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234: Carole King, ‘Up On the Roof’ (Live, 1971)

Posted by jeff on Apr 8, 2016 in Rock, Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

Today we’re going to tell a tale of a song’s and its composer’s coming of age, their passage into (Wo)manhood, their bat mitzvahs. The song was only six years old when it started, and the whole process took a few years. But as music was the soundtrack of our lives, the song’s transmogrification reflected, colored, perhaps even nudged us along the path from adolescence to maturity (well, at least to majority. We’re still working on the grownup part).

1962-67

p02cfcgzThe story of how Jewish kids ground out hits for black artists in the Brill Building in the early 1960s is fascinating in and of itself. We’ve written about Doc Pomus, Leiber and Stoller, Bacharach and David, Phil Spector, and of course Gerry Goffin and Carole King, but the list also includes luminaries such as Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond, Greenwich and Barry, Mann and Weil, MOTs all.

Of all the songs Gerry Goffin penned lyrics to, his favorite was ‘Up On the Roof’ – an AM version of West Side Story (‘Tonight’ on the fire escape, exactly one year earlier – add a bass, a drum and a vibraphone, and they’re twins), an urban vision of transcendence that you could hear on your transistor and dance to at the sock hop. When Mrs Goffin (Carole King) wrote the melody, she was twenty years old, in the eighth month of pregnancy with the couple’s second child. It was recorded by The Drifters (with Rudy Lewis singing lead) in late 1962, and hit #5 on the charts.

2012-10-09-50005551-thumbBaby boomers are usually defined as those born after 1946. But the great preponderance of the leading musicians were a step older: Lennon (1940), Dylan and Simon (1941), Carol King, McCartney and Brian Wilson (1942), Joni Mitchell, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards (1943). James Taylor (1948) and Laura Nyro (1947) were exceptions. It makes sense. Who’s an 18-year old going to turn to for advice? At 18, a 25-year old is a wizened sage.

So Carole is this 20-year old kid knocking out babies and AM hits one after the other, both in collaboration with Gerry Goffin.  In the Brill Building office she literally would play the piano with one hand while holding a baby in the other. The songs (up to 1967) – ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, ‘The Loco-Motion’, ‘Take Good Care of My Baby’, ‘Go Away Little Girl’ (all #1 hits!) – great as they were in their own terms, were commercial pap. Even ‘Up On the Roof’ was a fairytale, as gritty and realistic as West Side Story itself, a sanitized and romanticized version of the New York streets.

Carole-King-4Here’s the demo Carole and Gerry cut for The Drifters, with Gerry introducing the song. And here’s an early video of the Drifters singing ‘Up On the Roof’ up on the roof.

If Gerry Goffin ever went up on the roof of the Brill Building, it wasn’t to excape all that rat race noise down in the street. (For that he drove out to his lovely tract ranch house in West Orange, New Jersey). If Gerry went up on the roof, it was to fool around with the Cookies’ (‘Chains’) singer Jeanie McRea, for whom he and Mrs Goffin wrote ‘I’m Into Something Good’ (although it seems that Gerry was the one who was into something good), in return for which Jeanie gave Gerry a baby girl.

Carole knew about the baby, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was Gerry getting hallucogenicied and violent and utterly detached from West Orange reality.

Early 1967

CaroleKingCarole started hanging out with a young band she and Gerry had signed, the Myddle Class, which included drummer Joel O’Brien, guitarist Danny Kortchmar, and bassist Charlie Larkey (b. 1947!). Carole was thrilled when the kids asked her to sit in on keyboards, and soon began a relationship with Larkey. The Myddle Class flopped in the Village clubs they played (outclassed by Al Kooper’s Blues Project, not to mention Sebastian’s Lovin’ Spoonful—the first American rock groups), as did their group The Flying Machine (led by Danny’s best friend, James Taylor).

Even as the fairytale world of West Orange was crumbling, Carole and the in-and-out-of-hospital Gerry kept stoking the star-making machinery behind the popular song, culminating in the harbinger of the times that were a-changing, ‘(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman’ for Aretha.

