Greatest Songs, #468: “It’s Too Late” by Carole King

Album: Tapestry (Ode Records)
Year: 1970
Written by: Toni Stern & Carole King
Billboard Hot 100: #1

 From Rolling Stone:

After spending the sixties in New York writing hits for the likes of the Drifters with then-husband Gerry Goffin, King split for the West Coast and began writing for herself. “I want to make LPs,” she said, “I don’t want to be a star.” She poured her heart into “It’s Too Late,” a divorce ballad featuring the unlikely hook “Somethin’ inside has died.” “I have never felt that my being a woman was an obstacle or an advantage,” she said.

From the original Rolling Stone review of the album in 1971:

Carole King’s second album, Tapestry, has fulfilled the promise of her first and confirmed the fact that she is one of the most creative figures in all of pop music. It is an album of surpassing personal-intimacy and musical accomplishment and a work infused with a sense of artistic purpose. It is also easy to listen to and easy to enjoy.

Towards the late Sixties the independent song-writing system broke down as more and more artists preferred to write their own material. Feeling the pressure, Miss King, now separated from Goffin, struck out as a performer, first in the unsuccessful group the City, and now as a solo artist. Not surprisingly, the music she is making today is closely related to the music she created in the Sixties.

The theme of both Writer and Tapestry is the search for lasting friendship, friendship that can be trusted, friendship that can be felt. Those feelings are expressed in a music that is substantially looser and more far ranging than the early melodies. No longer confined to the requirements of writing for someone else and for AM radio the music has grown more intricate, more subtle, and more technically impressive. Similarly, the production on both her albums has been in a soft-sounding, FM-oriented approach, eschewing AM style altogether. These changes have not been altogether positive.

Tapestry was recorded with much the same personnel and the new producer, Lou Adler, has cleaned things up: still a certain flaw in conception remains. The band sometimes lacks the looseness and flexibility coupled with precision that only professional sidemen can offer. The arrangements strive too openly for effect and sometimes Carole herself catches the bug and pursues the emotional highpoints a little too hard, when a bit of understatement would have served her better.

And yet these flaws are balanced by the presence on several cuts of the best California session drummer since Hal Blaine, namely Russ Kunkel, and a fine performance by Joel O’Brien on the others; excellent bass by Charlie Larkey; and Carole’s own, superb piano playing. Only the guitars sound consistently stiff and weak and maybe it just sounds that way to me because I keep hearing folkie acoustic sounds where the songs cry out for some of Cornell Dupree‘s “Rainy Night in Georgia” style: sinuous jazz and pop lines, played with a master’s touch.

In fact, there are places where I think a straight pop production something along the lines of Dusty Springfield‘s Dusty In Memphis would have provided a better, more relaxed context for the music. But, in the end, such speculation leads to nothing. Whatever the context, Carole takes control of it and uses it to say what she has on her mind. Every note reminds you that Tapestry is not the work of pop star backs diddling around in the studio to relieve their own boredom, but the work of an artist still capable of personal creation.

Carole’s voice has often been criticized for being too thin. That it may be, but on Tapestry it is marvelously expressive from first to last.

Conviction and commitment are the life blood of Tapestry and are precisely what make it so fine. Of course, commitment alone means nothing: but commitment coupled with the musical talents of a genuine pop artist mean everything. To paraphrase Pauline Kael, writing about director Jean Renoir. Carole King is thoroughly involved with her music; she reaches out towards us and gives everything she has. And this generosity is so extraordinary that perhaps we can give it another name: passion.

Curtly Mayfield, in a song written at just about the same time Carole was writing “The Locomotion” put it another way: “The woman’s got soul.”