Singer/songwriter Carole King has had two outstanding careers. Throughout the 1960s she was one of pop's most prolific songwriters, writing the music to songs like the Shirelles' "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" and the Drifters' "Up on the Roof," with most lyrics by her first husband, Gerry Goffin. Then in 1971 her multimillion-selling Tapestry helped popularize the 1970s pop-rock singer/songwriter genre.
King began playing piano at age four; in high school she started her first band, the Co-sines. While attending Queens College in 1958 she met Gerry Goffin, and the two became cowriters. King had written some early singles like "Goin' Wild" and "Baby Sittin,'" but they went nowhere. Neil Sedaka had a hit dedicated to her in October 1959 called "Oh! Carol," but her reply song, "Oh! Neil," stiffed.
In 1961 she and Goffin cowrote "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?," a #1 hit for the Shirelles, and the song has been covered countless times since. The two young writers, like Sedaka, Cynthia Weil, and Barry Mann, wrote their songs for Don Kirshner and Al Nevins' Aldon Music in Brill Building cubicles. They wrote over 100 hits in a range of rock styles, including "Wasn't Born to Follow" (the Byrds), "Chains" (the Cookies), "Don't Bring Me Down" (the Animals), and "I'm Into Something Good" (Herman's Hermits). In 1962 the King-Goffin team wrote, arranged, conducted, and produced the song "The Loco-Motion" for their 17-year-old babysitter, Little Eva (Boyd) [see entry], and it went #1 that summer. That year King made a brief foray into solo recording, but her only hit single at the time was "It Might as Well Rain Until September" (#22).
In the mid-'60s Goffin, King, and columnist Al Aronowitz tried to launch their own label, Tomorrow Records. It failed, but one band they produced, the Myddle Class, included bass player Charles Larkey, who became King's second husband after she divorced Goffin and moved to L.A. with her two children, Sherry and Louise (who launched a recording career of her own at age 19 in 1979 with Kid Blue).
In 1968 King formed a group called the City, with Larkey and guitarist Danny Kortchmar, who had both previously played on three Fugs albums. They also knew each other from the New York club circuit, where the Myddle Class had played with Kortchmar's band the Flying Machine, which also included vocalist James Taylor. The City never toured because of King's stage fright, though they did make one unsuccessful LP on Ode Records, Now That Everything's Been Said. The LP later yielded hits for Blood, Sweat and Tears ("Hi-De-Ho") and James Taylor ("You've Got a Friend," which also appeared on King's Tapestry). Taylor encouraged King to write her own lyrics and finally record solo again, resulting in 1970's Writer, with a backup band that included Kortchmar and others (who later recorded two Atlantic albums under the name Jo Mama). King toured with Jo Mama and Taylor, and they all worked on the 1971 critical and commercial windfall, Tapestry, which had two hit singles ("It's Too Late," #1, 1971; "So Far Away," #14, 1971), won four Grammys, went #1, and stayed on the chart for nearly six years. It remains a solid catalogue performer and has now sold 22 million copies.
King's early-'70s LPs went gold and Top 10 (Music and Wrap Around Joy both hit #1), and in late 1974 she had a #2 hit with "Jazzman" from Wrap Around Joy. In 1975 King wrote the music for a children's program, Really Rosie, and began to write with Goffin again. She switched to Capitol Records in late 1976, and her first album for the new label, Simple Things (#17, 1977), went gold. She began touring with a band called Navarro, introduced to her by Dan Fogelberg, and married her collaborator at the time, Rick Evers, who died of a heroin overdose in 1978.
By then her albums were selling modestly, though she did better with her 1980 Pearls LP (#44), which featured King's versions of some of her best-known '60s collaborations with Goffin, such as "One Fine Day" (#12, 1980) and "Hey Girl." King hasn't had a Top 40 hit since, and she has considerably slowed down her recording and touring schedules. In 1989 Eric Clapton guested on the title single from City Streets. Her 1993 album Colour of Your Dreams was released on her own King's X label and included Guns n' Roses guitarist Slash on the track "Hold Out for Love." For Carole King: In Concert, the 1990 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee was supported by an eight-piece band that included her daughter Sherry Goffin on background vocals. In 1994 she made her Broadway acting debut when she took over Petula Clark's role in Bloodbrothers.
Involved in environmental issues since the '80s, the songwriter was honored at the 1999 star-studded event Carole King: Making Music With Friends —A Concert for Our Children, Our Health, and Our Planet. The following year, she was a guest on fellow Brill Building songwriter Barry Mann's album Soul & Inspiration.
King's music remains an essential part of America's pop consciousness. In 1993 the off-Broadway revue Tapestry: The Music of Carole King evoked the songwriter's biggest hits. A tribute album, 1995's Tapestry Revisited, featured singers such as Celine Dion, Faith Hill, Rod Stewart, and Richard Marx performing songs from King's enduring 1971 record.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
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