I know that Fandango loves Carole King, so I will try to do justice to her song Tapestry, which came out on her 1971 album with the same name. Tapestry is her second studio album on Ode Records and produced by Lou Adler. It is one of the best-selling albums of all time, with over 25 million copies sold worldwide and it features so many of my favorite songs that she did, like, ‘I Feel the Earth Move’, ‘So Far Away’, ‘It’s Too Late’ and ‘You’ve Got a Friend’. Tapestry was number one on the Billboard 200 for 15 consecutive weeks, and held the record for most weeks at number one by a female solo artist for over 20 years until surpassed by Whitney Houston and it also won a Grammy for Album of the Year in 1972. Tapestry was named number 36 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and it is known for being one of the most successful albums in music history, defining a generation of music. ‘Tapestry’ was recorded in just three weeks with a stripped down band that included Joni Mitchell and James Taylor.
King was a musical prodigy, and while she was still in high school at the age of 14, she began taking the subway from Brooklyn to show her songs around the record companies hoping to sell her melodies to New York City publishing companies. She met Gerry Goffin while in college, who was destined to be her lover and lyricist for the next decade. Though the marriage didn’t survive, their musical partnership weathered the shifting styles of the Sixties, yielding smashes for teen idols and rock bands, big-haired girl groups and big-voiced R&B legends. Throughout the 1960s, King and Goffin were one of the most successful songwriting teams in the country, cranking out hit after hit. They wrote ‘Locomotion’ for Little Eva, ‘Up On the Roof’ for The Drifters, ‘Natural Woman’ for Aretha Franklin, ‘Go Away Little Girl’ for Steve Lawrence, ‘I’m Into Something Good’ for Herman’s Hermits, ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ for the Animals, ‘Take Good Care of My Baby’ for Bobby Vee, ‘Goin’ Back’ for Dusty Springfield and they wrote about a dozen of songs for the Monkees including ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’. Their first song to reach number one was ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ for the Shirelles. King wrote the music, and she did the arrangement and played piano on this record. Carole King’s first album was called ‘Writer’, and until then, that’s just what she’d been, a tunesmith, writing the melodies to lyrics by her husband Gerry Goffin.
The song Tapestry is not my favorite song on the album Tapestry, but the more I listen to it the more I like it. Carole wrote the music for this song and her friend the poet singer-songwriter and free-spirited painter Toni Stern wrote the lyrics and she also wrote the lyrics for ‘It’s Too Late’. Toni Stern was born and raised in Los Angeles, enjoyed a highly productive collaboration with singer-songwriter Carole King. After Carole divorced Goffin in 1968, the mother of two moved out of the New Jersey suburbs to Laurel Canyon in California where she met James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and female lyricist Toni Stern. Carole King said, “Toni was wonderful help with the transition from writing with Gerry to writing songs on my own. I didn’t have the courage initially. James inspired me a lot. I write heavily under the influence of James Taylor.”
I like rhyming poems and this song/poem features an AABB rhyming scheme. This song starts out as a reflection on a life that is rich with colors and has “ever-changing views”, where the singer comes from a privileged background “rich and royal hue”. Magic is woven into this tapestry of life that is “impossible to hold”. A man comes along wearing a “coat of many colors”, apparently for no specific reason and he reaches up into a tree, but comes “down empty”. I like the fourth stanza the best, “Soon within my tapestry, along the rutted road, He sat down on a river rock and turned into a toad, It seemed that he had fallen into someone’s wicked spell, And I wept to see him suffer, though I didn’t know him well”, so I will try to unravel the meaning of this part of the song and the rest of it as well.
She didn’t know this guy, but she felt empathy when he was turned into a toad. There is that “wondrous woven magic”, but no mention of a wizard or a witch, the type of people who cast spells and turn others into amphibians. This is probably a metaphor as the “man of fortune”, the “drifter” tried for success when he reached up into the tree “for something golden”, but he failed, and he met his doom. Another figure, a man “gray and ghostly, beneath a flowing beard”, appears and it seems that the singer recognizes him, when he was previously “dressed in black”. Her “tapestry’s unraveling” and she thinks that this guy is after her. Is her time up, determined by her tapestry? Is she is dying, and is the old figure in black the grim reaper? “He’s come to take me back”, but when we die, where do we go?
My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view
A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold
A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold
Once, amid the soft, silver sadness in the sky
There came a man of fortune, a drifter passing by
He wore a torn and tattered cloth around his leathered hide
And a coat of many colors, yellow, green on either side
He moved with some uncertainty, as if we didn’t know
Just what he was there for, or where he ought to go
Once he reached for something golden, hanging from a tree
And his hand came down empty
Soon within my tapestry, along the rutted road
He sat down on a river rock and turned into a toad
It seemed that he had fallen into someone’s wicked spell
And I wept to see him suffer, though I didn’t know him well
As I watched in sorrow, there suddenly appeared
A figure, gray and ghostly, beneath a flowing beard
In times of deepest darkness, I’ve seen him dressed in black
Now my tapestry’s unraveling, he’s come to take me back
He’s come to take me back
Written for FOWC with Fandango – Tapestry.