Carole King Biography - Beginnings to 1960 (Chapter 1)


Page 30 - Carole takes piano lessons

Carole King began taking piano lessons the year that Tenderly, Come Rain or Come Shine and Zip-a-Dee Doo-Dah were playing on the radio.  The mainstay of her piano education were the Broadway songbooks of Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers.


Page 34 - Brooklyn Girls Slow Dancing

Carole King gave parties in her family's basement - "and they were packed," remembers Barbara, especially during rounds of Spin the Bottle.  Eventually, these parties that Carole and other kids gave had lots of touchy-feely going on, to get 'felt up' in the ninth grade was a first step to three or four years of fending off the pull of sex, a tension made all the more fraught by the new sleeper hit Earth Angel by the Penguins, to which everyone was slow-dancing.  The sensual, pleading song - so different from those genially corny white hit parade staples - sounded like nothing those Brooklyn girls had heard before.


Page 34 - Overnight Shift in Popular Music

"On Monday there was this other music; on Tuesday there was rock 'n' roll."  That's how The Band's Robbie Robertson once described the seemingly overnight shift in popular music in mid-1954.  One day middle-aged white writers were cranking out saccharine pop songs like How Much Is That Doggie In The Window, Mr. Sandman, and the trusty Shrimp Boats, which were presented, by was of live skits, on TV's Lucky Strikes-sponsored Your Hit Parade...and the next day the world changed.  White teens started listening to, and demanding, an alternative: black music.  (This overnight change can also be illustrated by the fact that in January 1954 an unknown Elvis Presley was recording Joni James covers: just a few months later, his raw, plaintive That's All Right Mama was making good on his producer Sam Phillip's dream of finding "a white man who had the Negro sound and Negro feel.") 


Page 35 -  Soul Starved White Kids

Starting in 1954, DJ's and Record companies began serving up R&B for the soul starved white kids.  In the culture-jolting synthesis that emerged, blacks did the innovating while whites got the credit.  Though Bill Haley and the Comets' 1955 Rock Around The Clock officially put the new genre on the map, that jitterbug-paced hit by the white rockabilly performer had none of the fluidity of Jackie Brenston's 1951 Rocket 88, which most scholars date as the first real rock 'n' roll song. 

Rock 'n' roll in 1954 and early 1955 consisted of white singers trying to sound black (Elvis on That's All Right, Mama) and black singers trying to whiten their sounds (Chuck Berry's hillbilly Maybellene, Johnny B. Goode, and Sweet Little Sixteen; Little Richard's and Tutti Frutti), but most of those songs - while highly danceable - were not emotionally affecting.  Instead, being frenetic, they were safely un-sensual.


Page 35-36 - Doo Wop hits the airwaves on WINS

When Alan Freed moved from Cleveland to New York in 1954 and started broadcasting on WINS and presenting his concerts at the Brooklyn Paramount, he featured these songs - variously called street-corner, a cappella, or doo-wop - by the Penguins, the Willows, the Spaniels, the Flamingos, the Platters (Twilight Time and The Great Pretender), the Moonglows (Sincerely), the Cleftones (You Baby You).


Page 38 - Carole forms a female doo-wop group

Carole King didn't think twice about asserting herself over boys, not in sports but in that part of her life that mattered to her, pop music.  In her junior year of high school, she formed a doo-wop group specializing in her own compositions and covers of popular white doo-wop hits, like Danny and the Juniors "At the Hop" and the Del Vikings' "Come Go With Me".

They named their group the Co-Sines for their advanced math class at Shellbank, and they played local Sweet Sixteen parties and USO halls in the New York area.


Page 41 - The influence of Broadway scores

For a nineteen-year old would-be rebel, Gerry Goffin possessed surprisingly conventional taste in music.  He didn't listen to folk, rock 'n' roll, or R&B, or even jazz.  Rather, after his father had taken him as a young teenager to a Rodgers and Hammerstein play, he used those literate scores - Carousel, Oklahoma!, South Pacific - as his standard.  These, of course, were also the foundation of Carole's musical curriculum.  Gerry loved these songs - he could hum them and feel them, but he could not play them.  When Laurents, Bernstein, and Sondheim's West Side Story opened in September 1957, a startlingly high new bar was set - musical theater could now romanticize issues (intergroup love affairs; the anger of disenfranchised populations) so fresh they were almost more incipient than current.


Page 43 - Don Kirshner gets Aldon Music on the map

Don Kirshner signs Bobby Darin and Connie Francis to Aldon Music and promotes their songs Who's Sorry Now? and Splish Splash into hits.  Kirshner then met Carole King's friend Neil Sedaka and his songwriting partner, Howie Greenfield.  Kirshner sat Neil and Howie down at Aldon's piano and got an infectious earful.  Later, Kirshner took the upbeat little ditty called Stupid Cupid to his friend Connie Francis, who promptly made a Top Ten hit of it.


