10 Songs You Didn't Know Carole King Wrote - Rolling Stone
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10 Songs You Didn’t Know Carole King Wrote

“The Loco-Motion,” Monkees’ ‘Head’ theme and other standouts from legendary songwriter’s vast catalog

Played back to back, Carole King's chart entries would run about five straight hours. And those are just her hits – not to mention album tracks, B sides, and the odd flop. King's career as a songwriter is so expansive that it dwarfs even the monster sales figures of her classic 1971 solo juggernaut, Tapestry, which currently tops 25 million and counting.

King was a musical prodigy, selling melodies to New York City publishing companies while she was still in high school. In college she met Gerry Goffin, destined to be her lover and lyricist for the next decade. Though the marriage didn't survive, their musical partnership weathered the shifting styles of the Sixties, yielding smashes for teen idols and rock bands, big-haired girl groups and big-voiced R&B legends.

King's hits helped make her the most successful female songwriter — and certainly among the most influential songwriters, period – of the 20th century. In honor of King's 75th birthday, we look beyond her immortal smashes like "You've Got a Friend" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman" to spotlight 10 tracks you may not have known she had a hand in creating.

10 Great Songs You Didn't Know Carole King Wrote

“Porpoise Song (Theme From ‘Head’),” The Monkees (1968)

While the duo wrote nearly a dozen songs for revolutionary TV-music-performance project The Monkees – notably the 1967 single "Pleasant Valley Sunday" – Goffin generally regarded these products as inferior "throwaways." But by the time the television show began to wind down in 1968, producer Bob Rafelson approached the songwriters with a more interesting proposition: the soundtrack to the Monkees' feature length film, Head.

Non-sequitur and nonsensical, the film was a bid for serious countercultural acceptance from the exceptionally stoned minds of Rafelson and a young Jack Nicholson, who wrote the script by spit-balling into a tape recorder during a drug-fueled weekend spent with the band in Ojai, California. "It wasn't so much about the deconstruction of the Monkees, but it was using the deconstruction of the Monkees as metaphor for the deconstruction of the Hollywood film industry," Dolenz tried to explain years later.

While the plot may have been an almost secondary concern, hit tunes were still a necessity and Rafelson commissioned Goffin and King to write the film's theme song. By this point the musical team's marriage had imploded and they were residing separately in Los Angeles. "Carole King was living in an apartment building on Sunset Boulevard, and I went to her apartment every day, and we would sit and we would talk," Rafelson wrote in the liner notes to the Head soundtrack's reissue in 1994. "That song was critical to me."

Over gently undulating chords, King composed a meandering melody drawn equally from Eastern modes and Tin Pan Alley. The demo kicks off with her recitation of the Latin Mass of the Dead, a nod to the film's opening scene in which Dolenz leaps off the massive Gerald Desmond Bridge to his presumed demise. From there, she sings Goffin's words, an enigmatic psychedelic hodgepodge.

Goffin produced the song himself over six sessions in early 1968, calling upon 20 musicians – including a porpoise recorded especially for the occasion. The marine creature's trill blended with swooping strings, shimmering organ washes, woodwinds, horns and Dolenz's distorted vocals. The song is about as far removed from Bobby Vee as one could get, but it got the job done. "It is far and away my favorite Monkees song," enthused Rafelson.

10 Great Songs You Didn't Know Carole King Wrote

“If It’s Over,” Mariah Carey (1991)

King's interest in Carey was piqued when she watched the young singer perform her debut single, "Vision of Love," on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1990. During sessions for her second album, Emotions, the following year, Carey was stunned to receive a telephone call from King, asking if she would be interested in recording her composition, "(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman." Aretha Franklin's 1967 original had gone on to become one of the most iconic recordings in R&B history, making it intimidating territory for any vocalist who might attempt it. Carey ultimately demurred because, as she later explained to New York, "Aretha's one of my idols and I felt what she did with the song was an untouchable performance."

Determined to work with the ascending star, King flew from her home in Idaho to New York City for a one-day writing session with Carey. "It was a true collaboration," King told USA Today of the meeting. "I'd come up with an idea. She'd come back with something else. In the end we came up with what we both think is a wonderful song. I love her voice. She's very expressive. She gives a lot of meaning to what she sings."

The result was "If It's Over," an epic slow burn gospel ballad for the ages. Traces of "Natural Woman" are clear in its sparse melody and laid-back rhythm, giving Carey ample room to showcase her five-octave voice. She would perform the song at the Grammys in 1992, as well during her MTV Unplugged set that year.

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