Author Talk: Loren Glass on Carole King’s Tapestry
March 22, 2021 by David Hopper
Fifty years later, Carole King’s second album, Tapestry, continues to resonate with listeners. A massive critical and commercial success, Tapestry has sold over 25 million copies. After its release in February 1971, it was the No. 1 album for 15 consecutive weeks and stayed on the LP charts for almost six years.
King swept the Grammys in 1972. The single “It’s Too Late” won Record of the Year, and “You’ve Got a Friend” took Song of the Year. “So Far Away” was a Top 20 hit. Tapestry was recently ranked No. 25 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
360°Sound spoke with Loren Glass, author of the new 33 1/3 book on Tapestry. Glass is Professor of English at the University of Iowa. He is the author of Authors Inc.: Literary Celebrity in the Modern United States and Counter-Culture Colophon: Grove Press, the Evergreen Review and the Incorporation of the Avant-Garde.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
360°: Why did you choose Tapestry as the album to write a book on?
Loren Glass: I did not begin my career planning to write a book on Tapestry. But what I had started doing was writing about music historically. I was interested in the concept of the album era. I had started going to the Experience Music Project Pop Conference in Seattle and got really interested in the convergence of academic and journalistic criticism that was going on about popular music. I started thinking about the historical significance of the 12-inch vinyl format, and I started giving talks about it. I would always open the talk with this anecdote about my mother’s albums and about Tapestry.
Part of what I was working with was the way that we sort of personally insert ourselves into history or understand history in terms of the albums that we listen to. I had been part of what seems like a unique generation that really shared a lot of music with my parents. So instead of offending my parents or being bored by their music, we shared a lot. Tapestry was the representative example that I would use. When I would finish these talks, people would shower me with questions and feelings about Tapestry. I realized what a profoundly resonant album this was in so many people’s lives. I was kind of surprised that there hadn’t been a 33 1/3 book written already.
I’ve never had more fun writing a book. Usually, it’s a struggle, and you wonder if anyone is gonna read this. With this one, it was clear that I was approaching it in a way that was going to be appealing. I found a somewhat different voice in writing it. I don’t usually write in a personal voice. I’m mostly a literary critic and literary historian. I tend to write in that impersonal, authoritative mode of academics. This book has a lot about my personal feelings and memories, and that was very satisfying to do that and find a voice for that.
Prior to Tapestry, King wrote many hits with her then-husband and songwriting partner Gerry Goffin. How do you think that Brill Building experience prepared her for Tapestry, and how was this album a break from her previous work?
She got her songwriting chops in the Brill Building system. Part of the significance of that is the connection with the African American R&B scene and a lot of the bands that she wrote for [e.g., The Shirelles, The Cookies, The Drifters]. There was a real interracial dynamic to the music that she wrote in the ‘60s that translates into Tapestry but not in as clear a way for the listeners. The range of styles that she listened to and absorbed, from gospel to R&B to rock to Broadway, is the range of styles you hear in Tapestry. It feels almost like one style, but in fact, there’s gospel-sounding tunes, there’s country elements as well, all of that had come through her and been synthesized in New York City in the ‘60s.
Tapestry was a break, a declaration of independence. There are only two songs that she co-wrote with Goffin on the album [“Smackwater Jack” and “You Make Me Feel Like (A Natural Woman)”]. The sensibility that both she and the producer Lou Adler had was that it was time to foreground King herself independently. She still worked with lyricists; Tony Stern wrote the lyrics to a number of songs on the album. King has always been more comfortable with chords and music than with words. Something crystallized in Tapestry for sure.
How did Tapestry embody second-wave feminism?
It certainly became one of the anthems of what was called at the time women’s liberation. It was a very short but extremely important historical phenomenon, which my mother was involved. It’s one of those developments that’s very complex in its actual unfolding but can be conveniently summarized with the idea that “the personal is political.” Women realized that the way they were treated in the home, and the way they were treated by men in their intimate lives was a political issue. I think that King’s speaking about relationships in her own voice, she doesn’t use overtly political terms, but simply speaking those things in her own voice as an independent woman, that resonated with the issues and the attitudes of women around the world, particularly white middle-class women at that time. Women’s liberation was initially at least dominated more by that demographic.
There were women, like Aretha Franklin and Barbra Streisand, who led up to the achievement that was Tapestry, that were a genuine force. They didn’t just reflect women’s liberation, they helped precipitate women’s liberation. Hearing voices like Aretha and Nina Simone and even Loretta Lynn, these women’s voices encouraged women to think about themselves as independent adults with agency, but also for them to question the way that many of them had been treated by men, both in their individual relationships and in their jobs. These women made the albums. If they didn’t write the songs, they arranged them, they played the instruments, so I think albums by women in this era became the soundtrack to women’s liberation.
And 1971 was really a peak year. That’s when various legislative and political developments started to result as consequences of women’s liberation rights – Equal Rights Amendment, Roe v. Wade, Title IX. It was the right album at the right time for that kind of experience. Also, it didn’t alienate men. It was associated with women’s liberation, but it wasn’t associated with the more radical part of women’s liberation at its more extremes. Tapestry embodied feminist principles without seeming to alienate men or abandon heterosexuality.
King is associated with this album more than anything in her career. What do you think she was able to do with Tapestry that she wasn’t with her other work?
The earlier album Writer is poorly produced. She got a leg up when Lou Adler came on the scene to produce her. The production of Tapestry, which just perfectly focuses her voice and her sound, is surely part of it. The moment it came out it had a certain kind of resonance that the later ones weren’t going to have. It’s also possible that the statement of independence that Tapestry makes is sort of a singular statement that couldn’t be repeated, so she couldn’t do it again.
The other thing is I think the music industry gradually changed around her so that the singer-songwriter sound started to get slowly pushed over into the adult contemporary soft-rock kind of genre, so she got more niched. It’s a convergence of unrepeatable circumstances. The other albums could never stand up to that. If you listen to Music [the follow-up to Tapestry], it’s a great album, and her songwriting chops are still there, but it just seems to pale relative to Tapestry because of the force and appeal we’ve put into it.
Do you have a favorite song on the album?
That’s a hard one. Part of the reason that’s hard is because the album works so perfectly as an album. I do think “It’s Too Late” resonates more deeply with me than the other songs. I feel that song resonated for me because my parents were splitting up at that time. It’s sort of the emotion of the song. “You’ve Got a Friend” is a masterpiece. “Way Over Yonder,” the gospel song at the end of Side 1, is a beautiful song. I do think our memories tend to tip toward the beginning, so the beginning of “I Feel The Earth Move” is unforgettable; that’s inscribed in my brain.
Click here to purchase Carole King’s Tapestry (33 1/3) by Loren Glass.
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