The Meaning Behind “It’s Too Late” by Carole King

Carole King released Tapestry, a songwriting masterpiece, in 1971. “It’s Too Late” stands out alongside her other well-known hits: “You’ve Got a Friend,” “I Feel the Earth Move,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” 

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King’s underrated debut album Writer (1970) established the hitmaker as an artist. Tapestry made her a legend. “It’s Too Late” is King’s voice, front and center. First, she found success penning hits for other artists to sing. Now the hitmaker was the star.

She had moved from New York City to Los Angeles to revive her recording career. Living in Laurel Canyon, she met James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and her future songwriting partner, Toni Stern. King was a reluctant performer but the new friendships helped her grow a solo career. 

“It’s Too Late” is the ultimate breakup song. And breaking up never sounded or felt so good. 

The Meaning Behind the Song

“It’s Too Late” is an admission. The relationship is over and there’s no one to blame. There’s a sadness to the resignation in King’s voice when she sings, Though we really did try to make it

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

King famously divorced her songwriting partner Gerry Goffin in 1968. The divorce and breakup of the successful songwriting partnership was independence for King. A behind-the-scenes songwriter now makes it on her own album cover. 

“It’s Too Late” is a true-to-life soft rock ballad. Though 1970s folk rock is easy listening, King’s lyric is profoundly sad. She uses a Tin Pan Alley melody to deliver the sound of broken love. On Tapestry, she became the soundtrack for life’s most intimate moments. 

It used to be so easy, livin’ here with you
You were light and breezy, and I knew just what to do
Now you look so unhappy and I feel like a fool

A Songwriter’s Writer

King wrote “It’s Too Late” with lyricist Toni Stern. Stern also co-wrote Tapestry’s “Where You Lead”—a hit for Barbra Streisand. 

Recorded at the legendary A&M Studios in Los Angeles, “It’s Too Late” was produced by Lou Adler, who started King’s label, Ode Records. The recording sessions for Tapestry overlapped with James Taylor’s Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon. Taylor covered “You’ve Got a Friend” on Mud Slide, becoming his biggest U.S. single. 

Two more songs from Tapestry were already hits for King as a songwriter. Aretha Franklin’s classic rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” in 1967 and The Shirelles’ single “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” in 1960. 

King’s voice doesn’t have the technical prowess of Aretha Franklin. But there’s self-assured positivity in her singing. It’s the sound of a lazy fall day, cozy and inviting. King’s piano playing is pensive. “It’s Too Late” was recorded in ’70s analog amber, moved forward by a steady drum beat. The guitar solo sounds lonely, too. A preview of independence: King doubles the guitar solo with vocal do dos. She’s confident and ready to step out on her own. 

A tale of folk-rock feminism, Tapestry has King on the album cover. She’s alone at home in Laurel Canyon, holding a hand-stitched tapestry next to her cat. 

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

Critical Reception

Tapestry won four Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year for “It’s Too Late.” The single went No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts and was certified Gold by the RIAA. Critically and commercially successful, The Recording Academy inducted the song into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003. 

British electronic duo Quartz landed in the UK Top 10 in 1991 with their cover of “It’s Too Late” featuring vocalist Dina Carroll. 

Conclusion

Carole King’s brilliance is featured on “It’s Too Late.” Her signature piano style and instinct for vocal melody are a masterclass in hit songwriting. King’s easy and honest voice is the sound of vibe and emotion. 

“It’s Too Late” recalls the final moments of a loving relationship. The ending is a new beginning. King steps out on Tapestry. She is like a bird being set free.

Photo by Scott Gries/ImageDirect

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