1967-68

AR-151019403But the center could not hold. Carole felt threatened by Goffin and split for The Coast, Laurel Canyon, home of the burgeoning LA music scene. Her neighbors included The Byrds, The Mamas and The Papas, young Jackson Browne and many other future stars. As a single mother (long before it existed as a status) and legendary songwriter, she was the Earth Mother of the scene.

In late 1968 Carole formed a band in LA with Larkey and Kootch, The City. The album (“Now That Everything’s Been Said”) was a respectable effort, but flopped. It included ‘Wasn’t Born to Follow’, later a hit for The Byrds via Easy Rider.

At the same time, James Taylor was in London, recording his own flop, his first album (an unrecognized masterpiece, one of my Desert Island picks) for The Beatles’ Apple label.

1969-70

New-2Back in LA in December 1969, James recorded the album that more than any other defined the new acoustic rock sound (and much of the pained, introspective zeitgeist) of the singer-songwriter era, “Sweet Baby James”, with Kootch on guitar and Carole on piano.

In March-April 1970, Carole cut her first solo album, “Writer”, with Larkey, Kootch, and with James on acoustic guitar and backing vocals. Goffin had been hanging around, to no avail romantically, but co-wrote and mixed the album. Who am I to judge? The new material included ‘Going Back’, another hit for The Byrds. For the closing cut on the album, Carole chose one of her early hits, ‘Up On the Roof’.

The song’s inclusion is sort of the point of this whole ramble. It wasn’t a gimmick to capitalize on her cred as ‘the gal who wrote’. It was a bold gesture: “That previous incarnation? That also was me.” I’ve known a lot of people who’ve shed identities, designed for themselves new ones. I myself did it in a major way, right back in the days we’re visiting here. I suppose in one way or another, most people change personae over the years to one degree or another. I’m no psychologist, but I’m guessing it’s always healthier if one can incorporate his former selves into the life he’s living. We all know people who ignore/hide/deny former incarnations. It’s inherently embarrassing.

Carole-KingCarole, with her unique biography straddling two coasts, two eras, two realities, embraced her former self. And that proud acknowledgement, that ‘this is me, and that was me, too’ is to be admired. Of course, it helps that that other self was the author of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, the soundtrack to about 50 million backseat deflorations; and not John Lennon’s 18-month lost weekend.

Carole’s ‘Up On the Roof’ from “Writer”, although unfortunately burdened down by strings, is an early template for an entire catalog of hits, the piano/acoustic guitar-based, mellow palette of James’ ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ (January, 1971), ‘Handy Man’ (1977), and ‘Up On the Roof’(1979, seriously blighted by unka-BOOM! drums in the last verse).

1970-71

During 1970, as “Sweet Baby James” took off, Carole toured as the pianist of James’ band. He would give her a guest spot on his shows, to which the audience responded with booing—they wanted to hear their James singing ‘Sweet Baby James’ and ‘Fire and Rain’, not some anonymous chick pianist, even if she had written some good oldies. She would sing ‘Up On the Roof’ and ‘Natural Woman’ above the boos.

1035x1400-85336848Here’s James’ beautiful solo version of ‘Up On the Roof’ from the Fillmore East in January, 1971. Returning from that tour to LA later that month, the band (Carole, James, Larkey, O’Brien, Kootch) went into the studio to record a batch of new songs that Carole had written by herself, working for the first time mostly without the help of lyricists Goffin or her new buddy Toni Stern. She called the album “Tapestry”.

The album also included the most vulnerable, powerless expression of a girl’s dependence on a guy’s caprice, ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, an ‘oldie’ in the most profound sense: it’s beautiful, it’s full of nostalgic meaning for the me who once was, but its reality is in the past. ‘Natural Woman’, although written back in NY, belonged more to the new LA Carole. It became, justifiably, the anthem of the new womanhood—just as Carole’s life was a harbinger of the feminist revolution that was yet to change the world as we know it.

