Carole 1969-1970, Joni 1970, Carole & Joni 1971-1972 (Chapter 11)

 

Page 307 - Carole King's influence on Lauro Nyro

The idea of Carole King casting herself as a "singer-songwriter" may have been sparked in earnest a year earlier, in the summer of 1968, when Carole first met with Lou Adler.  Lou had remembered how, in the early 1960's, people in the industry loved Carole's demos so much, "I'd loan them out - and never get them back," he says.  "One of the first things Lou did was give us a copy of Laura Nyro's first album, More Than A Discovery", says Charlie, "and we took it home and listened to it a lot."

Like Carole, Nyro was a young outer-borough woman writing her own Broadway - and pop-soul-influenced songs and singing them, accompanying herself on the piano rather than on the now fashionable guitar.  As a teenager, Nyro's a capella group had sung the hits of the Chantels and the Shirelles, including Will You Love Me Tomorrow, which she would eventually cover; and songs on Nyro's first album, like Wedding Bell Blues and Sweet Blindness hint at Carole's influence on her.


 

Page 309 - Carole King plays for James Taylor

The news in Carole's crew was that Kootch's friend James Taylor had arrived in L.A. to record his second album, Sweet Baby James.   Peter Asher asked Carole if she would play piano on James's new album, since James had loved the great Carole-and-Gerry hits.  Carole hardly had to be persuaded; she'd heard James's Apple album and she was a "huge James fan", says Peter.  After three rehearsals, she and James formed, as Charlie puts it, a "musical mutual admiration society."

James didn't just want Carole to play on his album, which she did; he wanted her to tour with him.  "Carole had terrible stage fright; she was very insecure onstage," says Danny.  She would have said no to others, but she couldn't refuse James




 

Page 311 - Carole King performs on stage

Carole King and James Taylor on stage 1970Carole got a taste of performing on the road with James Taylor.  She played piano for him, an anonymous band member.  "Then James would bring her on stage and introduce her as the 'legend' who wrote Loco-Motion and Natural Woman," says Danny, "and you could see his fans going: 'She wrote that?  No way!".  The skepticism-turned-excitement spurred her on.  "Yeah, they're my songs!'  She had no problem after that."

But sometimes those performances became a humiliating trial by fire. As spring 1970 turned to summer and James became more of a phenomenon and a heartthrob (Fire and Rain would reach #3 in August), his fans were not in the mood to put up with any interloper.  "They'd boo Carole; they want to hear James," says writer Susan Braudy, who was along for many of the concerts.  "But Carole would sing and play - Up On The Roof and Natural Woman - over the booing."  As Joni had found with Crosby, Still and Nash, it was hard - so far, at least - to beat the power of a male superstar. 


 

James Taylor 1970Page 311 - James Taylor superstar

By mid 1970, James Taylor was becoming a superstar.  Touted a "new troubadour," he was a hauntingly romantic figure with stringy, uncombed hair, penetrating eyes under thick, straight brows, and handsome, patrician features - the whole look calling more to mind an anguished Civil War deserter than a contemporary rocker.

The effect was compounded by his brooding, tender, somehow classically American songs (his inclusion of Oh, Susannah on Sweet Baby James seemed natural, as if it extended a lineage, some of which - Rainy Day Man, Sweet Baby James; eventually You Can Close Your Eyes; later, Walking Man, Shed A Little Light, and Shower The People - contained a piercing, life-affirming sweetness.  For all his shambling disaffection, there was a rock-ribbed dignity to him - a whiff of the modern-day Gary Cooper.


 

Page 313 - Joni Mitchell and James in New Mexico

In August - Joni flew to Tucumcari, New Mexico, where James Taylor was filming Two-Lane Blacktop.  He'd been calling Toni Stern "Mama" when he'd gotten the role; now Joni was his old lady.  On the set Joni knitted him a sweater vest, which he took to wearing constantly.  He clearly seemed in love with Joni, Susan Braudy says, but later Joni would tell three confidantes that, as one puts it, "he was always judging her harshly; it was almost intimidating."  "Joni said he was very critical of her all the time - and she couldn't take it."

Joni seems to have written This Flight Tonight about that time in New Mexico.  Her "gentle and sweet" lover hurts her with 'that look, so critical," but she regrets leaving almost as soon as the plane takes off.  She replays a tender moment of their watching a star in the sky between the movie set trailers and wants the pilot to 'turn this crazy bird around" so she can return to him.


