Behind the Song Lyrics: 50 Years of “It’s Too Late,” Carole King

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Released on February 10, 1971, Carole King’s Tapestry remains one of the best-selling albums of all time, selling more than 25 million records worldwide and earning four Grammy Awards in 1972. 

Throughout Tapestry, produced by Ode Records founder Lou Adler, King weaved stories around love and friendship, loss and survival, all in real-time and in real life with hit after hit including “You”ve Got a Friend,” “I Feel the Earth Move,” “Natural Woman,” “So Far Away,” and the more solemn ballad “It’s Too Late.”

Addressing lovers who have grown apart, “It’s Too Late” is the realization that there’s no fixing a relationship and it’s time to go separate ways. 

Stayed in bed all mornin’ just to pass the time
There’s somethin’ wrong here, there can be no denyin’
One of us is changin’, or maybe we’ve just stopped tryin’

And it’s too late, baby, now it’s too late
Though we really did try to make it
Somethin’ inside has died
And I can’t hide and I just can’t fake it

Carole King in the studio (Photo: Jim McCrary)

Though “It’s Too Late” moves through the pains of a breakup, it pays respect to a real attempt at love, and hopes for better days ahead.

There’ll be good times again for me and you
But we just can’t stay together, don’t you feel it, too?
Still, I’m glad for what we had and how I once loved you

King wrote “It’s Too Late” after her own divorce from Gerry Goffin in 1968, following her move from New York City to Los Angeles to start over, but the lyrics were written with the help of friend and musician Toni Stern, who was going through her own breakup.

“Those lyrics are by Ms. Toni Stern,” said King. “And her lyrics really do speak for people going through divorces.”

Written within 20 minutes by Stern, the storyline of the song covered the end of her relationship with James Taylor—who also contributed to Tapestry with guitar and backing vocals with his then-girlfriend Joni Mitchell. (Coincidentally, “It’s Too Late” was bumped after five weeks in the No. 1 position on the Billboard Hot 100 by Taylor’s rendition of the Tapestry track “You’ve Got a Friend,” which was written entirely by King.)

“I wrote ‘It’s Too Late’ in 20 minutes,” said Stern in a 2021 interview on how she would often present lyrics on a notepad to King to compose. “She would take that pad, put it on the piano stand, and within an hour, hour and a half at the most, she would have the melody.”

Today, “It’s Too Late” has been considered one of the 365 Songs of the Century by the RIAA, who also certified the track gold. In 1972, King made history as the first female solo artist to win Record of the Year and Song of the Year for “It’s Too Late” at the 1972 Grammy Awards, while Tapestry, still considered one of the greatest albums of all time, also picked up Album of the Year.

Throughout the years, many artists have picked up “It’s Too Late” with consecutive covers by everyone from The Supremes in 1971, The Isley Brothers in 1972, Issac Hayes in 1973, and later by Gloria Estefan in 1995 and James Morrison in 2006. To date, there are more than 40 recorded covers of “It’s Too Late.”

Photos: Jim McCrary

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  1. Today, February 9, those of us around the world who love Carole are observing her birthday. She might not appreciate me publicizing her age, but she celebrated her 22nd birthday the night the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964!

    • I’d like to wish a great big happy birthday to one of my very favorite singer songwriters “Carol King”!!!!! You and your music has spoke to my soul countless times over the years!
      You have aged beautifully & are still a total knock out to me! Ha!
      Steve Oudean in Anchorage Alaska

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