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Music

The five best songs Carole King gave away

Carole King helped to shape the landscape of great music, through a series of infectious anthems that spoke about the failings of the human spirit. Her dissertations spoke to the masses, meaning that her audience had males and females, honouring the intentions of the two genders. It probably helped that King could write for both sides of the coin, often catering to people of all disciplines.

The songs she created were written for and moulded on other voices, but she had a strong voice by herself, as is evident from her work on Tapestry. Tapestry stands as one of the most accomplished albums from the early 1970s, gifting fellow female artists the chance to sing out their idiosyncratic views on the world. And there are many males, including this writer, who consider it a tremendous piece of work.

But for the purpose of this piece, we will be looking at the songs she gave away, many of them nestling in the bosoms of the radio playlist. As it happens, the compositions heralded a new form of music, giving rock an intellectual voice that veered beyond the everyday realms of the 1950s.

It cannot have been easy for a young woman to make herself known in the field of rock, but King made her presence known, firstly as a creative thinker, and then as a creative performer. The songs hold a legacy unto themselves, but it is time that their writer, and greatest friend, should be recognised for her work.

The five best songs Carole King gave away:

5. The Beatles – ‘Chains’

This jaunty tune wound up on The Beatles’ otherwise underdeveloped debut, but George Harrison still sounds buoyant on the track, gyrating to the sound of the fiery harmonica line. But what’s more interesting is that the band weren’t the first to record the song, as their rendition came out one year after The Cookies issued their version of the song.

The Cookies were a band fronted by Dorothy Jones, who led the all-girl group through two disparate decades. The Cookies rendition of ‘Chains’ is less rock-heavy than The Beatles rendition, but it also boasts a striking, shimmering lead vocal. Indeed, the song works better as a ballad than an out and out rock number, but the song is malleable enough to survive the guitar treatment, and whatever cover you listen to, the number is nothing short of charming.

4. Kylie Minogue – ‘The Locomotion’

Talk about covers: this has three of them. While the Kylie Minogue cover is the best of the three of them, there’s an infectious quality to the Little Eva recording, not forgetting the drum-heavy rendition spearheaded by Grand Funk Railroad.

“The idea of ‘Locomotion’ came when we were working on the Shinin’ On album in the studio with Todd,” Don Brewer remembered. “We had basically finished the album – ‘Shinin’ On’ was going to be the first single, and we were thinking about what we were going to do for another song. Mark came in one day and off the top of his head was singing, ‘Everybody’s doing a brand new dance now,’ just for fun, and we all went, ‘Yeah, Grand Funk doing the Locomotion.’ It was a tongue-in-cheek kind of thing”.

It marked the first time that two artists enjoyed a number one hit with the same song, although lightning did not strike a third time for Minogue. And that’s a pity because there’s a maturity, a passion and carnal energy in her rendition that is nowhere to be heard in the recordings that proceeded it. The video’s pretty neat too.

3. Robson & Jerome – ‘Up On The Roof’

Now, this is a ducky little number, designed to bring grandmothers and grandchildren together in a quick harmony. It was also, incidentally, recorded by Little Eva before it was popularised by The Drifters. More recently, the song was performed by Robson & Jerome, putting it on the flipside to their cover of Frankie Laine’s ‘I Believe’. By the 1990s, it was becoming easier for music fans to enjoy the fruits of the 1960s, as was evident from the music Blur and Oasis were churning out.

Consider the lyric “When this old world starts getting me down, and people are just too much for me to face,” offering listeners a more mature and reflective verse to the usual boy-meets-girl schtick of the pop songbook. Indeed, it’s a particularly insightful tune, asking listeners to question the failings that befall their fellow man on a day to day basis. But what befalls a listener can always be exorcised by a journey to the top of a roof.

2. Peter Noone – ‘I’m Into Something Good’

Purportedly recorded by Herman’s Hermits as a way of gallivanting British listeners into action, waking from a slumber. What the song holds is jauntiness, bolstered by a whopping piano line and splashes of Western-type guitars. Typically, the song ended up in Allen Klein’s hands, so the band had to re-record the number decades later when it was included on the soundtrack to The Naked Gun.

“Yeah, what happened was they wanted to use ‘I’m Into Something Good’ for a scene in the movie, but the song belonged to Allen Klein who wanted to charge them a lot of money,” vocalist Peter Noone recalled. “The Zucker Brothers, who made all those Naked Gun movies, called and asked if I could recut the song…so we did.” Good job that they did, because it’s nigh on impossible to imagine the film without it.

1. The Shirelles – ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’

There’s a case to be made that this number is the finest ever issued in the pop genre. Written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, the song transcends race, religion and gender, as it asks a person requesting the intent of their companion. The singer inquires whether this is permanent or temporary, giving them the chance to recalibrate their life’s intentions to the beat of the walloping drum behind them.

This recording is likely the most covered on the list, as everyone from Maureen Tucker to Amy Winehouse sang a version of the song, but it is The Shirelles version of the song that remains the definitive take. Where it’s strong, it’s in the vocal delivery, papering over the production failings with a series of blinding cadences.

Breezily arranged, and delivered with tremendous restraint and pathos, the song is one of the more interesting songs about the broken heart. What becomes of them?