Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Carole King - Phases (2-CD)

Compliation (single artist)
Compilation (various artist)

My fascination with Carole King started in pre-adolescence. That is to say, I had always been aware of her on some level; whether it was her early collaborations with Gerry Goffin on things like "The Locomotion" and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" or via the battered copy of Tapestry my parents kept around the house. (My folks listened to a lot of albums back then, but as a tot I liked Tapestry the best because Carole was funkier than Joan Baez and much prettier than Harry Chapin.)

As I grew older and began to expand my musical horizons a bit, Carole was right there with me. Whether it was the Monkees, the Byrds, the Beatles, the Association, the Turtles or the Strawberry Alarm Clock, it seemed like almost everybody covered at least one Goffin/King tune! More to the point, those songs were almost always ear-worms, peeking their little worm heads out from their surroundings as if to say, "yeah, we were written by people who knew exactly what the hell they were doing".

Yet apart from that old copy of Tapestry, I never really made any valiant effort to check out any of Carole's solo material. That all changed on a fateful afternoon when my friend Jack (er, former friend, but that's another story!) and I drove up to Montclair to check out the CD store he used to work at, Village Sounds. Now I had heard stories about Village Sounds being a front for some sort of money laundering scheme, and sure enough as I started to peruse their CD collection those stories began to ring true. Basically, the place was cut-out city. It was as if they specialized in music that no other stores would sell. Rack after rack of garbage: Krokus, Firefall, Armored Saint, Rob Base & DJ Eazy Rock, Winger. If it sucked or was played out, chances are Village Sounds had it in stock. But then a funny thing happened on the way to rock 'n' roll hell. Amongst the dross, a solitary album cover caught my eye-- two dudes and a chick, nondescript really, leaning up against an old broken down car parked out in a field. And neatly typed up in a very plain-Jayne kinda font alongside the car's driver's side window read simply, "The City".

Something about the overall simplicity of its front cover immediately separated this disc from the garishly adored flotsam that surrounded it on all sides. Mildly intrigued, I picked it up and examined the back cover. "Snow Queen", "A Man Without a Dream", "Wasn't Born to Follow", "Hi-De-Ho", "Now That Everything's Been Said"-- Hot damn! This was a Real Carole King Album from the Sixties, with her singing all my favorite songs! I grabbed it and left Village Sounds, and upon returning back to my old Park Boulevard pad, immediately put said disc on the Sony 5-CD changer. The opening piano lines to "Snow Queen" filled the room and I was hooked.

I don't why I felt it important to explain my lifelong attraction to the music of Carole King just now, other than possibly to impart to you how much the songs you're about to hear mean to me. Her work with both Gerry Goffin and Toni Stern has been covered by virtually anyone who's anyone in the music biz; but astoundingly-- considering the level of talent of the people she's always composed for-- Carole's own versions of her songs almost always trump even the greatest of covers. (See "Wasn't Born to Follow" for an example.) There's just something about the way her soulful, throaty vocal delivery compliments her fluid piano lines that just works on such a high level; at her best she's operating on the same plane as Laura, Dusty, Jackie or Aretha-- all of whom covered Carole King songs by the way, and all of whom are present on the set I'm about to discuss.

So what is Phases then? I suppose you could say its the final fruits of a seed that was planted in my head around the same time I first heard the City CD. Here's the plot: I wanted a 2 disc set that contained a collection of some of the very best cover versions of Carole King tunes on one disc, with Carole's own versions of the same exact songs on the second disc. It's such a simple concept really that I cannot fathom how such a thing is not already out on the market! I started off by compiling a list twenty-three classic Carole King performances (roughly 80 minutes) from what I consider the peak of her career as a writer and performer; 1966-71. Then it was just a matter of accumulating some exquisite contemporaneous covers of those songs; something I've been working on for the last fifteen months. (I crossed the final one off my list last night-- Matthews' Southern Comfort's groovy CSN-meets-Beach Boys take on "To Love".)

As I sit here listening back to Phases while I write this, I realize this really was a brilliant idea on my part. (Pardon the self-aggrandizement, but I'm feeling entitled at the moment!) The first disc of Phases alone serves as an awesome "Best Of" sampler of Carole's phenomenal talents as a singer/songwriter (including the four never-before-released demos that start the set off), but hearing the second disc-- with such an amazing All-Star roster of artists taking turns re-interpreting these gems-- it just does my heart good to listen to it. And so, it's my sincere hope that you will enjoy both discs 1 and 2 of Carole's Phases as much as I do. And if you do, please by all means come back and leave us a comment or two letting us know how much Carole's music means to YOU.


  1. Beautiful post there Jason...inspiring me to pick up her stuff once and for all!

    Todd (Leo K)

  2. Cheers, Todd! Let me know how you enjoy Phases!

  3. Nice work you've done here; I really don't know much about King except her songs on the Byrds' Notorious Byrds Brothers, the Beatles' "Chains" (didn't know that was her!) and Strawberry Alarm Clock's Lady Of The Lake and Blues For A Young Girl Gone.

    Do you know if King (or anyone else) recorded versions of those last two? I've only ever heard of them in the context of the SAC's third album, The World In A Sea Shell.

  4. Hi Jeremy... I've wondered the same thing myself, but all signs point to "no". The story I've heard as related by one of the SAC guys is that she happened upon them in the recording studio and basically wrote the songs specifically for them.

  5. Excellent SAC site you pointed to by the way. Everyone here ought to check it out!

  6. Thanks. Yeah that SAC site is a lot of fun reading. Feel free to put a link on the side of the page here on Crystal Sphere, I bet your readers would get a kick out of it.

    It's an odd thing with SAC; one on hand it's nice to have Carole King have written songs specifically for you... but all in all I think the band was really preferring to record their own songs at that time.

  7. >>prettier than Harry Chapin
    But not Harry Nilsson!

    This is great J-Man! Jesus, what do you say about Carole King? Like Brian Wilson, she is somebody I just can't imagine myself meeting. It would be hopeless, I would stand there bug-eyed, stammering and stupefied.

    There's an old, lo-fi bootlegged recording of Bruce doing "Up On The Roof" during a '75 club date. The reaction of the crowd as he starts it is priceless; a warm, appreciative "Ahhh" sweeps through the room, like they've bumped into an old, dear friend they weren't expecting to see. It's a beautiful little moment, and a nice reminder of how deeply these songs run through people's hearts.

  8. Wow! This was a "box set" that I always wanted to attempt to create myself, but now you've done all the work for me! I can't thank you enough. Also really digging the Monkees "Porpoise Song", as you've used the extended/single mix that I haven't been able to find! Bravo!

  9. This really is a great compilation. I resequenced it for myself with the two discs interspersed with one another (Carole's version followed by the cover).

    It's a grand listen. Thanks for sharing it!

  10. Hey there! Thanks again for everything. The link for disc two is showing up as expired. Is it possible to re-up that one? Happy New Year!!

  11. My apologies for buggin' but I'm still getting this when I click the link for the second disc...

    Sorry, the file you requested is not available.

    This file has been deleted. Please contact the uploader and ask them to upload the file again. sendspace is not able to help you in this matter.

  12. Hi Alan... My SendSpace account expired and I need to give those guys some money. Please keep checking back as I intend to suss this out sooner than later.

  13. Sounds like a good idea, but i can't see links anywhere