Not to be confused with Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from the 1995 animated film Toy Story, “You’ve Got a Friend” is a song written by Carole King for her 1971 album, Tapestry.
King’s version is rooted in piano, whereas the version by her longtime close friend James Taylor is recorded with the guitar up front. Taylor recorded it for his 1971 album, Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon. Taylor’s version hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart.
The two versions, which are now inseparable, like best friends, were recorded simultaneously and share the same musicians, including the legendary Joni Mitchell, who sings background vocals on both versions.
The song, which has since been covered by artists like Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Celine Dion, and Donny Hathaway earned Grammy Awards for Taylor and King, who won Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Song of the Year, respectively.
In terms of the writing, King has said that was the easy part. It almost felt like it was written by an entity outside herself, she says.
“The song was as close to pure inspiration as I’ve ever experienced,” she explained to Mojo Magazine. “The song wrote itself. It was written by something outside myself, through me.”
And Taylor told Rolling Stone that King told him the song came after hearing his song, “Fire and Rain.” That line is: I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend.
King has also said she didn’t write it with Taylor or anyone else in mind. It’s just that when he heard it, he knew he wanted to record it, too.
The song lyrics are about platonic devotion. The love for someone else that’s so strong you’d do anything for them. But while this type of love is often expressed in romantic ways about amorous relationships, the song instead highlights friendship above all else.
To open the song, King wrote:
When you’re down and troubled
And you need some lovin’ care
And nothin’, nothin’ is goin’ right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night
In today’s age of online vitriol and divisions across seemingly all fronts, it’s delightful to hear a song about enduring friendship and selfless behavior.
You just call out my name
And you know, wherever I am
I’ll come runnin’
To see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there
You’ve got a friend
(See the full lyrics here.)
What makes the whole thing even more special is that Taylor (73), and King (79), remain great friends today. The two just premiered their new documentary on CNN, Just Call Out My Name, which showcased their friendship and deep admiration, both as people and as artists.
The documentary, which gets its name from the lyrics of “You’ve Got a Friend” follows the two along The Troubadour Reunion Tour in 2010.