Top 10 Carole King Songs as Songwriter and Artist

Carole King
Photo by Matt King / Getty Images
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Carole King - "It's Too Late" (1971)

Carole King It's Too Late
Carole King - "It's Too Late". Courtesy A&M

Carole King's second solo album Tapestry is a landmark singer-songwriter album. It also marked a move into hit songs that discussed very adult aspects of relationships in the early 1970s. "It's Too Late" was the first single from the album and went to #1. It also received a Grammy Award for Record of the Year while the album won for Album of the Year. Tapestry has gone on to be one of the biggest selling albums of all time spending 15 weeks at #1 and over 300 weeks total on the album chart. Carole King co-wrote "It's Too Late" with lyricist Toni Stern who said the song was written after the end of her love affair with James Taylor. 

"It's Too Late" also topped the adult contemporary chart and was a top 10 pop hit in the UK. It is included on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The 7" single of "It's Too Late" was released as a double A-side with "I Feel the Earth Move." Although, musically, most pop songs resolve at the end on the tonic, "It's Too Late" seems to underlie the somber tone of the melody by ending on the mediant which sounds inconclusive. 

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The Drifters - "Up On the Roof" (1962)

Drifters Up on the Roof
Drifters - "Up On the Roof". Courtesy Atlantic

"Up On the Roof" spells out a dream of solace for city dwellers. Carole King wrote the song with her husband Gerry Goffin. He later said it was his all-time favorite lyric that he had written. He cited West Side Story's rooftop scenes as an influence. The Drifters version went to #5 on the pop singles chart. Released in 1962, the song was the second by the vocal group to reach the pop top 10 following their 1960 #1 smash "Save the Last Dance For Me."

Later James Taylor recorded and released his own interpretation of "Up On the Roof" that went to #28 on the pop chart in 1979. James Taylor and Carole King performed "Up on the Roof" live together on their 2010 Troubadour Reunion Tour. Both Rolling Stone and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have cited "Up on the Roof" as one of the top 500 songs of all time.

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James Taylor - "You've Got a Friend" (1971)

James Taylor You've Got a Friend
James Taylor - "You've Got a Friend". Courtesy Warner Bros.

"You've Got a Friend" was written by Carole King and included on her album Tapestry. She says the song was, "as close to pure inspiration as I've ever experienced." However it is James Taylor's version from the same year that went to #1 on the pop singles chart. Joni Mitchell performs on both recordings. It is one of the most memorable songs about friendship of all time. James Taylor has stated in interviews that Carole King told him the song was inspired by the line, "I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend" in his hit "Fire and Rain." James Taylor's album Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon which includes "You've Got a Friend" was a #2 album chart hit, his highest charting album until 2015. It was certified double platinum for sales.

"You've Got a Friend" won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year and a Best Male Pop Vocal Grammy for James Taylor. In 2005, British boy band McFly went to #1 on the UK pop singles chart with the release of a double A-side single that included "You've Got a Friend."

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Carole King - "I Feel the Earth Move" (1971)

Carole King I Feel the Earth Move
Carole King - "I Feel the Earth Move". Courtesy Ode

This song was included as part of the single that featured "It's Too Late." Originally "I Feel the Earth Move" was considered the A-side, but eventually radio stations preferred "It's Too Late." However, both songs are now considered classics. Carole King's pounding piano style is featured on "I Feel the Earth Move." She performed the song live on the TV show The Colbert Report in 2008. Pop singer Martika hit #25 on the pop singles chart in 1989 with her version of the song.

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Little Eva - "The Loco-Motion" (1962)

Little Eva The Loco-Motion
Little Eva - "The Loco-Motion". Courtesy Rhino

Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote "The Loco-Motion" hoping to have it recorded by Dee Dee Sharp who had just hit big with the single "Mashed Potato Time." However, she turned it down and a demo recording was created with Eva Boyd, who worked for the couple as a babysitter. Producer Don Kirshner was impressed by the sound and Eva Boyd's voice. He released the single giving her the name Little Eva. Carole King is among the backup singers on the record. The result was a #1 pop hit. With the song explicitly referencing a dance, the loco-motion is usually performed as a line dance with motions that are reminiscent of a train.

