It’s one of the records that people like my parents listened to in the mid Seventies. When I found music, I rebelled against them and I rebelled against music as comfort, as safety. It’s like The Carpenters. James Taylor. To be ignored.

Before tonight I would have struggled to name any of tracks from ‘Tapestry’ with any confidence. I might have guessed a couple. As Nick rightly points out, it’s so woven into the fabric (that’s enough tapestry metaphors – Ed) of 20th century music that I could almost sing along with the entire album on first hearing. And to deny it would be to deny 40 years of pop history and to deny the pure songwriting talent that put together these beautifully simple pieces of craft and gave them to the rest of us. It’s part of all of us, whether we know it or not.

I’m a music snob who deserves everything he gets, and that’s why I love Devon Record Club.

Tom listened: The breadth of musical offerings in evidence at tonight’s meeting just goes to show how rich life’s tapestry is! By the way, Rob, is the ‘Ed’ in your comment, Ed Gore or Ed(itor)?

Listening to Tapestry you could see why it sold a bazillion copies back in the early 70s, why the post-punk generation would have passed it over and why we now look back on it so fondly. Melodically, Tapestry is very reminiscent of Todd Rungren’s early solo albums, I thought, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Tapestry, knew the majority of it already without realising it and am very happy for it to be a set of songs I chance upon every so often…like an old friend I occasionally bump into rather than actively seek out.

Graham listened: Not much more to say than this was magnificent and possibly the most moving collection of songs on one album that I’ve heard since blagging my way in to DRC. It pretty much shut us up, which is normally a good sign. Though I’m still giggling to myself about the four of us sitting listening so intently to “you make me feel like a natural woman”.

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Author: sickmouthy

Thinks the internet is rubbish.

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