Every time I put on Tapestry, the energy of it hits me with a jolt. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why it was so different from everything else, until I did some reading on it and realized that Carole King sings like a man. Well, I suppose I should rephrase that: she sounds like a woman, but she sings in the style of a man. Most pre-Tapestry female vocal recordings are flat and overly controlled. I don’t think it’s that much of a leap to draw a parallel between women in the music industry and women in American society. All of the rock & roll pioneers of the ’50s — Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Big Joe Turner, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Fats Domino, Eddy Cochran, the Everly Brothers, et al — were men.
Even when some women had some success in the early ’60s, they weren’t thought of as artists. Sure, there were professional singers who were women, but men always had control somehow. Take the popular early ’60s girl group the Ronettes as an example. They were largely the product of producer Phil Spector, and in fact he ended up marrying one of them. Listen to their song “Be My Baby” and pay particular attention to the sound of vocals. It’s a great song, but the vocals are pretty boring and unnatural. They’re fine on a technical level, but that’s part of the problem: adherence to technical perfection can yield emotionless results. Much of this is probably the fault of old recording technology, but then again, men seemed to do just fine bending technical restraints in those days.
Listen to the way Grace Slick sings on Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love,” released four years after “Be My Baby” in 1967. You can hear the rebellion in her voice; the awakening has begun. You almost get the feeling that before the Consciousness Revolution it wasn’t a woman’s place to sing like a man would sing. I can only imagine how Janis Joplin must have come across when she hit the scene (and disappeared soon thereafter, sadly). But from the bouncy opener “I Feel the Earth Move” to the naked closer “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” Tapestry is a showcase of extraordinary female talent. Everything sounds so earthy and natural, and, perhaps most importantly, feels genuine. Tapestry has this gentle intimacy that I just haven’t found anywhere else. It almost feels like a live album. It’s really not that hard to envision yourself sitting next to Carole in front of her piano as she performs a set.
And it’s a set worth hearing again and again; there’s not a single bad song in the bunch. Every song is very accessible and memorable, but most importantly, this music is alive. It’s really not a stretch to label Tapestry one of the most extraordinary pop albums ever.