1971, Jo Mama Tour

1971, Jo Mama Tour

The new songs on the album – ‘I Feel the Earth Move’, ‘So Far Away’, ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ harnessed Carole’s masterful (mistressful?) pop-hit chops to the new womanhood (and concomitant malehood) she and her generation were creating. “Tapestry” justly earned its place as a seminal cultural landmark, as the soundtrack of its time.

In April, 1971, the still almost unknown Carole recorded seven songs for the BBC. She begins with a fully confident ‘I Feel the Earth Move’ and a heartfelt, definitive ‘Natural Woman.’ But her introduction to ‘So Far Away’ shows just how much she still saw herself as second fiddle to James Taylor. It’s the ‘Will You Still Love Me’ Carole speaking. Apparently for all her independence, Carole was serially subservient emotionally to the men in her life (but that’s a wholly other kettle of fish).

You gotta remember – till Carole (and Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro) came along, male artists held primacy over women. Those three, each in her own way, created the persona of the new woman in music.

How strange it is to hear no audience response to the opening chords of the still-unknown ‘It’s Too Late’ (with James, Larkey and Khqdefaultootch). A fine, fun ‘Smackwater Jack’ shows just how much she’s the master – mistress? Why is the master by definition above, the mistress below? – well, she owns the pop song idiom.

She gives us a fine, heartfelt ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, then ends with her definitive treatment of ‘Up On the Roof’. Her singing and her piano are confident, in control, fully mature as a performer and as a creative voice, absolutely ready for and deserving of donning the mantle of spokessongstress of her generation. Funny (for me, as a guy) that both Joni and Carole were role models for the New Woman, while still slavishly in need of a man’s approval.

I guess you can take the girl out of the ‘50s more quickly than you can take the ‘50s out of the girl.

I an upcoming SoTW, via her early live recordings of ‘Up On the Roof’, we’re going to return to one of our favorite themes – just how major an artist Laura Nyro was.

When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face (Up on the roof)
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space (Up on the roof)

On the roof, it’s peaceful as can be
And there, the world below can’t bother me
Let me tell you now

When I come home feeling tired and beat
I go up where the air is fresh and sweet (Up on the roof)
I get away from the hustling crowds
And all that rat race noise down in the street (Up on the roof)

On the roof’s the only place I know
Where you just have to wish to make it so
Let’s go up on the roof (Up on the roof)

At night, the stars put on a show for free
And, darling, you can share it all with me
I keep-a tellin’ you

Right smack dab in the middle of town
I found a paradise that’s trouble-proof (Up on the roof)
And if this world starts getting you down
There’s room enough for two up on the roof (Up on the roof)

Up on the roof (Up on the roof)
Oh, come on, baby (Up on the roof)
Oh, come on, honey (Up on the roof)
Everything is all right (Up on the roof)

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

117: Carole King, ‘It Might as Well Rain Until September’

182: The Shirelles, ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’

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182: The Shirelles, ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’

Posted by jeff on Oct 18, 2013 in Rock, Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

The Shirelles – ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ (original)

The Shirelles – ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ (live)

Carole King – ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’

Of course I know who Amy Winehouse is. I’ve even listened to a couple of her songs. Would you like to hear a story about her?

Once upon a time, Virginia, about 30 years ago, people thought sex was bad. At least they said they thought sex was bad. You couldn’t talk about it openly on TV or in movies or in songs. But people still had it on their minds, no matter what the Brain Police said, especially hormone-choked teenagers; and since they were the ones buying 45s – What? That’s an ancient euphemism for popular records. Anyway, it was teenagers buying these records – What? Oh. A round black thing made out of plastic that has a song on it. You know what a song is, right? You still have those?

Goffin, King, and the morning after

Well, after WWII, a lot of people started having babies (though it was never quite clear back then just how), and when these babies grew up (in a certain sense, anyway) some of them wanted to make their own songs. And there were some grown-ups who let them. Two of these kids, Carole and Gerry started making music together. Their songs weren’t too successful, but their other music was, and at 17 she found herself in the family way. What? Knocked up, okay? So they got married. Gerry worked as a chemist and Carole as a secretary, and in the evenings they kept writing songs for a guy named Don Kirshner.

