Carole King has been something of a straw woman here on Musicwhore.org. When her name was evoked, it was usually in service of describing milquetoast or overly sentimentalized music. Do a search for Onitsuka Chichiro on old versions of this site, and King probably shows up in a paragraph somewhere.
King released her landmark album, Tapestry, a year and two months before I was born. I would have encountered her music on the radio as I was growing up, probably on KSSK alongside Joni Mitchell and James Taylor.
By the time I was old enough to explore music on my own, King’s music had become fodder for TV commercial jingles. A burgeoning art fag such as myself couldn’t help but hold her in disdain.
Gilmore Girls was one of my favorite shows, but when it aired, I had to mute the opening credits. The overly earnest cover of King’s “Where You Lead” is aural treacle.
But Tapestry shows up on critics list everywhere, and it’s not hard to find old vinyl pressings of the album selling for no more than $10. Before it could be jingle fodder, it had to achieve a level of success to warrant such ubiquity.
So when I spotted a copy of Tapestry selling for $1 at Lifelong Thrift Store, I bought it.
And I like it way more than I expected to.
King’s performances are gritty. Subsequent covers and reimagining of Tapestry’s tracks all polish off those rough edges. Onituska inherited that unfortunate legacy, although her own voice brings back some of that burnish.
I imagine Tapestry was the Jagged Little Pill of its day — an album where nearly every track could have been considered a hit single. While Alanis Morrisette’s breakthrough album took a raw, emotional look at heartbreak, King’s Tapestry holds together with an exploration of camaraderie. In both cases, they’re strong performances driven by an artistic clarity.
But it’s taken me nearly most of my lifetime to appreciate Tapestry. In that sense, the album is also a cautionary tale of music commercialization. Exploit a copyright too much, and a listener with little context may not realize that catchy jingle was actually intended to be art.