I’m sure that some of you married folks out there are aware of that mystical term “exception clause.”
For the uninitiated, it’s the tongue-in-cheek reference made by couples who jokingly have a short list of famous people who would be permissible to “date” in the one-in-ten-gazillion chance that either of you actually had the opportunity to do so.
Sure, I would be a selfish ingrate to the worst degree if I ever stood in the way of my lovely wife (who, yet again, shall remain blamelessly nameless) if she had the chance to hook up with her lifetime loves Ernest Borgnine, Jim Nabors, and, of course, Jerry Lee Lewis.
Who would want to stand in the way of that triumvirate of passion? Not me. I’m the sensitive type, y’know.
Well, as readers of this column might guess, my “exception clause” contains three musicians who float my “yacht of yearning” in every possible way.
Emmylou Harris personifies the total talent package in my “Kindle Fire,” especially when her hair started turning grey and she did nothing to stop it. If music is the voice of God (as Brian Wilson said), then Emmylou certainly is a member of that living angelic choir.
Bonnie Raitt is the second on my list, and yes, those cute freckles are matched only by the sweet soulfulness of her voice and guitar. She’s incredible in every possible way.
My final entry has been on my list the longest. Since the late 1960s, I have been totally enamored by the astounding Carole King.
As a certified teenaged nerd who worked at Turner Music House on Walton Way, I saw King’s writing credits on so many pieces of sheet music that I used to wonder why she wasn’t a star in her own right. Of course, 1971’s epic Tapestry righted that wrong in short order, selling 25 million copies while staying on the charts six years!
Many of the songs King wrote with her first husband Gerry Goffin were pure pop brilliance. Take Good Care of My Baby (Bobby Vee), Crying in the Rain (The Everly Brothers), You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman (Aretha Franklin), and The Monkees smash Pleasant Valley Sunday were just a few of the staggering 118 Billboard hits she composed, the majority of which were for other artists.
Why didn’t she record these amazing songs herself? Just like the early days in the careers of Neil Young and Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, King did not think her voice was strong enough to be a solo artist. Add a strong dose of stage fright to the mix and one understands why she gave most of her tunes away.
On Legendary Demos, King and Goffin made raw demos of these songs that have never seen major release … until now. The album, issued a few weeks ago, contains all of the aforementioned songs along with early working versions of six Tapestry gems including It’s Too Late, Beautiful and Way Over Yonder.
Most of these demos feature King alone at the piano, giving the listener the surreal experience of being in the same, cramped room at the famed Brill Building in Manhattan where she and Goffin worked tirelessly at their craft. Yes, her piano might be a bit out of tune here and there but King’s soulful, gospel-tinged piano playing would not be out of place at our own Tabernacle Baptist Church. Say Amen!
Like many composers including George Gershwin, Burt Bacharach and Neil Sedaka, King was not known for her lyric-writing ability, as Goffin (and later, Toni Stern) wrote most of the words to her biggest songs. But it was her sense of melody, phrasing and complete understanding of the teenage mind (she wrote her first hit at 18) that propelled her into the rarefied air that few musicians ever breathe.
King is now retired and has recently released A Natural Woman, a memoir of her 50-plus years in the music biz. But these Legendary Demos seem to tell her story in the best way King knows how: with her music. For millions of people, her music will always make them feel the earth move. Oh, Carole!