Between the 1950s, when she was still a teenager, and the end of the 20th century, Carole King wrote or co-wrote a phenomenal 118 hit songs. Here, to celebrate her 76th birthday, are 20 of the best.
"Will You Love Me Tomorrow" (1960)
Carole King was just 18 when this plaintive tune, co-written with then-husband and songwriting partner Gerry Goffin, became a No. 1 hit for the Shirelles. It was one of her first big hits and the first chart-topper in the U.S. for a girl group. King revisited the song on 1971's "Tapestry," with Joni Mitchell and James Taylor on background vocals.
"The Loco-Motion" (1962)
Amid the early-'60s dance song craze, King and Goffin came up with a song you could really dance to: "The Loco-Motion." After it was rejected by Dee Dee Sharp—who'd just seen success with "Mashed Potato Time"—the songwriting couple turned to their teenage babysitter Eva Boyd, who released the tune under the name "Little Eva." The song was a Top 10 hit three times: Little Eva's chart-topping single was followed two more versions, by Grand Funk Railroad in 1974 and Kylie Minogue in 1988.
"Up on the Roof" (1962)
King conceived of this ode to safe spaces while out driving when she was 20 years old. The Drifters' version was one of the biggest hits of the '60s. "She was a girl, at her age," recalled Charlie Thomas, one of the R&B group's singers. "But it was amazing the song she gave us." King recorded her own version—a track on her 1970 debut album, "Writer"—with friend James Taylor backing her up on guitar.
"One Fine Day" (1963)
That's King playing a smoking piano introduction on this Chiffons hit. And she smoked it again with a remake of her own composition for the 1980 album "Pearls: Songs of Goffin and King." Released as a single, the track became a No. 2 hit. It's one of King's most covered songs, with versions by artists including Natalie Merchant, Bette Midler and the Carpenters .
"Oh No Not My Baby" (1964)
Maxine Brown's hit version of this song about "boys who play with hearts like they were toys" had plenty of heartbreak. But King's own version from 1980's "Pearls" is shattering and beautiful, evidence that the composer was often the best interpreter of her own work—except, of course, when it comes to Aretha Franklin.
"(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" (1967)
One of the greatest songs in pop history, this King and Goffin composition gave Aretha Franklin a signature song. King's own 1971 "Tapestry" rendition—filled with heart-rending emotion—also stands out as a classic. The two came together in 2015 when King was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient and Franklin unexpectedly ripped into a transcendent "Natural Woman" while an overwhelmed King looked on. It's a classic awards show moment, one that reduced President Barack Obama to tears.
"Wasn’t Born to Follow" (1968)
Never a hit, this late King and Goffin composition is best known from the Byrds recording heard on the soundtrack of "Easy Rider" in 1969. By then, the King-Goffin marriage had ended. Living in L.A. with the couple's two children, King had formed a short-lived group called The City, which recorded a pre-"Easy Rider" version of the song.
King's "Tapestry" ode to self-affirmation came to her one morning as she was people watching while riding the New York subway. It has served as the theme song for "get out of bed and face the world" hopefuls ever since.
"You’ve Got a Friend" (1971)
King said this "Tapestry" composition was "as close to pure inspiration as I've ever experienced. The song wrote itself. It was written by something outside myself, through me." Her version was recorded simultaneously with friend James Taylor's—which used the same backing musicians and became a No. 1 hit in 1971.
"It’s Too Late" (1971)
King's sad but woman-strong breakup song—called rare by contemporary critics because, in this case, the woman has left the man—tells its story with no bitterness or recrimination, just mature and thoughtful moving on.
"So Far Away" (1971)
Ironically, King's 1971 song about emotional and physical separation seems even more relevant today in a time when social media has supposedly brought the world together. The "Tapestry" hit was a favorite of Amy Winehouse, whose 2011 funeral ended with mourners singing a rendition of the song.
"Sweet Seasons" (1971)
"A life in the open, a life in the country": the lyrics of this song evoke the early-'70s back-to-the-country movement and anticipate King's own move to the town of Stanley, Idaho (pop. 63), where she has lived for more than 30 years.
King scored big with this tribute to anonymous horn players everywhere from her album "Wrap Around Joy." With lyrics by former Steely Dan vocalist David Palmer, King does indeed "make it nice, play it clean." The song also appears in one the most celebrated episodes ot "The Simpsons" when Lisa jams with recurring character/sax king "Bleeding Gums Murphy."
"Really Rosie" (1975)
The title song of the soundtrack to an animated children's TV special, this collaboration between King and author Maurice Sendak ("Where the Wild Things Are") speaks to its young audience with intelligence, wit and charm.
"Time Gone By" (1979)
King's best songs look to the personal rather than the political. But "Time Gone By," from her neglected "Touch the Sky" album takes a political stance that, to some, seems eerily prescient: "Sometimes a leader emerges / And is followed for a while / Doesn't matter what he encourages / As long as he's got style."
"Someone You Never Met Before" (1982)
King turned to former husband and lyricist Gerry Goffin when working on this song from her underappreciated 1982 album "One to One." It's the album's strongest track and harkens back to the duo's early "Up On the Roof" ability to capture in words and music a universal feeling.
"City Streets" (1989)
After 1983's poorly received album "Speeding Time," King took a six-year break from recording and dipped a toe into acting, starring in the off-Broadway production "A Minor Incident." With the title song of her "City Streets" album, King made a musical comeback with one of the loveliest, most passionate songs she ever produced—backed up by a bit of stunning guitar work from Eric Clapton.
"Now and Forever" (1992)
This one was set to play with the closing credits of "A League of Their Own," but then director Penny Marshall discovered that she was contractually obligated to end the film with a song by one of its stars, Madonna. Unwilling to scrap King's tune, Marshall reshot the opening of her movie and placed "Now and Forever" at the beginning. The song later appeared on King's 1993 album "Colour of Your Dreams."
"Hold Out For Love" (1993)
King fully moved away from her 1970s "Tapestry" sound with this anthemic call to "hold out for the real thing" when it comes to love. Here, her voice is raspier and has a rougher edge than before, which fits perfectly with guest guitarist Slash and his searing licks.
"You Will Find Me There" (2001)
On "Love Makes the World," her last studio album of new material, King seems to sum up her life-long relationship with her legions of fans in this song: "You don't have to wear the weight of the / World on your shoulders / Don't you know I'll be there for you, always, always / You can tell me anything, and you know I'll understand."
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