Song 23: Carole King, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” (1971)

Carole-King-Tapestry

Carole King is often lumped in with easy listening pablum, and I guess I understand why. But Tapestry, King’s blockbuster album from 1971, isn’t easy listening. It goes down pretty easy, but not without some complications, most notably King’s voice, which is less polished than many of her colleagues on the radio at the time (critic Robert Christgau described it as free of “technical decorum”).

King’s voice, in fact, is what makes Tapestry so good. These songs are full of heartbreak, and King sounds like someone who is trying to sound sure of herself. It’s the trying that I find so endearing. That probably sounds patronizing, but I mean it as a compliment; it’s an unconventional voice, but it’s a perfect match for these excellent songs.

“Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” was first performed by the Shirelles in 1960, and it was the first big hit (among many) that King wrote with her future husband Gerry Goffin. Hearing the songwriter perform the song more than 10 years after it became a pop classic, drawing out its pathos and darkness and erasing its sheen, is fascinating. I know it’s heresy to say so, but I slightly prefer King’s version of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” over the brilliant original.

King was only 18 years old when she and Goffin wrote “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”, and the fact that it sounds so credible when sung by a 29-year-old King (not to mention countless others of all ages and backgrounds) is testament to its staying power.

The only moment in this song that I don’t like is when James Taylor, whose vocals are generally mixed low on the track, pops up in the bridge like a Muppet in a counting song. C’mon, James Taylor. Take it down a notch.

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