Record

They heard a hit song on the radio called ‘Tonight’s The Night’. It was sung by a black girl group called The Shirelles. The girls sounded quite innocent, and the music was a pleasing new amalgam of black timbre, strings, and an American Bandstand slick-white you-can-dance-to-it beat. Now, Gerry and Carole – having gone down that road – understood the meaning of “You said you’re gonna kiss me/Tonight’s the night/Well, I don’t know”, even if the persona herself didn’t. So they wrote a song based on their own personal experience, which they called ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’.

Tonight you’re mine completely/You give your love so sweetly/Tonight the light of love is in your eyes/But will you love me tomorrow?

Plus ça change

That idea expresses a formula that governed the war between the sexes from the beginning of time till a few years ago: men give love for sex, women give sex for love. We’re much more enlightened now. Let’s see how long that lasts. I’m betting it ain’t gonna make it 8000 years.

What does this have to do with Amy Winehouse? Well, keep your pants on. In a manner of speaking.

So Don loved the Goffins’ song, and thought it had more potential for more than a one-hit group from Scepter records, so he offered it to Columbia taste arbiter Mitch Miller for Johnny Mathis, but was politely refused, which Kirshner later said was “The best thing he ever did for me.”

Will you still love me tomorrow?

The Shirelles recorded ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’, and it became the first #1 hit by a girl group since the McGuire Sisters, the first ever for a black girl group.

It should be noted here that in 1960, Motown was just getting started – we’re talking about two years before The Marvelettes (‘Please, Mr Postman’, ‘Beechwood 4-5789’), four years before The Supremes. White kids weren’t yet buying records made by black artists. Girls weren’t yet singing about being amenable to sex. But indeed ‘there was music in the cafes at night, and revolution in the air’.

Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ was the first #1 hit for Gerry Goffin and Carole King. We’ll get back to them in a minute, but let’s hop over to picturesque Passaic, New Jersey, circa 1957, where Shirley Owens, Doris Coley, “Micki” Harris and Beverly Lee met at their high school talent show in Passaic, New Jersey, calling themselves The Poquellos. Classmate Mary Jane Greenberg (no comment Jeff, it’s not politically correct) convinced them to sign with her mother’s small record label, which was quickly sold to Decca, where the girls had a flop with their own song ‘I Met Him on a Sunday’ (later remade beautifully by Laura Nyro as the opening cut of her 1971 album “Gonna Take a Miracle”).

Will he still love her tomorrow?

Young Ms Greenberg started her own Scepter label, where they flopped with ‘Dedicated to the One I Love’, a cover of a 1957 R&B song by The “5” Royales, a comic/risqué band from North Carolina. So Ms Greenberg drafted Luther Dixon, who had previously worked with Perry Como, Nat King Cole, and Pat Boone and co-written the 1959 hit ‘16 Candles‘, to work with her Shirelles. The result was ‘Tonight’s The Night’, which Dixon wrote and produced. It hit #39.

Then came ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ (#1, with Carole King playing timpani), followed by a re-issue of ‘Dedicated to the One I Love’ which now hit #3 (later #2 by The Mamas and the Papas, Mama Michelle’s first lead), then ‘Mama Said’ (written by Dixon, #4), followed by ‘Baby It’s You’ (written by Dixon, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, #8, covered by The Beatles on their first LP, later #5 by Smith in 1969), and ‘Soldier Boy (#1, written by Dixon).

Will she still love him tomorrow?

By the way, the ‘B’ side (sorry Virginia, there’s a limit to how much I can explain) of ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ was ‘Boys’ (written by Dixon), also covered by The Beatles on their first album. McCartney: “Any one of us could hold the audience. Ringo would do ‘Boys‘, which was a fan favorite with the crowd. And it was great — though if you think about it, here’s us doing a song and it was really a girls’ song. ‘I talk about boys now!’ Or it was a gay song. But we never even listened. It’s just a great song. I think that’s one of the things about youth — you just don’t give a shit. I love the innocence of those days.”