"The Loco-Motion" reached the top 5 on the US pop music charts in two more versions. Grand Funk took it to #1 in 1974, making it only the second song to accomplish the feat of hitting #1 in versions by two different artists, and Kylie Minogue hit the top 3 with the song in 1988. Rolling Stone lists "The Loco-Motion" as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

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Shirelles - "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" (1960)

Shirelles Will You Love Me Tomorrow
Shirelles - "Will You Love Me Tomorrow". Courtesy Scepter

Originally, Shirley Owens of the Shirelles did not want to record "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" because she thought it was "too country." However, when a string arrangement was added, she decided it was worth a shot. The result was the first #1 pop hit for the girl group the Shirelles. It was also the first #1 pop hit in the US by any all-girl group. When it was originally released, some radio stations refused to play the song thinking the lyrics were too sexually suggestive. 

The Four Seasons took the song to #24 on the pop singles chart in 1968 and Dave Mason landed just inside the top 40 at #39 with it in 1978. Carole King recorded her own version of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" for her album TapestryRolling Stone lists the Shirelles' version of Will You Love Me Tomorrow" as one of the top 500 greatest songs of all time.

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Carole King - "Jazzman" (1974)

Carole King Jazzman
Carole King - "Jazzman". Courtesy Ode

"Jazzman" was Carole King's first single from the 1974 album Wrap Around Joy. Carole King's daughter Louise Goffin sings background vocals on the album. The tale of the impact a jazz player's music has on the performer went to #2 on the pop singles chart and helped the album become Carole King's third chart-topping collection and first since 1971's Music. It also reached #4 on the adult contemporary chart. The extended saxophone solos are performed by jazz player Tom Scott. Curtis Amy, a tenor saxophone player who performed on Carole King's Tapestry album, was the inspiration for the song. Carole King earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal for "Jazzman."

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The Monkees - "Pleasant Valley Sunday" (1967)

The Monkees Pleasant Valley Sunday
The Monkees - "Pleasant Valley Sunday". Courtesy Colgems

Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote "Pleasant Valley Sunday" as a social commentary on status symbols and life in suburbia. The immediate inspiration for the song was a street named Pleasant Valley Way in West Orange, New Jersey.  It was the lead single from the Monkees' fourth album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, and Jones, Ltd. The #3 peak for the song helped the album become the group's fourth consecutive chart topper. It was the group's fourth single to reach the top 3.

A unique aspect of the Monkees' recording is the buildup of reverb and echo toward the end of the song that ultimately renders the music unrecognizable before it fades out. The Monkees performed the song in the second season of their hit TV show.

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Carole King - "So Far Away" (1971)

Carole King So Far Away
Carole King - "So Far Away". Courtesy A&M

"So Far Away" was a single from the album Tapestry. It poignantly talks about a spirit of disconnection among people. The lyrics begin by talking about physical distance between the lovers and then expands the meaning into emotional distance as well. James Taylor plays acoustic guitar on the record. The song went to #14 on the pop singles chart and top 3 on the adult contemporary chart. Rod Stewart covered "So Far Away" on a 1995 Carole King tribute album. His version went to #2 on the adult contemporary chart.

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Aretha Franklin - "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" (1967)

Aretha Franklin Lady Soul
Aretha Franklin - Lady Soul. Courtesy Atlantic

"A Natural Woman" was inspired by Atlantic Records producer and executive Jerry Wexler. He reportedly said to Carole King he wanted a "natural woman" song for Aretha Franklin's next album in counterpart to the concept of the "natural man." He received songwriting credit in thanks for coming up with the idea. The result was the fourth top 10 pop smash hit for Aretha Franklin in less than a year peaking at #8, and it became one of her signature songs. It also reached #2 on the R&B chart. "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" is included on Aretha Franklin's landmark album Lady Soul. The collection was a hit across the pop, R&B, and jazz album charts landing inside the top 3 on all of them.

Carole King recorded the song herself on her landmark 1971 solo album Tapestry. Mary J. Blige took her cover of the song into the top 40 of the R&B singles chart in 1995. Celine Dion recorded a version of the song as a tribute to Carole King and it reached the top 40 of the adult contemporary chart in 1995. Aretha Franklin performed "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" live at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors celebrating Carole King. The performance earned massive acclaim.