Carole King Has a Seat At My Ultimate Dinner Party.
You might recall in my last blog I suggested that we all try restraint. Well that took off didn’t it. I got death threats. I got them from craft brewers but they weren’t very worrying, anyone busying himself or herself making sour fruit beers scares me not a whit.
I even got a death threat from Mexico. Any country that can invent a drink like Tequila and supposedly needs a wall around it probably is not big on restraint. Initially I have to admit I was concerned by the threat to kill me in a dozen different ways if I kept suggesting that we all turn things down a little. And then the proverbial penny dropped. It was almost certainly just Blaze away on assignment. After all only Blaze would threaten me with death by defenestration, garrotting and boogaloo and spell none of them correctly.
I should say that I did receive one comment of praise from Thailand. That was gratifying until I realised it was Blaze’s older brother Gatesy emailing from his winter home. I knew it was him because when the email dinged into my inbox there was a sudden smell of tasteful restraint and calm bonhomie in the air.
Next week Gatesy is going to take his wife to the Carole King musical which is a good move. She Who Cannot Be Named [stuff writing that again, from now on expect the acronym SWCBN to signify the wife] and I have already been and the show “Beautiful” is a great evening’s entertainment for those of us of an age. I say of an age because SWCBN and I were easily in the bottom third of the audience age wise. At the end there was an attempt for a standing ovation but half the audience couldn’t get out of their seats on such short notice. But it’s that kind of show. We are now old enough to be well and truly nostalgic for the music of the 60s and 70s when being a teenager and all it conveyed was in full bloom.
It’s not a true musical like The Sound Of Music where the songs drive the narrative or give you character development. This is more a tribute and a loose biography filled with some of the finest examples of the songwriting craft from Pop music’s first great period and of course King’s groundbreaking Tapestry album from the year rock music came of age, 1971. The cast is great, especially Esther Hannaford as Carole, there are lots of laughs and some tears and if you don’t enjoy it you must be hard to please or glued to your phone screen like a modern day teenager.
Even Blaze, whose dream musical would star both Meatloaf and Julie Andrews in transgender roles who alternate on a week by week basis between being the Presidents Of The United States and running their own whisky distillery and paleo ice cream shop, was there. At least I think it was him. He was standing near one of the entrances selling ice creams during intermission, holding a Cornetto like the Statue of Liberty high above the sea of grey hair, tweed sport coats and couples with matching leather jackets and grey pony tails. When I pushed through the generic crowd who were moving with glacial speed he was gone. But there was some cone fragments and hazel nuts on the floor and a faint odour of Blue Stratos that was attracting the few single women to the spot.
Carole King and her then songwriting partner/ husband Gerry Goffin and their friendly rivals Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann plus some key others wrote beautiful melodies and on point lyrics in virtually production line conditions. This was before performers were expected to write their own material. Melody writers and their lyricist partners wrote songs on demand or in friendly competition for publishers and artist’s managers. This had been going on since the 1930s and was a tradition in musicals that adapted itself to jazz vocal standards and then to pop. Most of this action occurred in a couple of buildings in downtown Manhattan in what I reckon is one of the most amazing outbursts of creativity the world has seen.
Three of the most successful songwriting partnerships were also couples trying to maintain a relationship in that high pressure work environment. I love SWCBN and couldn’t imagine being married to anyone else but I don’t think working together would be a good move let alone produce something with the same quality of the songwriting in Be My Baby, We Gotta Get out Of This Place or Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?
Neil Diamond and the fantastic Burt Bacharach and Hal David pairing were there too but by the last 60s rock was coming of age and the next era of stars were determined to write their own material.
1971 proves the point well. Carole King stepped up to the microphone and sang her own songs, selling millions of records in the process. The Bacharach/David’s run of wonderful tunes sung mostly by Dionne Warwick was at an end as rock got heavier and the singer songwriter scene more personal, serious and introspective. Fine as they both are there is a huge difference in the thought and attitude behind Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now and Bacharach/David’s Close to You
Elton John straddled the fence between the old and new worlds. Bernie Taupin did not perform but wrote the lyrics. Elton wrote the melodies and sang the songs and loved a good performance. In1971 Elton John released his album Madmen Across The Water and the single Tiny Dancer. He too was about to become huge.
Also released in that year was Rod Stewarts first big solo hit Maggie May. When on his game Rod was one of rock’s best singers of other people’s material not to mention the front man of the wonderfully sloppy The Faces. But his first big hit was one of his own co-written tunes. Nowdays he performs songs from the great American songbook as the tunes from the production line songwriting of the 1940s to 1960s are now known. Whatever else you could say about Rod he knows what his strengths are and how to make a dollar.
My daughter and SWCBN [and therefore I have been unable to avoid] have been also watching or should I see rewatching the Australian family comedy drama Offspring. I am guessing you either know and fully understand this behaviour, have no idea what I am talking about or are regarding me as a figure to be deserving of pity in this situation.
Fear not. Although I cannot say that I love it, I had not appreciated the smartness of the scripts and the quality of the ensemble acting. The title song by Thao and the Get Down Stay Down sits neatly on the line of annoying and earworm and the use of music in the episodes is great. And like with the Jack Irish crime shows, Melbourne suburb Fitzroy is a great supporting actor. True it sometimes seems like everyone is a little too good/forgiving/impulsive/ thick to be true, Nina’s internal monologues and fantasy scenes sometimes get a little too silly but in the end like those great pop songs of the 60s there is heart, hope and joy here.
Research tells me there is talk that Offspring might go back into production. I say don’t do it. As much as we love to look back and revisit the past filled with nostalgia and regard, almost always the best thing is to do is what Carole King did in 1971 when she left New York, moved to LA and recorded her own album. She looked forward, took a deep breath and moved on.
Six favourites from the New York 60s songbook.
Bear in mind that these are just six from literally dozens of great tunes produced by a football team worth of people. In comparison Firework by Kate Perry, arguably one of the best pop songs of the last twenty years credits five people as writing the song!
On Broadway – Mann/Weill
Do You Know the Way to San Jose – Bacharach/David
One Fine Day – Goffin/King
I’m a Believer - Neil Diamond
Then He Kissed Me – Greenwich/Barry