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The Woven Legacy of Tapestry

51 years after its release, Carol King’s album exemplifies the importance of taking a risk, and proves why she still reigns queen of the singer-songwriter genre.

By Addison Schmidt

Photo by Pexels

I remember my first trip to a record store very clearly. It was in a town I’d never been to, somewhere on the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Existing as all proper record shops do — dusty, dark, and small, crammed to the brim with wilting album covers and scratched vinyl. It had a foreign, unfortunate scent that I couldn’t name at the time. Later, I would hear my dad complaining that the place “reeked of weed,” a suspicion confirmed when we tried to return a few months later: it had been shut down due to the fact that the owner was selling quite a few things other than records.

Despite the unfortunate smell, the store left me with a gift that every record-collector treasures: their first second-hand purchase. And, I was luckier than most, as my first used record was a treasure within itself, one of the defining albums of not only the 1970’s, but of American music as a whole: Carole King’s Tapestry.

Tapestry’s impact can only be fully understood by looking through a specific lens: the astounding rise of its creator. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Carole King was a bonafide child music prodigy, penning her first hit at 17 with the Shirelles,’ “Will You Love me Tomorrow,” later re-recorded and featured on Tapestry’s B-side. King - along with former husband, Gerry Goffin - became a power-house song-writer of the 60’s, working within the Brill Building in New York and fueling the popular music scene. Their collective discography included numerous hits that became the soundtrack of the mid-20th century, churning out songs such as “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and Aretha Franklin’s timeless rendition of “(You Make me Feel) Like a Natural Woman,” another tune which King would revisit in the future.

However, marriages and creative partnerships do not often exist in the same harmony. Goffin and King would eventually divorce in 1968, granting King the liberation to make what was arguably the most important physical shift of her artistic career; that being a move to Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon, home to fellow rock-and-roll greats like Eagles, Jim Morrison, and Joni Mitchell.

There is an obvious differentiation between the music of the American coasts — a division of behavior and vibe that has been passed down through generations of musicians. From the early 20th-century, decades of jazz and blues all the way to the era of gangster rap and with the infamous feud between the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. In King’s case, this chasm took on a more personal note. Her move to California served as a severance between her life as a married New York songwriter to a newly single California frontman, catchy pop hits evolving into what would eventually become her signature sound: genre bending-songs characterized by intimacy and comfort.

Tapestry was not King’s first solo venture, as she released Writer in 1970 to minor critical acclaim, an album which mostly consisted of re-recorded versions of Goffin/King collaborations. This exploration allowed her the privilege of dusting off her initial apprehension as a newly solo artist. The existence of Writer carved the path for what would eventually become Tapestry. It proved to King that she could exist creatively as a singer and songwriter.

Along with Lou Adler, one of Tapestry’s producers, King sought to write her second album in a way that reflected this shift within her personal life. Not quite shedding her songwriting past, but evolving it into something far more individualistic. It’s this show of personality, paired down songs with limited production, that highlighted King’s piano and warm lyricism, drawing in listeners then, and still does today.

Tapestry would go on to win three major Grammy awards in 1972, including “Song of the Year,” “Record of the Year,” and the coveted “Album of the Year.” It has also been recognized in a multitude of ways since being selected for preservation in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry — one of only a few hundred albums to receive the honor.

Today, just over 51 years after its initial release, the album has been cemented into American life through both critical recognition and the natural progression of the music industry. King’s ability to effortlessly translate her artistic voice from one of solely written words to live performances, opened a chasm of possibilities for singer-songwriters who longed to follow in her footsteps, pouring their feelings not only into the written word but into a microphone of their own. Popular artists today - such as Taylor Swift, Lizzy McAlpine, and Bon Iver - owe their creative successes in part to King’s willingness to take to the stage and trust that audiences crave intimate lyricism, particularly when it is sung by the writer themselves.

On an even grander scale, Tapestry’s legacy lingers beyond the confines of just music. King’s bravery as an artist and newly-single mother reflected a larger societal shift, mirroring the feminist movement of the 1970’s, and the artistic shift towards control and independence in the creative process: liberation, self-love, comfort, internal peace. These themes weave themselves throughout the songs of Tapestry, and are as relevant for individuals attempting to overhault their lives now as they were in the early years of the 70’s.

King’s actions serve as a kind of spiritual guidance, the voice of a wiser companion who has seen and survived tumultuous years as messy as our own. I may never pen anything as heart-achingly beautiful as “So Far Away,” but I can take King’s behaviors -self-confidence, trust in my talent - and use those gifts to liberate myself from the fear that accompanies taking a risk of massive proportions.

Many of us exist within this form right now, variations of a pre-Tapestry Carole King, searching far-and-wide for an answer to one of creativity’s most pressing questions: where can true fulfillment be found?

The answer might just be found in this hallmark of King’s discography — right within ourselves.

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