 

Page 314 - Joni Mitchell and James Taylor in England

Joni joined James Taylor for a couple of months in England at the end of the summer. Peter Asher lived with them in a London flat.  "I have a distinct memory," Peter says, "of listening to Joni play Blue, which she'd just composed on the piano."  Asher thought the song (which Rolling Stone's Timothy Crouse would call beautifully mysterious and unresolved) was extraordinary.  (Its references to a drug addict's "needles" and Joni's proffering a seashell to her lover - John Fischbach remembers Joni giving a seashell to James one evening in L.A. - make it fairly clear that Blue is about James.)  Joni also played her newly composed A Case Of You on the dulcimer - "I thought it was just a masterpiece," Peter Asher says.


 

Page 315 - You Can Close Your Eyes

Joni and James's mutual infatuation was evanescent when they performed at London's Royal Albert Hall on October 28, 1970.  James introduced Joni's songs like a prep school boy awed by his slightly older, more accomplished girlfriend.  As Joni and James tuned their guitars, their talk seemed coyly double-entendred ("Ready when you are, James," she said; "I know....," he answered, to laughter from the audience).  And when he thanked the cheering audience by saying, "You're too kind," he drove home the source of his appeal: those upper-crust manners juxtaposed with the brooding-junkie pathos.  They performed a heavenly duet on You Can Close Your Eyes, which James was said to have written for Joni.


 

Page 316 - Carole King records a solo album

John Fischbach and his friend Andrew Berliner had built their studio, Crystal Sound, and, says John, "I said to Carole: Why don't you be a singer-songwriter like James?"  John's suggestion, of course, was something Carole had already been discussing with Lou Adler.  Carole recorded the album which was forthrightly named Writer

Most of the songs were Carole-Gerry compositions.  There are outright rockers like I Can't Hear You No More and the album-opening Spaceship RacesGoin' Back, with its Byrds-friendly bridge, essentially describes, through her ex-husband's words, Carole's last three years, morphing from a mah-jongg-playing, tract-house-dwelling Cadillac driver to a jam-session-ing, India-trekking Canyon chick.  Eventually is Carole and Gerry's hymn for Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.  The album closes with Carole singing Up On The Roof.  While the other tracks have a garage band feel, in this one alone Carole and her resounding, confident piano stand at the center of the universe, pointing to the approach she will take next.

Writer was almost as much of a failure as Now That Everything's Been Said had been.


 

Page 323 - Carole King writes the songs for Tapestry

At some point in the summer and fall, Carole began doing something new: writing whole songs - melody and lyrics.  She was becoming spiritual; her classes at Swami Satchidananda's Integral Yoga Institute, coupled with trip to India, had led her to meditation.  The songs trace the course of this once conventional young woman's adjustment - with anguish, awe, and finally joy - to the new life she has made, and they celebrate in integrity of improvised "families."

In Tapestry - melodically, a Broadway-tinged story song - the narrator is a young woman looking back on an eventful past ("a tapestry of rich and royal hue").

So Far Way is the first of three songs that puzzle out a new idea of "home".  She has moved clear across the country as if it were no big deal, but in 1970 people are really just two generations away from travel by animal cart.  If you ask the song's question ("Doesn't anybody stay in one place anymore?") at face value, it sounds like the kind of quip uttered by common-sense  housewives in  Carole's childhood neighborhood.

Home Again make the same point, but more worriedly, yet Way Over Yonder seems to say: yes, a crew of renegades from dysfunctional traditional homes cancreate its own nurturing community. You've Got A Friend is a vow of loyalty, leaving no question as to the salience of post-traditional ties.




 

Page 324 - You've Got A Friend

Although Toni and Cynthia weren't crazy about You've Got A Friend, it did have one big fan, who accurately took the measure of its appeal, and for good reason:  his own meaningful friendship with the writer.  When James Taylor heard the song (which Rolling Stone's Landau would later deem "perfection"), he loved it so much that he said, "Damn! Why didn't I write that?" (He would end up recording it; it would be his only #1 hit.)


 

Page 325 - It's Too Late

As for the song that would be the album's monster hit: though Toni often agonized over lyrics (as Gerry had), "I wrote It's Too Late very fast, in a day," she says.  Toni pointedly say that she wrote the heartfelt lyric after her love affair with James Taylor was over (he'd gone on to Joni), but then she carefully adds, "I won't say who It's Too Late is about - I don't kiss and tell."  Whoever inspired it, the lyric expresses a blithe woman's depressed, embarrassed realization that a romance she'd secretly banked on is over.  On the surface she's shrugging and cool - the two of them "really did try to make it" - but the insistent internal rhymes ("inside," "died," "hide") trumpet her hidden emotion.groupie?


