The release last month of Carole King’s memoir, A Natural Woman, and the death of Maurice Sendak, with whom King collaborated, have inspired this list. While King is undoubtedly one of the greatest songwriters of the second half of the 20th century, she is arguably the most underrated. Her tunes (for which she tended to write the music; the lyrics would be written by her first husband, Gerry Goffin, or by later collaborators, including Sendak), whether Motown-style or not, fall into one of three categories: ones she wrote but never recorded; ones she wrote and recorded but which not many people heard, or heard her versions of; and ones on Tapestry. If you’re my age, ask your parents about Tapestry.
Songs on this list, however, are not on Tapestry (with one exception). They are instead the best Carole King songs that you may not have known are, in fact, Carole King songs.
10: “Take Good Care of My Baby,” Bobby Vee—from 1961, but almost feels pre-’60s.
9: “Jazzman,” Lisa Simpson—this actually was originally recorded by King, in 1974, but I guarantee you more people know it as Lisa’s eulogy for Bleeding Gums Murphy.
8: “Another Pleasant Valley Sunday,” the Monkees—what, you thought the Monkees wrote their own stuff?
7: “Don’t Say Nothing Bad About My Baby,” The Cookies—yes, a Jewish lady from Brooklyn wrote this, really.
5: “Don’t Bring Me Down,” The Animals—exactly the sort of tune you wouldn’t think she wrote!
4: “You’ve Got a Friend”—yes, it’s on Tapestry, but the version by her friend James Taylor is so definitive. And he was no songwriting slouch.
3: “I’m Into Something Good,” Herman’s Hermits—something about the blues progression here feels so typically her, in much the same way that the next song’s does.
2: “The Loco-Motion,” Little Eva—you think you can hear King singing this song in her voice; but she didn’t until 1980.
1: “Up on the Roof”—quite simply one of the great songs. The James Taylor version is wonderful, too. And is there a track more subtly yet quintessentially New York?
Okay and here is her doing “I Feel the Earth Move.”