Both Beatles covers were recorded for “Please Please Me” on February 11, 1963, when they did a total of 10 tracks in one day! I remember distinctly pondering The Beatles choice of ‘oldies’ – all of two years after the originals.

Can I believe the magic of your sighs?

Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ was rejuvenated a decade later by singer-songwriter Carole King herself on “Tapestry”. Producer Lou Adler: “The only thing we reached back for, which was calculated in a way, which of the old Goffin and King songs that was hit should we put on this album? And, that’s how we came up with ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow‘. I thought that song fit what the other songs were saying in Tapestry. A very personal lyric.” That’s James Taylor playing acoustic and singing backup. The two of them continued to perform the song together on their 2010 Troubadour Reunion Tour. It was also performed by Trisha Yearwood, Gloria Estefan & Emile Sandé at the White House when President Obama awarded Ms King the 2013 Gershwin Prize.

‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ has had more cover versions than the number of ants on a Tennessee anthill – 555, according to one count. It’s been a favorite on American Idol/The Voice, but you’re going to have to check out those versions yourself, Virginia, there’s a limit to how low I’ll stoop even for the sake of completism.

…plus c’est la même chose.

There have been some fine ones. Here’s Roberta Flack, whom I often find somewhat heavy-handed, doing a great job on it. Here’s the ever-fetching Norah Jones. Here’s the ever-marvelous Laura Nyro in an inspired version released posthumously. And yes, Virginia, here’s the version you love so much by Amy Winehouse.

A surprising number of fine artists have recorded lousy covers of the song (which I’ll refrain from linking here), including the Bee Gees, Elton John, Dusty Springfield, Smokey Robinson, Lykke Li, and Linda Ronstadt. It seems everyone loves to sing ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’. (I sure did, back in The Day, with my buddy Becca.) So here’s a Carole King-karaoke version for you to sing along with. Go on, give it a go.

The song still strikes a responsive chord, even in an age where the boy could be singing it to the girl. Our insecurity about opening ourselves up, revealing our insecurities, praying the heat of the moment won’t leave us embarrassed in the morning. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, they say. Some things don’t change, Virginia. Such as, for instance, a fine song. As your Amy Winehouse says, “I never want it to end.”

Tonight you’re mine completely
You give your love so sweetly
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes
But will you love me tomorrow?

Is this a lasting treasure
Or just a moment’s pleasure?
Can I believe the magic of your size?
Will you still love me tomorrow?

Tonight with words unspoken
You say that I’m the only one
But will my heart be broken
When the night meets the morning sun?

I’d like to know that your love
Is love I can be sure of
So tell me now, and I won’t ask again
Will you still love me tomorrow?

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy:

034: Dionne Warwick, ‘Walk On By’ (Burt Bacharach)
117: Carole King, ‘It Might as Well Rain Until September’
160: Smokey Robinson & Aretha Franklin, ‘Ooh Baby, Baby’ (Live)

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117: Carole King, ‘It Might as Well Rain Until September’

Posted by jeff on Nov 4, 2011 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

Quiz: What do these three songs have in common?

It Might As Well Rain Until September’ by Carole King (1962, peaked at #22 on the charts)

‘Jamie’, by Eddie Holland (1962, peaked at #30)

Who Put the Bomp (In the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)’ by Barry Mann (1961, peaked at #7)

The 1950s didn’t end on December 31st, 1959 (a day on which absolutely nothing of note occurred other than a few really hip swingers celebrating the decade shift by dancing the cha-cha-cha), nor did the 1960s begin the next day (although Cameroon did gain its independence and Johnny Cash played his first free concert in a prison). I know. I was there (not in the prison; just, you know, around), albeit a wee ‘un. But I can testify that in 1961 and 1962 and even 1963, there were still plenty of 1950s around.

All I had to do was turn on WSAI, Cincinnati’s leading Hit Parade station, which informed my cultural landscape even more than Dobie Gillis, Alfred E. Newman, or the NL-winning Reds.  Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear as the Top 40 rides again!

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