King, Mitchell, and Myself
On Tapestry, Blue, and the transcendent power of a damn good record.
When I listened to Carole King’s Tapestry for the first time, I was riding down the interstate in the passenger seat of my best friend’s Toyota. I felt distinct from him for those forty-five minutes— like he was listening to a very good album, but I was craning to hear a very long and important voicemail left for me in 1971.
Tapestry is a fairly ubiquitous album. I think it’s impossible to grow up in America, especially with parents who came of age in the seventies, and not be familiar with at least a couple of its tracks (I feel the earth move under my feet, I feel the sky tumbling down…) but as I leaned forward in my seat, arms hugging my knees, all but putting my ear against the rumbling speaker — even those tracks I’d heard countless times before were reaching me for the first.
Of course, Tapestry wasn’t written for me, but maybe that’s one of the hallmarks of a truly great work: the universal and timeless certainty that it speaks to you — just you — in a unique way. In that narcissistic delusion and sacred conviction, we are all both wrong and right.
Carole King’s Tapestry and Joni Mitchell’s Blue were recorded concurrently at A&M Studios in the first half of 1971. Many of the cuts from both albums feature the same piano; it belonged to Mitchell’s studio, but King preferred its sound to that of her own. Joni was happy to oblige. Mitchell also laid down background vocals for several tracks on Tapestry. By all accounts, Carole and Joni were integral to each other’s creative process. James Taylor was also a common thread through these two weavings— friend to one songwriter, current partner to the other, and a contributor to both records. It seems almost ludicrous that this pair of albums — widely considered two of the greatest of all time — were created so inextricably from each other. I think it says a lot about the absurdity of our competitive streak as artists, or even simply as people: that these two women worked not in opposition to each other, but in happy concert, and only then did they each give life to masterpiece.
Carole King’s personal piano was auctioned by Christie’s in 2018, and due to its hallowed place in music history it sold for more than most average Americans make in a year. My preoccupation, though, lies elsewhere. I often think of that lonely, industrious piano at A&M Studios, humbly gifting us with both Tapestry and Blue — a retired musician in and of itself, with more stories held in its strings and hammers than we could hear in a lifetime.
Just like the grooves in my crackling records, the novelty of this music should be wearing down with each use. Yet, whenever I spin Tapestry or Blue, I still find myself craning towards the speaker for each depression of the keys — listening to the life of that unassuming piano, and its legendary players, echo against the lid. Slow down, turn up the volume, and listen closely. There are messages everywhere, just for me and just for you.