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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

June 17, 1971

Hello, everyone!  Today is Tuesday, and I have got a Tuesday Timeline entry that is sure to bring sweet music to your ears.  That's your only hint at this moment.

Because let's face it...if I told you what the topic was right off the bat, it would be the most anticlimactic thing I could ever do in this blog.  It certainly wouldn't make you read all of the other events and celebrity birthdays for June 17th, would it? 

At any rate, before we get to the main course, let's take a look at some appetizers.

1631 - The wife of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan I, Mumtaz Mahal, dies in childbirth - this event sets forth the emperor's 17-year quest to build her mausoleum - a little building known as the Taj Mahal

1775 - Many British troops are killed during the Battle of Bunker Hill in the American Revolutionary War

1861 - The Battle of Vienna, Virginia takes place during the American Civil War

1885 - The Statue of Liberty arrives at New York Harbor

1898 - The United States Navy Hospital Corps is established

1930 - President Herbert Hoover signs the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act into law

1933 - The Union Station Massacre in Kansas City, Missouri takes place when four FBI agents and captured fugitive Frank Nash are shot to death by gangsters

1939 - The last public guillotining in France takes place

1940 - The RMS Lancastria is sunk by the Luftwaffe near France, killing three thousand people

1944 - Iceland declares its independence from Denmark

1967 - The People's Republic of China announces a successful test of its first thermonuclear weapon

1972 - Five White House operatives are arrested for burgling the offices of the Democratic National Convention in an attempt by some members of the Republican party to illegally wiretap the opposition

1987 - The Dusky Seaside Sparrow becomes extinct

1991 - The South American Parliament repeals the Population Registration Act which required racial classification of all South Africans at birth

1994 - O.J. Simpson is arrested for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman following a low-speed chase on the highway

2012 - Rodney King - the police brutality victim whose trial set off the 1992 Los Angeles Riots is found dead in a swimming pool at the age of 47

And, a very happy birthday to the following famous (or infamous) faces if you will.  Turning one year older are Newt Gingrich, Barry Manilow, Gregg Rolle, Lee Tamahori, Joe Piscopo, Mark Linn-Baker, Jon Gries, Bobby Farrelly, Daniel McVicar, Thomas Haden Church, Greg Kinnear, Erin Murphy, Jason Patric, Eric Stefani, Will Forte, Michael Showalter, Paulina Rubio, Jennifer Irwin, Venus Williams, Jamal Mixon, Helen Glover, and Kendrick Lamar.

All right.  Now that you have had your hors d'oeuvres, let's move onto the main course.  

And today's special takes place 43 years ago today on June 17, 1971.

I've given you one small hint about today's Tuesday Timeline.  About how the date I've selected will bring sweet music to your ears.  And certainly this subject has had a lot of history with music.  After all, her first performance in public was at the age of eight singing the song "If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd've Baked A Cake"!  And although she would become famous for her own singing skills, she began her career as a songwriter.  A very successful songwriter in her own right.  After all, she was responsible for penning the following three singles.

But here's the thing.  She accomplished all those successes during the 1960s.  So clearly, June 17, 1971 isn't the date she got started, or even the date she was born.

But it IS the date that her most famous album hit the top of the Billboard 200 list.  This album was released in February 1971 and was produced by Lou Adler.  Although other albums have since shattered the original sales records that this album made back in the early 1970s, at the time it was released, it was one of the biggest selling albums of its day.  Twenty five million copies were sold since its release in 1971, and on June 17, 1971, it hit the #1 spot and stayed there for SEVENTEEN weeks! 

Of course, it's easy to see why this album did so well.  The songs that were released from the album became instant pop classics that are still regarded as some of the best pop music ever written and recorded.  And Rolling Stone Magazine listed the album at #36 of the 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time.

The name of the artist who recorded the album is Carole King.  The name of the album is "Tapestry".  And to celebrate the 43rd anniversary of the day that "Tapestry" topped the album charts, we're going to have a listen to some of the biggest hits from the album.  We'll talk about how the songs were written, some behind the scenes moments, chart positions, and which artists have recorded their own versions.

So let's kick off Tapestry Tuesday, shall we?  We'll start by posting one of Carole's biggest hits.

IT'S TOO LATE (April 1971)

Ah, yes.  I remember hearing this song playing a lot on the easy listening station that most of my family listened to while I was growing up.  Released a full decade before I was born, this truly was the first chance that Carole King had to shine.  Although she had released some solo singles throughout the 1960s, none of them really had any success.  This single proved that Carole King had the chops to make it as a singer AND songwriter.  The song won Carole King a Grammy Award in 1972 for Record of the Year.  The song itself is about a woman deciding to end a relationship with her partner even though they really did try to make it work.  The song is quite melancholic in tone, but King's warm vocals brought life to the single.  I can only imagine many people during the 1970s listening to this song after a major break-up over and over to the point where the needle wore out on their record players.

