The newest radio documentary from Ingles, it celebrates the 50th anniversary of this landmark album
Tapestry Turns 50, Part One
To kick off our series of stories celebrating the spirit, achievement, success and timeless greatness of Carole King’s landmark Tapestry album, which becomes 50 years old tomorrow, February 10, we are sharing this today, as it’s the perfect way to get this party started.
It’s a link to Paul Ingles’ great new two-hour radio documentary about Tapestry, and a conversation with Paul about Carole King and the phenomenon triggered by this album.
Ingles is a great song champion; his rich, reverent and beautifully musical radio documentaries about our heroes – such as James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and John Prine – are always beautiful and compelling. Now comes this tribute to Tapestry.
As always, Ingles has interviewed a host of musicians, music-writers, experts and more (including myself and also American Songwriter frequent contributor Holly Gleason), and woven their reflections in with the songs themselves to create a two-part two-hour show. As with his others, this is a fun ride, and also a genuinely poignant one, as it evokes not only the music, but that time from which it emerged.
Though Ingles is usually the guy asking the questions, he kindly answered several about this show, this artist, and this mission of honoring great songwriters and musicians in his work.
AMERICAN SONGWRITER: How do you look at Carole King’s legacy and place in music history?
PAUL INGLES: Carole King’s early contributions to rock and pop, crafting the music to Gerry Goffin’s lyrics in the 1960s, were overwhelmingly prolific. Like Anthony DeCurtis said in our special, I am still discovering songs that she co-wrote from that era that I didn’t know about. The latest was “Going Back,” which I heard Nils Lofgren do last year. Sure enough, when I looked to see who wrote it, it was Goffin and King.
And then as she bravely stepped forward as a solo artist, it’s impossible not to see how she, with a smallish cadre of colleagues, essentially designed the singer-songwriter baton that has since been passed along to several generations of artists.
And the mere length of time that Tapestry stayed on the charts, like six years, is, by itself, slam-dunk evidence of how important an album it was throughout the 1970s and moving forward.
Anytime I hear your shows, I am surprised by the power of certain songs, even all these years later. When you do these shows, does that happen to you?
Every one of these deep-dive adventures that I do have me uncovering songs I hadn’t heard before, and re-discovering the power of songs I thought I did know. I purposely try not to just play the hits that everyone knows. Of course, in this case, I was trying to cover the whole Tapestry album, but even within those, there were new appreciations.
Sometimes it’s the comments from my panelists that expose for me the deeper level that I intuitively felt but hadn’t tried to articulate. That is actually the point of the whole exercise. To have careful ears and articulate voices describe why this music, that we casually and generically classify as “great,” is specifically great.
I love, for example, how both Ann Powers and Holly Gleason elevated the civility and sincerity of Carole’s delivery of Toni Stern’s lyrics in “It’s Too Late.” Holly calls it “bloodless” and Ann says “It’s not cruel or angry. It’s just pure regret.”
Having had a few amicable break-ups in my life, I can attest to this song being a purely perfect expression of the necessity of moving on while making a compelling case for not burning down the whole relationship. Then “You’ve Got A Friend” comes along a few songs later and you’re thinking that she could be talking to the same person “It’s Too Late” was talking to earlier.
And Carole’s Writer version of “Up On The Roof” — it always makes me tear up anyway, especially since seeing James Taylor sing it to Carole in her Kennedy Center Honors show, but this time, when Holly Gleason pointed out that “anyone who spent time in a big city knows the song is about survival, and knows it like the back of their hand,” and I place that quote just before Carole sings, “At night the stars put on a show for free…” I just get misty. That combo of the music scholar’s comments woven into the song to underscore the emotion of the experience, that’s what I’m going for.
I hadn’t remembered hearing “Believe in Humanity” before researching songs for this show and it turned into the perfect song to end the show. Especially a live version that was on her Ode compilation where she segues to her “Fantasy End” lyrics from the Fantasy album.
Now that I’ve expressed my soul
I’ll step back into my real-life role
And hope that I’ve brought you back across the line
You may think there’s nothing you can do
To change what’s all too true
But all you have to do is use your mind.
In fantasy, you can be, anything you want to be
And someday our reality will be
As good as Never Never Land.
Words & Music by Carole King
Since Carole was both an artist and also a hit songwriter with Gerry Goffin before becoming an artist, was her story harder to relate than others?
No. Her story is unique because of her purposeful period when she wrote for others with no expectation of performing herself. Others, like Joni, Dylan or Jackson Browne, benefited from other established artists recording their songs to bring more attention to themselves, early on. There are some similarities there, but Carole’s story is pretty special the way it unfolded.
Was there anything you learned about her that was unexpected?
Although I didn’t bring it forward in the special, I was moved that she seemed to make a point to record at least one Goffin-King collaboration on almost all of her albums. She seemed to always be looking back compassionately and appreciatively at her time with Gerry, or maybe even helping him financially by including those titles on her albums.
I didn’t realize she’d recorded four albums in little over two years from 1971 to 1973. Then she wisely stepped back and dialed it back from that hectic pace that might have totally burned her up and out.
Your editing of these shows, and the loving way you fold in the music, is always great. How long does it take you to create a show?
I usually record between 30 minutes to an hour with each of my guest commentators. Then I comb through the raw material and pull out what seem like the gems of observation and trim them down to a manageable length,perhaps helping my guest make their point even more succinctly.
Then it’s a matter of dropping that thought into the show before, during or after a song that totally serves as an example of their point. I’ll come up with a usually-too-long “director’s cut” and then chip away at it, editing it down to a suitable broadcast length of one or two hours.
With the Carole King show, I spent one week getting the interviews done, and a second week for eight 12- hour days to finish in time for this week’s 50th anniversary of the Tapestry album.
In this case, I decided later than usual to do the show once I saw (in American Songwriter’s Legends issue) that the anniversary of the album was February 10, I had to step on it to get it finished. I can work fast if I have to, and have in the past.
Other projects are spread out over longer periods of time. I’ve been working on my Emergence of Jackson Browne for a couple of years, gathering interviews and waiting to talk with Jackson. That will happen soon and I’ll get a program on his journey out when his new album is released in full in June.
When one of the greats passes away, like last year when Justin Townes Earle, Jerry Jeff Walker and Billy Joe Shaver all passed fairly close together, I was able to get a few interviews on each and get the programs done in a few days.
As I’ve described it before, I think of these shows like docent-led museum tours. A good docent will tell you a few stories about a particular painting, then step back and give you time to experience the art for yourself. I try to follow a similar formula in stitching together these programs – and play as much of the full song as I possibly can.
That’s why my programs sometimes stretch to two or three hours. I offer radio stations a tighter one-hour edit usually because it’s hard even to get them to devote an hour away from their regular programming to run one of these specials, let alone two hours.
But the longer versions are always available at www.prx.org for the real fans to get the full effect that I intend.