Ah, I hear you say, but Carole King can’t sing for toffee! Does that matter? One of the most influential songwriters of the latter 20th century, creator of one of the most controversial (of its time) songs of the Sixties, yes, other people’s versions of her songs are probably better known, but I’m a lyricist fan first and foremost and a voice fan second. When the words are good and the sentiment is good, the singing style can only enhance that.
The song is Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, which people don’t necessarily know was controversial but was all about sex before marriage. I’ve known women who, as a teenager, had to play it downstairs in their basement very quietly so their father didn’t hear it.
But that’s beside the point. I was wondering, in these Gaga-esque days, if there’s such a thing as a feminist album anymore. An album which explores all facets of being a woman and an artist, one that uses music to find out identity. On a superficial level, female artists the immediately spring to mind as dominating our music scene seem to court image as their identity and leave the msuic to come second. Depressing. But then I thought harder, about women I actually listen to. And then I remembered Kate Bush, Michelle Shocked, Laura Marling, Alela Diane, Agnes Obel, and felt cheered and warm again.
Carole King was old school feminism, paving the way for many of today’s modern artists and for many of today’s modern feminist thinking. She wasn’t of the bra burning (I know they didn’t actually burn their bras before you comment) league, but offered intelligent analysis of what it meant to be a woman and a human being. I found her the same way I found much of my feminism, at university, exploring the same issues for myself. If I’d heard Joni Mitchell first, Blue would probably be up here instead of Tapestry, but I didn’t. Joni M covers the same issues in a similar way and there are the same debates over her singing voice too.
Tapestry is feminine without being weak; it covers love, life, relationships and death (sometimes violent – the death I mean, not the relationships) with humour and intelligence. It’s more wide-ranging than just finding love. She talks about being rotten to the one you love and then she talks about wanting to alter or to compromise to please the one she loves. There’s a massacre in ‘Smackwater Jack’. She describes heaven or the afterlife in ‘Way over Yonder’ (at least, that’s how I always interpreted it) And she advocates liberal sexual attitudes on an album that simultaneously shows her on the cover, sitting, tapestry abandoned, on a window seat with her cat. It’s the album I listen to when doing housework and when I need a bit of validation. She’s a well rounded character and her songs reflect that.