The City | Not Your Mama’s Carole King

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She felt the earth move under her feet, she wanted you to love her tomorrow – you know her as your mama’s Carole King. But before she sat barefoot on the cover of Tapestry, she was part of a brief rock and roll moment with a band called The City.

Rewind several years before “You’ve Got a Friend” and you’ll find a hard-working resident in the great hit-making compound known as New York’s Brill Building. Here, Carole plunged into the world of music, writing for quick cash and getting noticed by The Monkees, The Shirelles and even The Beatles. Carole King describes the atmosphere at the Brill Building publishing houses of the period:

Every day we squeezed into our respective cubby holes with just enough room for a piano, a bench, and maybe a chair for the lyricist if you were lucky. You’d sit there and write and you could hear someone in the next cubby hole composing a song exactly like yours. The pressure in the Brill Building was really terrific—because Donny (Kirshner) would play one songwriter against another. He’d say: “We need a new smash hit”—and we’d all go back and write a song and the next day we’d each audition for Bobby Vee’s producer.*

In 1967, after paying her dues, King ditched the grind and left for sunny California. She set up in Laurel Canyon, which would become home to the California country sound, molded by the likes of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor,  Crosby Stills Nash & Young, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and The Mamas & Papas. She began collaborating with Danny Kortchmar, guitarist for the iconic New York City beatnik/ satire band, The Fugs, featuring poets Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg.

 

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Joni Mitchell & Carole King, 1971

Kortchmar had moved to Los Angeles with the bassist of The Myddle Class, Charles Larkey. Fun fact: The Velvet Underground played their first ever show as the opening act for The Myddle Class at a suburban New Jersey high school in December 1965. Also in The Myddle Class was vocalist David Palmer – who co-wrote some of the songs on The City’s only ever album Now That Everything’s Been Said - before becoming the lead singer of Steely Dan’s 1972 hit “Dirty Work.”

With Danny Korchmar on guitar and vocals, Charles Larkey on bass, Carole on piano and vocals, and Jim Gordon on drums, The City was born. Gordon would eventually reach fame and fortune playing on and co-writing the classic rock tune “Layla” with Derek & the Dominoes. He also was the drummer for the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds as well as George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. Sadly, Gordon would eventually fall victim to mental illness and become infamous for the murder of his mother in 1983.

Heavily influenced by their peers in Laurel Canyon, members of The City created the one-off album, Now That Everything’s Been Said, which stands as a beautiful experiment in the mellow, psych-influenced canyon rock of the day. On this album we find King holding the microphone, singing her own songs for the very first time. And yet, she isn’t timidly emerging or finding her voice. She approaches the microphone with the comfort and ease of a veteran because, by this time, she’s already been all over the radio. Her voice emerges warm and confident and is backed by an ensemble who knows how to support it, letting her shine while lending their own creative direction.

While the album itself is seen as a “missing link” of sorts – an overlooked and forgotten blip on the radar of King’s prolific career – it produced two notable covers. Blood, Sweat & Tears had great success covering The City’s “Hi-Di-Ho” and The Byrds recorded “Wasn’t Born to Follow” which was featured in the film Easy Rider, making it a counter-culture anthem.

 

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Carole with album producer, Lou Adler

This album was produced by Monterey Pop Festival coordinator Lou Adler, who also produced The Mamas & Papas, Sam Cooke and every Mary Clayton album. Adler released Now That Everything’s Been Said on his label, Ode, which also put out the Brothers And Sisters’ Dylan’s Gospel release (which we also reissued). Unfortunately, for all her talent and songwriting experience, King had terrible stage fright and was unwilling to tour with the album. As a result,  sales were disappointing and the band quickly faded into history. But now, with its re-release on Light in the Attic, we can revisit The City and this brief but special moment in the life of an extraordinarily talented songwriter.

 

The Fugs:

 

The Byrds – “Wasn’t Born To Follow” (from Easy Rider):

 

 

*Quoted in The Sociology of Rock by Simon Frith[4]

Article by LITA intern Autumn Whitaker