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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"It's Too Late"

Carole King - "It's Too Late" (1971)

The debut single from Tapestry the album that kicked off the Singer-Songwriter boom of the 70's.

Wikipedia points out (with no citation) the the piano part is reminiscent of "Magic to Do" from  Pippin. Go ahead and listen to the first thirty seconds or so, I think you'll agree. My mind always turns to the Dusty Springfield cover of Spooky. The bongos and keyboard opening, plus the same chords changes, means that anytime one song comes on the radio; I always think it's the other one until the vocals turn up. Speaking of the vocals, Carole King really gives us a feeling of realness here. Her voice is professional without sounding over polished. The use of background vocals on this track do hearken back to the 60s girl groups with the "do-do-dos" and use of harmony; but King's voice is not overproduced. Producer Lou Adler was a big name in the 60s, so those holdovers make sense in context, also 1971 is not really that far removed from the height of the popularity of the genre. King actually wrote at least three big hits for girl groups in the 60s with her husband and writing partner Gerry Goffin. Adler won two Grammy awards for this; one for the song, the other for the album.

The jazz nature of the tune comes in right around the minute thirty mark, which is right at the "do-do-do" part. The guitar solo is jazzy, not rock, and segues into a sax solo, all of which has electric piano flourishes under it. the whole middle section is sort of a proto-smooth jazz style, no improvisations, and played in a down tempo with layers of sound all of which are generally pleasant without being too challenging to the listener. The Latin percussion instrumentation (bongos) are also very smooth jazz.

Often forgotten when people talk about this track is King's collaborator Toni Stern. Stern wrote the lyrics for this and about half a dozen of King's songs in the first half of the 70s. She's a painter from Los Angeles who also wrote the lyrics for "Where You Lead" the song used as the theme song for Gillmore Girls. The lyrics are about a relationship that is over, but hasn't ended yet. King is singing to her partner letting them know that nothing can save the relationship but she isn't mad about it, just letting him know. Rumors persist that the song was about an affair between Jams Taylor and Carole King before Taylor married Carly Simon, but as we know Toni Stern wrote the lyrics, maybe the relationship with Taylor was hers?

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