Page 45 - The Kid Brother

In Carole's Rosedale living room one day after classes, Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote their first song together - Gerry recalls it as "a so-so song called The Kid Brother.  After they polished the song, they drove into Manhattan and presented it Jerry Wexler.  Wexler had always been a fan of the charmingly confident and intimidated "saddle-shoed" girl, and now, with this new boy, the effect was doubled.  Wexler thought Carole and Gerry were "very earnest," and he gave them a $25 advance for the song.  As they left, Wexler remembers musing, "These terrific kids are going to come up with great songs - songs that are most adaptable to black voices." 


Page 48 - Carole responds with "Oh! Neil"

Right after Carole King and Gerry Goffin got married on August 30th, they signed up the Aldon Records.  Neil Sedaka had had a hit with a song Oh! Carol (Carole and Joel concluded it had to have been about Carole), and, with Gerry's help, Carole had written a novelty "answer" song, Oh! Neil, bringing Donny Kirshner into her and Gerry's lives.  The young couple's workaholism was just what Kirshner was looking for.  He paid them $1,000 for the coming year.  They started to write, but "one song after another, Donny couldn't do anything with them," Gerry says.


Page 50 - There Goes My Baby

In 1959 a new "Earth Angel" had risen to the top of the pop charts.  If you were a suburban girl of thirteen or fourteen and heard the Drifters', There Goes My Baby , you stopped in your tracks, drew a breath, and realized: "This is a song I could go 'all the way' to."  The urgent ballad with its booming doo-wop intro and its sexual narrator, desperately wailing "There goes my baaa-by / Movin' o-on down the line...." was enveloped in a classical string section that made virginal middle-class girls imagine sex in big-R romantic terms.


Page 50 - Leiber and Stoller songwriting team

The writing / production team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (who gave us There Goes My Baby) cut their teeth in songwriting with Charles Brown's Hard Times (later recorded by David "Fathead" Newman for Ray Charles) and adapting Hound Dog for Elvis Presley.  They also did Yakety Yak, Charlie Brown, Poison and Searchin for the Coasters.


Page 51 - Black females come forth in popular music

Black a cappella-based popular music had finally gained some female voices .  In 1957 four schoolgirls at St. Anthony of Padua High School in the Bronx - girls who'd harmonized together on Gregorian chants in chapel for years and improvised secular music in the gym and halls - named themselves The Chantels and recorded a song called Maybe.  In early 1958 (when black male groups didn't score as often as white male groups, and black female groups almost never charted), Maybe became a pop hit.

Across the river in Passaic, New Jersey, four teenage girls had taken heart at the Chantels' earned fortune.  They were Shirley Owens, Addie Harris, Beverly Lee, and Doris Coley, a foursome who called themselves the Poquellos, which they eventually changed to The Shirelles, and released  I Met HIm On Sunday and Tonight's The Night.



Page 54 - Carole King & Gerry Goffin write "Tomorrow"

Kirshner knew he could get to Florence Greenberg, so he told Carole to think of the Shirelles as she wrote.  Carole stretched her hands over the keys.  She produced an elegant semiclassical ballad, its third bar containing an emotional chord that George Gershwin might have used but that was never heard in current pop songs.  She had trouble finding a melody for the bridge, so she left that incomplete. After finishing the song as best she could, she pushed the "on" button on the big Norelco tape recorder and she da-dah-dah'd her wordless melody while she played it on the piano.  As she grabbed her coat to go meet Genie, she wrote a note to Gerry: "Donny needs a song for the Shirelles tomorrow.  Please write" and propped the note against the tape recorder.

When Gerry came home to the empty apartment and listened to the tape, he was euphoric.  "I had never heard a melody like that from Carole before!  It was melodic!",he recalls. "I put myself in the place of a woman - what would a girl sing to a guy if they made love that night?"  It wasn't a great lyric, but it was very simple: Will you love me in the morning, after we've made love?  He'd begun the song with decorous metaphors for lovemaking, arranged in a tight, alliterative, conversational two bars "Tonight you're mine completely / You give your love so sweetly".....

Donny brought the demo of Tomorrow to Guy Mitchell but he told Kirshner that while he loved the song, he was committed to composers of Johnny Mathis' Wonderful, Wonderful and Chances Are.  Luther Dixon brought it to the Shirelles to record and he played it for them.  "We looked at each other like, 'Is this a joke?'  It sounded like a country-western song, real twangy."  The girls consensus:  it was too white. But Dixon said, 'You're gonna record this song," Beverly says.  The Shirelles begrudgingly agreed to show up at the studio.

Gerry Goffin and Carole King


Page 55 - Carole King writes her first strings arrangement

Carole and Gerry knew their song Tomorrow had to be bathed in violins and cellos.  Gerry was "dying to steal from the Drifters," as he puts it - he loved the cellos is in This Magic Moment and Dance With Me.  Carole was determined to write the string arrangement, undaunted by her igonorance of the instruments. "I came over to Carole's house and she was sitting at the kitchen table, writing the score," Camille remembers, "using a book she checked out of the library, How to Write for Strings.  She taught herself from a library book!"