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Carole King’s Tapestry by Loren Glass

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This title in Bloomsbury’s thoughtful 33 1/3 series is by Loren Glass, a professor of English at the University of Iowa in the USA. Writing about music is always a curious business – “dancing about architecture” –  and Glass takes a personal approach, dedicating the book to his mother and describing his memory of “the singer songwriters whose albums [she] played as I was growing up.” Tapestry was one of her favourites and Glass links it to the sexual revolution of the sixties and the feminism which followed. He observes that King favours the term “woman” over “girl” and how she sang as “the subject, not the object, of sexual experience and desire.” Tapestry, says Glass, “heralded a new, more equitable era for parents and their children.” He also writes that “the peak years of the women’s liberation movement coincide with the apogee of the long-playing album as an art form.”

There are five chapters in this short volume. One of the slightly odd things about the book is that each chapter feels almost complete in itself. The introduction is an essay in its own right. Next comes Maturity, giving the biographical background about King and her turbulent relationship with husband and lyricist Gerry Goffin. Then comes Trilogy, describing the three albums which King calls a trilogy in her autobiography: Now that everything’s been said, Writer, and Tapestry itself. Glass describes the recording of Tapestry and then gives a song by song commentary. Chapter 3 (or 4) is Celebrity, looking at King’s profile and career following Tapestry. The book closes with Legacy, looking at King’s later more retrospective career and reflecting on the significance of Tapestry today.

Glass goes over the top from time to time. ““No album before or since has been able to speak so intimately to so many for so long,” he says. And later that, “Only the Beatles have achieved this degree of cross-generational appeal … but most of us grow out of our Beatles phase while Tapestry endures.” I could do without the hyberbole; it is of course a fine album but one of the curious things is that it was James Taylor who better caught the magic of You’ve got a friend, in my opinion, and Aretha Franklin (for whom the song was written) who has the best performance of (You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman.

I enjoyed the book and learned a lot about Carole King, Tapestry, and the other albums Glass covers in some detail. I also appreciated the personal approach. On the other hand, I am not convinced the book is structured in the best way; it seems repetitive at times and I would have liked a sharper focus and more detail on the album itself, perhaps gathering together some of the fragmented commentary into a longer song-by-song analysis. Still a good read for anyone who loves this classic album.

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