 

Carole King with GrammysPage 327 - Carole King's Tapestry Soars

Tapestry was recorded in January 1971, released in early February and by June had sold a million copies.  The single released from it - It's Too Late, backed with I Feel The Earth Move - hit the #1 mark, staying there for five weeks.  Earth Move got almost equal airplay; both sides were hits.  In July, It's Too Late went gold, and James Taylor's version of You've Got A Friend hit # 1.  By now Tapestry has become the # 1 album in America; it would stay in that position for fifteen weeks.

Cynthia Weil puts it this way: "Carole spoke from her heart, and she happened to be in tune with the mass psyche.  People were looking for a message, and she came to them with a message that was exactly what they were looking for, were aching for."

 


 

 

Page 330 - Joni Mitchell's Blue is released

Blue was a more moderate success than Tapestry (it peaked in the Top 20 in September) but accorded Joni legend status in the rarefied world of her musician peers.  After hearing that album "people were throwing themselves at Joni's feet; nobody didn't think she was fucking brilliant," says Leah Kunkel.

Indeed, Kris Kristofferson, who had just given Janis Joplin her post-humous # 1 hit Me and Bobby McGee says, "I was in awe of Joni from the I met her (at the Isle of Wight concert); I thought at one point she was Shakespeare reincarnated."  Kris was so struck by the vulnerability of the songs of Blue, he urged Joni: "Please! Leave something of yourself."  Danny says, "People used to burst into tears when they'd hear it; they couldn't get through it."  And Russ Kunkel says that he and others had come to believe, on the basis of that album, that "Joni was as distinct a woman performer as Jimi Hendrix was a male performer and her effect on the music scene was as bold.  When I heard the songs of Blue, it was the same as hearing Hey Joe or Purple Haze."




 

Page 334 - Joni Mitchell - For The Roses

Joni bought acerage in British Columbia, north of Vancouver, and helped build a stone house in the woods, overlooking Half Moon Bay.  It was here that she would write the songs for her next album, For The Roses.  Five of the songs were about James Taylor.  For The Roses, takes musing account of his celebrity: she remembers how it was at the beginning; he'd slump in that way he had that, Kootch had said, made every woman fall in love with him.  In See You Sometime she describes James as famous and in demand, but reminds him that she had fame first ("I tasted mine"); he had been awed by her.  In Lesson In Survival, she complains about how James's "friends" protect you [and] scrutinize me" as she sank into the "damn timid" pose that was "not at all the spirit that's inside of me."  Blonde In The Bleachers gives his fame the same who-wants-it? treatment that Cole Blue Steel and Sweet Fire darkly gives his addiction.  With these five songs, protesting too much was Joni's best revenge; she was getting James out of her system.

Let The Wind Carry Me describes her ongoing struggle with her judgemental mother, "Mama let go now" she pleads.  In Woman of Heart and Mind, she uses herself (and her secret relinquishment of the baby) to issue feminism's essential statement, a woman is whole by herself.


 

Page 337 - Carole King records her third album

Carole King 1971Shortly before Molly's birth, Carole recorded her third album, Music, with Charlie, Danny, Joel, Abigail, Ralph, and James Taylor joining in again.  On the cover, she's photographed smiling (her face, pregnancy-plump), granny-dressed, and shoeless at her grand piano in her Appian Way living room.  Music was released at the end of 1971 and immediately rose to the top of the charts, reaching # 1 on New Year's Day 1972; its buoyant Sweet Seasons, written with Toni, became a Top 10 hit. 

It's Going To Take Some Time, portrays a woman who knows she's messed up a relationship, has to learn to master the art of compromise, and is on to the next.  The album's full of homage-paying - Carry Your Load channels Laura Nyro; Brother, Brother, Marvin Gaye.  In Surely Carole attempts the blues; she scats in her remake of her and Gerry's Some Kind of Wonderful, she morphs into a piano bar busker on Music.

The most evocative cut is Song Of Long Ago, has a James-inspired melody, and James's la-la-laaaas -sounds like it belongs on Tapestry.  Such comparisons would become her nemesis.