Great Covers: Tapestry (1971)
It is one of the defining LPs of the early 1970s, and for me one of the go-to albums, perhaps the go-to album, if I do not know what else to play.
By the time Carole King released Tapestry she already was a veteran in the music business, having been a teenage songwriter for Aldon Music at 1650 Broadway (and the subject of Neil Sedaka’s hit Oh Carol; she responded with an answer record titled Oh Neil). She was 18 when she had her first #1 as a songwriter, with The Shirelles’ version of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow in 1961. In the ten years between that and the release of Tapestry she had a prolific songwriting career, but as a recording artist she had only a minor hit with It Might As Well Rain Till September. Her uneven 1970 debut album, Writer, was a commercial disappointment; it has many bright spots, but cannot nearly compare with the sublime perfection of Tapestry.
So when Tapestry became a critical triumph and a mammoth hit after its release in February 1971, topping the US album charts for 15 weeks, it was something of a surprise.
The cover photo was taken by Jim McCrary – who died on April 29 – in the living room of her house at 8815 Appian Way in Laurel Canyon (McCrary’s website says it was at Wonderland Avenue; he also took the photo of the cover for Music, the location of which he identified as being on Appian Way). At first sight it is an unremarkable shot. A woman in her late 20s sits on a windowsill. The photo is in soft focus. And yet, the image is compelling. Viewing it feels like an intrusion into an intimate moment, a woman feeling at peace in her domain. Her bare feet suggest that we are not really invited into this domestic scene; if we came knocking at her door, she might put on footwear and her serene body language might change. And the cat would scram and hide.
The feline, who went by the name of Telemachus, was not there by accident, as it would appear. It may spoil the enjoyment of the cover a little to know that the tabby was a spontaneously employed prop. McCrary later recalled seeing Telemachus sleeping on his pillow across the room. Recalling a Kodak survey which revealed that after children, cats were the most popular photo subject, he asked King whether he could use the cat in a photo. “I saw a cat, and I wanted to get something good,” he remembered. Having ascertained that the cat was tame, he carried Telemachus on his pillow to the window ledge. He managed to take three photos before the cat, no doubt annoyed at having been awoken, had enough and made tracks. But McCrary had the perfect shot: the barefoot Carole with sunlight filtering upon her, holding a tapestry that she was busy creating, and her cat sitting in front of her, as if guarding the singer.
A remastered version of Tapestry was re-released in 2008 with a bonus CD featuring all but one of the tracks of the album in live versions, recorded between 1973 and 1976. It is highly recommended. The back-cover of it (pictured above) features another photo from the McCrary session. For more photos of Carole King and others by the late Jim McCreary see www.jimmccrary.com.
Here’s a mix of cover versions of the songs of Tapestry, with an appearance by Carole King from that bonus CD, in their original tracklisting order. Given my bias for soul covers, many of them are of that genre. Most were recorded soon after the release of Tapestry. One of the exceptions is the cover of Way Over Yonder by David Roe, a New Orleans street musician (see royalrounders.com). Fans of The Originals will be interested in Kate Taylor’s version of Home Again, which was released shortly before Tapestry came out. Finally, the vocals on the Quincy Jones version of Smackwater Jack are by, unusually, Quincy himself.
1. Carole King – I Feel The Earth Move (live) (1973)
2. Marlena Shaw – So Far Away (1972)
3. Mike James Kirkland – It’s Too Late (1972)
4. Kate Taylor – Home Again (1971)
5. Barbra Streisand – Beautiful (1971)
6. David Roe – Way Over Yonder (2004)
7. Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway – You’ve Got A Friend (1972)
8. Faith Hill – Where You Lead (1995)
9. Zulema – Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (1972)
10. Quincy Jones – Smackwater Jack (1971)
11. Jackie & Roy – Tapestry (1972)
12. Laura Nyro & Labelle – (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (Live) (1971)
BONUS TRACK: The Isley Brothers – It’s Too Late (1972)