Carole King:Soothsayer, philosophical fellow traveler and general well-heeled guide across the rocky terrain of life and love—especially love… (Photo: Steve Jennings)

Sweet Seasons
By David McGee


Carole King is one of the few artists who make talk of chart numbers irrelevant when discussing her recorded music. This rather amazing two-CD overview of her work as a solo artist, in which most of the material bears only her name as writer, and another disc devoted, largely, to her legendary pre-solo outpouring in tandem with husband and songwriting collaborator Gerry Goffin, is absolutely packed with mammoth hits—number ones rampant, top fives, top tens, all rarified-air kind of experiences. You know, this Brooklyn babe has done well for herself commercially.

But with King now gallivantin’ across the nation’s stages with James Taylor, this collection is a timely reminder of how deeply embedded her songs are in the very fabric of a certain generation’s lives. More than one generation’s, in fact. And those generations that have embraced her as soothsayer, philosophical fellow traveler and general well-heeled guide across the rocky terrain of life and love—especially love—care not for chart numbers, although they helped make those possible. No, for these multitudes Carole King mines deep veins of a need to love long, truly and honestly, and to believe it will be—love, that is. Certainly her music took on an edge when she went solo in the late ‘60s, after she split from Goffin and a pop scene that was bifurcating into something both more mature on the one hand, and completely silly and superficial on the other. But her edge was never desperate or neurotic or anxious; rather, it was an edge born of anticipation, born of an inherent optimism that had never deserted her, going back to the first time we really heard her 17-year-old solo voice, on 1962’s “It Might As Well Rain Until September” (a #22 pop single, written by Goffin-King), in which she breezily admits in a letter to a distant lover how she’s having “fun while you’re so far away,” but can’t fully enjoy the natural wonders of the season with so essential a part of her missing. The music is as invigorating and upbeat as the lyrics are bittersweet, but the point of it all is how she knows it’s going to end happily—come September, when the lovers reunite. Which is not to suggest an absence of dark corners in King’s music. Certainly the fatalistic theme of the Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” the despair of the Everly Brothers’ beautiful treatment of “Crying In the Rain,” the culturally resonant individualism expressed in the Byrds’ “Wasn’t Born to Follow,” the curious alienation simmering in “So Far Away” bespeak an awareness of the impermanence of a moment and an embrace of Emersonian self-reliance as survival tactic. There are, after all, four marriages to account for in her biography, so verily, true love travels on a gravel road.

Live at the Troubadour, Carole King and James Taylor perform King’s ‘You’ve Got a Friend,’ from the artists' 1971 albums, Tapestry and Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon, respectively.

But there is nothing like Carole King emoting her heart out about being in love, mostly because she fills up a world when she does. “It Might As Well Rain Until September” is but one of many songs in which physical geography is intimately intertwined with the interior landscape of her soaring feelings. Separated from her beau for the summer in that 1962 song, she notes the sunshine and warmth all around her, then wishes the skies would open up until she’s back with her own true love (amazingly, it never sounds like a selfish or petulant wish on her part, but simple if blindered teen misery, and wonderful on that count alone). Nine years later, when she took over the world with her Tapestry album, she employed a subtle variation on the pounding piano chords heralding her “One Fine Day” for the Chiffons, muted them slightly, added a jazzy feel, and went on to describe, basically, all of creation in literal upheaval (“I feel the earth start to trembling/whenever you’re around…”), so tumultuous is her love for the boy in “I Feel the Earth Move”; and in “Sweet Seasons,” a horn-inflected, organ-rich and jazz-tinged beauty from 1971’s Music album, she can appraise love’s rocky ride coolly, dispassionately, and exult in its return, even while likening it to “a sailboat sailing on the sea,” with no allowance for those seas possibly being tossed—it’s not even a question because she’s gonna “build me a life in the open, a life in the country,” again summoning nature to her side. And to this add a certitude of love arriving, not only in “It Might As Well Rain Until September,” but in “One Fine Day,” in which the anticipation of its inevitability produces one of rock ‘n’ roll’s cornerstone monuments, philosophically and musically; in 1976, a far more mature woman is able to voice the pros and cons of relationships over a simmering, gently rocking backdrop, and conclude, in the wisdom granted by romantic missteps, that “Only Love Is Real.”

The Righteous Brothers, ‘Just Once In My Life,’ written by Carole King-Gerry Goffin-Phil Spector, #9 pop single, 1965, #26 R&B

And on a whole other note, for those who think enough is enough of “You’ve Got a Friend,” listen anew here, and marvel at the song’s generosity, tender heart, and conviction. And too, its soothing arrangement, warm ambiance and graceful sentiments. Look back in awe, acolytes of Carole, those who grew up with her songs and hear, on the discs in question, your life played back to you as the years roll by in song. In the end, in Carole King, we’ve always had a friend.

The Essential Carole King is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024