FAMOUS COVER VERSIONS:  Andy Williams, Gloria Estefan


Ah, now here's a curious case for you.  When "I Feel The Earth Move" was released, it was on the same single that "It's Too Late" appeared on.  And both singles made it to the #1 position at roughly the same exact time.  I guess '71 really was the year in which a songwriting Queen was a King.

(Yeah, that sounded a lot better in my head too.)

Now, whereas "It's Too Late" was a song filled with sadness and broken hearted memories, "I Feel The Earth Move" was the polar opposite.  It was a song that had a lively piano melody, and it was listed as the A-side of the single that featured "It's Too Late" on it.  The interesting thing is that some disc jockeys liked the slower "It's Too Late" better.  And, while "It's Too Late" hit the top of the charts in June 1971, "I Feel The Earth Move" technically did NOT hit the charts.  It was only when Billboard declared "I Feel The Earth Move"/"It's Too Late" a Double A-Side single that "I Feel The Earth Move" also hit #1.  Hence the reason why I added the asterisk after the #1 in the title.

And, here's a true story for you.  When the San Fernando Earthquake of 1971 struck in the Los Angeles area, this song was playing on a Los Angeles radio station!  Oh, the irony!

FAMOUS COVER VERSIONS:  Martika, Mandy Moore, Delta Goodrem

SO FAR AWAY (March 1971)

Okay, so maybe this song wasn't as successful as "I Feel The Earth Move" or "It's Too Late".  That doesn't mean that the song wasn't any good.  It's certainly one of Carole King's finest.  And, if you listen closely to the acoustic guitar portion of the single, it was provided by singer James Taylor, who would later go on to have success with another King composition, "You've Got A Friend".

(Which coincidentally was a track that Carole King sang on her "Tapestry" album!  Have a listen to Carole's version below!)

Anyway, the song itself takes from the same tone as "It's Too Late".  Only instead of the song being about a break-up, it's about a long-distance relationship, in which two people who are in love with each other are separated both physically and emotionally.  It certainly was an appropriate song in that it was released during the Vietnam War, and certainly I picture a lot of couples being separated because of it.  But I suppose you could also play the song in memory of somebody who has departed from this world.  It was, after all, played at the funeral services of late singer Amy Winehouse.

FAMOUS COVER VERSIONS:  Rod Stewart, Tina Arena


Yep.  Another Double A-Side to talk about!  And this song was the collaborative effort of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, who wrote several songs during the 1960s.  (Goffin was also King's husband between 1959 and 1968, though they continued to work together professionally for years afterwards).

There's really not much to say about Smackwater Jack.  Unlike the other singles from "Tapestry" which were somewhat biographical, and extremely emotional, this song told the story of an Old West confrontation between Smackwater Jack and Big Jim the Chief.



Interestingly enough, I don't seem to have any information on when or even IF this single charted on the Billboard charts.  What I can tell you is that this single was actually a cover version...and it wasn't a cover version.  Confused?  Allow me to elaborate.

In 1967, Aretha Franklin had a huge hit with this single, with the song making the Top 10 that year (peaking at #8).  The single itself was inspired by Jerry Wexler, then the co-owner of Atlantic Records.  At the time the song was written, Wexler was mulling over the concept of the "natural man", and while he was driving down the streets of New York City, he came across a woman that he instantly recognized and shouted out to her that he wanted a song about a "natural woman" for Franklin's new album.

That woman was Carole King.  And King and Goffin created "You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)" just for Franklin.  And because Wexler was the one who came up with the suggestion, he received a writing credit as well.

So, yes...although Aretha sang the song first, King wrote the song that made it a hit.  And so she decided to add her own version to the "Tapestry" album.

But for some reason, whenever I hear that song now, I can't help but think of that commercial for Herbal Essences shampoo where Debra Messing is singing into a hairbrush.

FAMOUS COVER VERSIONS:  Bonnie Tyler, Mary J. Blige, Celine Dion

So, now you understand why "Tapestry" was such a gigantic hit.  All the songs were written by one of the best female songwriters of the 20th century, and each single was sung by King in such a way that it really brought out a lot of emotion.  No wonder the album stayed at the top of the charts for well over a quarter of a year!

And to think...that chart run began 43 years ago today.

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