Saturday, 5 March 2011

Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain but all my cares just drift right into space on the roof

Songs Everyone Should Know

“Up on the Roof” by Carole King and James Taylor (2010)

Holy crap where do I begin! There is so much historical significance here I fear I can barely scratch the surface, but I will try to give you an idea or two.

This album from last year has a good cover of the song the Drifters1 originally made famous in 1963. That is where we start..........

Married when they were teenagers Carole King and her husband Gerry Goffin worked as part of the song writing team in the Brill Building in New York. (in Manhattan not far from the famous Tin Pan Alley – another story, another time).  The Brill Building is important for song writing and publishing that pre-dates World War I.  This is where ‘Big Band’ hits were pounded out. You might think this sounds sort of contrived, but music was big business. Was there a formula for a hit song? Arguably the results speak for themselves. You could cut a demo, find a manager, find a publisher, and find someone to release your work all in one building. Song writers worked in cramped rooms side-by-side to craft the next pop hit, competing head- to- head, under a lot of pressure to find that elusive song. Carole and Gerry were deep in the mix.   

Carole King went on to be one of the biggest female singers of the ‘70s with the pinnacle of her career coming with the album “Tapestry” in 1971, number 1 album on the charts for 15 weeks and staying on the charts for some 300 weeks.  It was huge and Carole became a household name. No more being stuck in the little cubby hole in the Brill Building!

Interestingly Carole and Gerry’s daughter Louise Goffin is a talented singer-songwriter but never hit the big time like her famous parents. (I like her first album ‘Kid Blue’, with songs like “Red Lite Fever”, and “All I’ve Got to Do” and some help from her famous parent’s producer friend Danny Kortchmar1). Her most recent album “Sometimes a Circle” of 2002 is a much more mature effort.

A bit obscure, my favourite Carole King song to this day is “Main Street Saturday Night”. A kind of disco-era one-off describing American teen culture – a good reprieve from all the disco at the time really.  She also put out a very cool version of “One Fine Day” which was a number one hit by the Chiffons that Carole and Gerry wrote (actually originally intended for Little Eva, their babysitter of ” Locomotion” fame)

If you look under “singer-song writer” the definition will likely be ‘James Taylor’. “Fire and Rain” and “You’ve Got a Friend” were huge for James in the early ‘70’s. Anthems for the underdog! This is where we first get our connection to Carole King – She Wrote “You’ve Got a Friend”. If you want a good primer for James Taylor I would give the album “Sweet Baby James” a listen. Sweet Baby James was a song he wrote for his brother’s recently born baby that he called ‘James’ after his famous uncle. He purportedly wrote this on his way back from touring England with this ‘Fire and Rain’ fame requiring him to tour.

Finally, The Troubadour coffee house built in Los Angeles (1967) was originally modeled after the Troubadour coffee house in England – the sign even looks the same.  Serious music fans have gone here to see artists ever since. It is on the famous Santa Monica Boulevard (referenced by Sheryl Crow in her 1993 ‘All I Wanna Do’.)  If you were crusin’ in your stingray late on night3 you probably would drive by it.
Everybody and his dog has played here include Carole and James, but also Joni Mitchell, The Eagles, Elton John, Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen, and even Guns N’ Roses, and Motley Crue.
This album is worth a listen for its own sake never mind the myriad of music history here.

1.       The Drifters -Popular doo-wop group popular in the late '50's early '60's.
2.       Danny Kortchmar produced many famous artists, including but certainly not limited to Don Henley, Jackson Browne, and Hall & Oats.
3.       Refers to the Jan and Dean song “Deadpan’s Curve” 1964.

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