It's early February of a suddenly extremely new-feeling year, after four tumultuous ones when riots broke out, youngsters embraced a new technology and women shattered glass ceilings.
The year is 2021, right?
Nope. It's 50 years ago: 1971. The new medium isn't TikTok, but FM radio. The tumults are grave: the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the chaotic Democratic National Convention in Chicago that same year, and deaths at Altamont and Kent State in 1969 and ‘70. And in this case, the female breakout star is Carole King.
While King had already made her way as a composer of pop both jaunty (1962's “The Loco-Motion") and soulful (1962's “Up On The Roof,” 1967's “A Natural Woman" written with her then-husband Gerry Goffin), it was her album Tapestry, released Feb. 10, 1971, that revealed her to be a stunning, venerated purveyor of serious rock. Her visage on the album cover defined a new form of beautiful — natural and makeup-free — and rallied the counterculture FM generation. Tapestry was the most Grammy-winning album of 1971, just about the most successful album of the decade, and proof that women could rule rock's formerly male-dominated world.
A new road, a new start
Tapestry's success starts with a pivotal journey of King's. In 1967 she moved, with two young daughters, to L.A.'s new young-rock mecca, Laurel Canyon, after divorcing Goffin. She fell in with a musical family of friends including James Taylor and poet Toni Stern (who wrote lyrics for “Where You Lead” and “It's Too Late"). Her new, younger friends were intrigued with her professionalism, lack of artifice and earth-motherliness, a term just coming into use. “You'd go to Carole's house and she was already making stuffed peppers for dinner ... at 11 a.m,” said Betsy Asher, first wife of Peter Asher, the producer who discovered Taylor. “I think Carole was comforted and inspired by the freedom and the closeness she found with us — she blossomed,” her best friend Stephanie Fischbach told me. “She seemed happy. She told me this was the right life for her.” At 29, King was personifying the Dylan lyrics made famous by her Laurel Canyon neighbors the Byrds: “I was so much older then; I'm younger than that now."