By her own admission, Carole King is consumed with writing these days more than music. After publishing her memoir A Natural Woman in 2012, the enduring singer, songwriter and pianist is at work on her first-ever novel. But earlier this month, she returned to a piano — and even her long-ago workplace — for her first new recording in seven years.
At the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Ultimate Women’s Power Luncheon in San Francisco in September, King appeared alongside Hillary Clinton to raise funds for congressional candidates. King played a short set that included her classic “You’ve Got a Friend” and “One (2018),” a rewritten and tweaked version of “One,” a deep-cut ballad from her 1977 album Simple Things.
On the newly recorded version premiering at Rolling Stone, King retained its original reference to injustice but added a new, optimistic last verse: “At the end of the day, we’ll be able to say love won.” On the heels of her performance of the song at the benefit, King, a stalwart Democrat who’s lived in Idaho for decades, wanted to release the song in time for the upcoming midterms. She spoke with Rolling Stone about her motivation and hopes for the track.
I was thinking about this song before the luncheon. I was going to sing a few things, and given the political climate, this song kept coming to mind. I don’t remember what was going on politically or in the world [in 1977] when I wrote it. Injustice hits me inside and I’m frustrated when I can’t correct it. That’s who I was then and who I still am and who I hope I will always be. I don’t think it was a political song. I was into civil rights and had a stand against the Vietnam War, but I didn’t start working with politicians or knowing them personally until 1984 with Gary Hart.
I went back and played [the original record]. I thought the second verse in the older version wasn’t really relevant [lines include “I go through phases when I realize/It wouldn’t be wise to try and bring it down”] and the bridge was always too long. At first I thought we should just edit the bridge, but then I thought, “What could I write for the last verse that would speak to today and speak to the election, and even beyond the election? What can we do?”
“There is a climate in the Republican Party of complicity with the leader of the country, who is inspiring people to violence … This song [is] an antidote to that climate.”
I need a reason to make music and I haven’t had one. I’ve been working on a novel. It’s the journey of a woman who is not me but has my worldview and some of my life experiences, but isn’t in the music business. It’s about her optimism and the environmental movement, which is the other half of my life. I’ve had some amazing experiences on Capitol Hill, both good and horrible, and this book will give me a chance to talk about them. The novel has been taking up most of my creative energy. But when I’m called [to make music] I go, and I was called to do this one.
In the new last verse, I sing, “We’re gonna run/Reach for the sun.” And yes, run – I’m speaking to the candidates, but it could also be for people who want to stand up and vote for something. That’s why I wrote it. At the luncheon, it sounded like people loved the song, and I liked playing it again and I liked the message, so I thought, “I’ve got to record this.”
So there we were in Studio B at the Jim Henson Company Lot, which used to be called A&M. I recorded all of Tapestry there. The piano is the same one from then, and the minute I sat down at it, it was magical. I pressed into service my two daughters Louise [Goffin] and Sherry [Kondor], both of whom sing. I wanted to enhance the line “We are one” with more voices, so we sang it over and over. I still tear up when we I get to that part.
“I’m praying for an outcome that will have a mitigating effect on all the fear and hatred. And I hope that this song will empower people in a way.”
Last week, we had violence in the form of explosive packages sent to Democrats. There is a climate in the Republican Party of complicity with the leader of the country, who is inspiring people to violence. That is fact. There is lots of tape. I see this song as an antidote to that climate. In its gentleness, the song reminds me of “Imagine.” I didn’t write it as “Imagine,” but it has a similar quality to it. I see it as empowering people who feel hopeless to do whatever they can as one person. If nothing else, they can vote for Democrats and change the climate of our country.
I live in a red state. [Democratic gubernatorial candidate] Paulette Jordan is getting unbelievable traction. It’s an uphill battle, but people are energized, and she’s gotten support from some unlikely places. I know a lot of people in Custer County, where I lived for 36 years. They’re mostly Trump voters, but we have so many things in common: education, health care. They want the best possible opportunities for their children. They’re on their side of the political line and I’m on mine, but we have so much in common, like caring for our neighbors. When a guy got burned out of his trailer, people came together. I came and sang and people who had only $2 in their pocket gave him $1. I now live in a bluer community, because the epic snows of 2017 made the road to where I live collapse and I couldn’t stay there, but I keep the people of Custer County in my heart, always.
One of the things I want to encourage with this song is that people find the comity between them, find what they have in common and talk to each other with respect and listen to each other. I don’t know what’s going to happen with the midterms, but I believe there are more people who want the best and who will vote for a more positive political climate. There are many things playing against us — interference from other countries and blatant, naked voter suppression. But I’m praying for an outcome that will have a mitigating effect on all the fear and hatred. And I hope that this song will empower people in a way. Many of us feel powerless and I want to say you do have the power of one, and when you put your power of one with other people’s, you really do have the power.