Thursday, 17 November 2011

I Never Dreamed/A Road to Nowhere - CAROLE KING / GERRY GOFFIN

The Cookies - I Never Dreamed - Recorded 1964
Carole King - A Road to Nowhere - Recorded 1966

As The Drifters hit version of  "Up on the Roof" serenaded love-crossed teenagers across America, it's composer Carole King was preparing to give birth to her second child. It was 1963 and she was 21 years old.

In addition to music, King (real name Stein) had bonded with husband and song-writing partner Gerry Goffin through the shared experience of childhoods spent with dysfunctional New York families. For her it was twice divorced parents in backwater Brooklyn; for him a largely absent and philandering father in Queens. Driven by a precocious talent, a strong work ethic and a large dose of marital insecurity, King launched the pair into a devastating partnership in the highly competitive hit-factory at Broadway's Brill Building. Harnessed by demanding label boss Don Kirshner, the young songwriters drew melodramatic inspiration from the recent but increasingly long gone days of their carefree youth.

Don Kirshner, Carole King and Gerry Goffin
Carole hammered out piano riffs to Gerry's lyrics, which after scrutiny by Kirshner were then placed with an assembly line of talent. "Some Kind of Wonderful" - The Drifters, "Crying in The Rain" - The Everly Brothers, "One Fine Day" - The Chiffons and "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" - The Shirelles. Era defining records and crucially best selling hits.

But right about here things began to change.

Carole demoed the songs and on occasion was allowed a single release under her own name, but under Gerry's insistence, 1963's "It Might as Well Rain Until September" was earmarked as her last. Carole bounced back investing her creativity in the perfect girl group The Cookies and their recording of "Chains" would reward the songwriting duo with even wider exposure when The Beatles covered the song on their first LP. The black girl sound was a winning formula and an enthusiastic Gerry would take to the road with The Cookies, leaving Carole at home with the two kids. By early 1964 it was apparent that Cookies vocalist Earl-Jean McCrea was pregnant but incredibly the professional life of Goffin & King did not obviously turn upside down when it was revealed that Gerry was the father! Life went on in a way that can only be explained by the context of the times they were living in. A Goffin & King title recorded by The Crystals in this period gives as good an indication of the state of socio-sexual relations as much as anything and "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)" would sound as provocative as its title. The show went on. An absent Carole even allowed Gerry to work with Russ Titelman on The Cookies next single that same year. The achingly beautiful "I Never Dreamed" captured exactly where Gerry's thoughts were, drawing from him a deeply personal lyric that placed the song a few notches above the many sound-a-like classics of the period:

"He tells me I'm pretty... and then I feel pretty"

And on it went. Carole's sang-froid, would eventually see her writing a song specifically for a solo Earl-Jean, with "I'm Into Something Good" as prescient a title as the song which had prematurely ended Carole's stab at a solo career the previous year.

By 1965 the couple had soldiered on with a move out of town to a leafy part of New Jersey. Recorded by The Monkees two years later, the satirical "Pleasant Valley Sunday" was written in honour of their new suburban surroundings and would capture the pretence of the life lived for the neighbours. It was a scenario all too true and a situation exacerbated when one of those neighbours became Earl-Jean; Gerry financing the nearby house for his second family from the couple's song-writing royalties.

Carole King - solo 
And the music was changing too. The popularity of the Motown soul factory was threatening the Brill Building dominance and the growing influence of Dylan and The Beatles would inspire the pair to gamble on a label of their own. Optimistically called Tomorrow Records, the aspirations  to broaden horizons were lofty but they would only result in drug experimentation for a mentally frail Gerry and a fling for Carole with a musician from a protege beat group.

This personal deterioration is captured in "A Road To Nowhere", a 1966 recording on the increasingly ironic-sounding imprint. A doom filled, cymbal crashing drone of a song, it sounds like a telepathic message to the music being made across the Hudson by the newly formed Velvet Underground. Both "All Tomorrow's Parties" and "Venus in Furs" have much in common with this soulful scream from the heart, with Carole's multi-tracked vocals soaring in the abyss. The song is credited to Goffin/King but to consider this as a true collaboration would surely be stretching the endurance of their relationship to exotic lengths. The lyrics are closer to a session with the psycho-analyst than anything else and they would re-ignite Carole's determination to strike out alone.

A Road to Nowhere - 1966

Carole soon broke free, separating from Gerry and heading for a new life in Los Angeles. From this she fell into the hands of Lou Adler and her re-invention as a Laurel Canyon troubadour. Gerry too found himself in LA and attempts were made for professional reconciliation, resulting in songs written to provide income for their children. It was short-lived and when "Tapestry" appeared with words and music by Carole, the relationship was finally dissolved. Gerry would move back East to battle with his own demons.

The years covered by this period of transition 1965-68 would result in a cache of superb Goffin/King collaborations as recorded by other artists. That such a body of work could be written under such duress highlights the discipline installed by the Brill Building regime and makes the powerful connection that entwined this song-writing team together all the more remarkable. A quick scan through these song titles captures a poignant story unfolding.

Oh No Not My Baby - Manfred Mann/Dusty Springfield
Stage Door - Tony Jackson/Peter James
Some of Your Lovin'-The Honeybees/Dusty Springfield
Honey & Wine - The Hollies
Yes I Will - The Hollies/The Monkees
Take a Giant Step - The Rising Sons/The Monkees
Just Once in My Life - The Righteous Brothers
Wasn't It You - The Action/Peggy Lipton
Goin' Back - Dusty Springfield/The Byrds/Goldie & the Gingerbreads
So Much Love - Ben E King/Blood Sweat & Tears
I Need You - Chuck Jackson/The Walker Brothers
Don't Forget About Me - Barbara Lewis/Dusty Springfield
Is This What I Get For Loving You - PP Arnold/Marianne Faithfull
Don't Bring Me Down - The Animals
I Can't Make It Alone - PJ Proby/Dusty Springfield
Yours Until Tomorrow - Dee Dee Warwick
I Happen To Love You - The Myddle Class/The Electric Prunes
The Snow Queen - Roger Nicholls & A Small Circle of Friends
Wasn't Born To Follow - The Byrds/Dusty Springfield
(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman - Aretha Franklin
You're Just What I was Looking For - The Everly Brothers/Status Quo
So Goes Love - The Turtles
Pleasant Valley Sunday - The Monkees
Porpoise Song - The Monkees
No Easy Way Down - The American Breed/Dusty Springfield
The Right to Cry - Erma Franklin
Who Needs It - Peggy Lipton

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