Carole King's Progressive Folk Trio the City
Though Carole King's status as one of pop's premier melodists was still strong, by 1967 her marriage to songwriting partner Gerry Goffin was in a state of collapse. Desperate to start over, she took her two daughters and went West – trading New York City's industrial-style songwriting factories for the comparatively laid-back and groovy Los Angeles clique. "Southern California was the center of everything fresh, young, and current," King recalled in her memoir, A Natural Woman. "The beautiful people, the gorgeous weather, the burgeoning music scene, and the free and easy lifestyle were a siren call." She settled in Laurel Canyon, a bucolic artists' enclave inhabited by the hippest musicians in town, and soon fell in with two other NYC transplants: bassist Charles Larkey and guitarist Danny Kortchmar.
Larkey, who would later become King's second husband, had been a member of a pop-rock group called the Myddle Class, which were signed to Goffin and King's label imprint, Tomorrow Records. Following the dissolution of the band, he joined Kortchmar in the provocative proto-punk collective known as the Fugs. Kortchmar, known far and wide as "Kootch," was also a veteran of the Flying Machine, fronted by a talented singer named James Taylor. Both Larkey and Kortchmar had migrated to Los Angeles to seek their fortune, but so far fame proved elusive. To stay sharp they practiced at King's Wonderland Avenue home, running through old Goffin-King numbers in addition to fresh compositions she had written with new collaborators, Toni Stern and David Palmer. For King, whose confidence as a performer lagged far behind her confidence as a songwriter, these loose sessions were a revelation. "Playing with Charlie and Danny was not only fun, it greatly enhanced my jamming skills," she later wrote. "As the number of licks in my kit bag went up, so did my confidence and understanding of jazz. And Kootch had a gift for exhorting other musicians to play, write and sing beyond what they believed was the edge of their ability."
King's track record as a recording artist in her own right was sparse, but Kortchmar and Larkey persuaded her to venture into the studio and cut an album of these new songs. As a nod to their shared East Coast heritage, the trio decided to call themselves the City. "Even though we had a group name, this was Carole's record all the way," Kortchmar wrote in 1999. "She would sing or play parts to Charlie and me, and once we got it right, we could hear how great this record was going to be." For a producer King approached her friend Lou Adler, a onetime songwriter who had graduated into full-blown impresario by producing hits for the Mamas and the Papas, Scott McKenzie, and Barry McGuire on his own labels, Dunhill and, later, Ode Records. With Adler on board, they augmented their lineup with pro session drummer Jim Gordon, later to serve Eric Clapton in Derek & the Dominos.
The 12-tracks that make up Now That Everything's Been Said, the City's sole release, are a bridge between the precision pop assembly line that King was leaving behind, and the highly personal singer-songwriter era she would define in the early Seventies with her seminal 1971 LP Tapestry. The centerpiece is the ethereal "Snow Queen," coupling King's earthy voice with spacey instrumental arrangements and Gordon's jazz rhythms. But changing times didn't diminish her skill at crafting hits; the jaunty gospel of "That Old Sweet Roll (Hi-De-Ho)" would reach the Top 20 in 1970 with Blood Sweat and Tears, the Byrds' version of "Wasn't Born to Follow" was a highlight of the soundtrack to the film Easy Rider, and the Monkees later delivered a stirring cover of "A Man Without a Dream."
Despite the strength of the songs, and significant industry attention, the album didn't sell. "I was 26 when Now That Everything's Been Said was released in 1968," King wrote in A Natural Woman. "[We] expected it to zoom to the top of the charts within, at most, a few weeks. Individually and together, we optimistically imagined the album's success as if it had already happened. Danny and Charlie kept telling each other, 'It's a great album. The City is gonna be Number 1 with a bullet!' The album didn't get above 500 with an anchor. It never even charted." King has since admitted that her reluctance to tour due to extreme stage fright may have doomed the record, although label distribution snafus likely didn't help matters. For decades the disc remained out of print, largely at King's request. The City would not issue another album, but the project would embolden her confidence and cement the creative relationships that helped pave the way for her reinvention as a solo artist.