A teenaged Carole King and her first husband, lyricist Gerry Goffin, wrote doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll songs in New York City in the 1960s, many of which became hits. After that period King continued to pen tunes, both on her own and with other lyricists, and a number of these also became famous. Today, King’s well-known compositions include heartfelt rock standards, as well as songs in more surprising musical styles. Her lasting contributions to the American songbook have resulted in laurels such as her induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987, receiving the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2013, and being a Kennedy Center honoree in 2015.
‘It’s Too Late’
“It’s Too Late” appeared on King’s breakthrough solo album Tapestry (1971). She wrote the song’s music and Toni Stern provided lyrics. As a double-sided single with “I Feel the Earth Move,” in June 1971 “It’s Too Late” provided King with her first No. 1 hit as a performer and songwriter. The song also received a Grammy Award in 1972 for record of the year. Besides King’s enduring performance, the tune has been covered by a number of artists, including Gloria Estefan in 1994 and Sara Evans in 2020.
‘I Feel the Earth Move’
Along with “It’s Too Late,” King’s “I Feel the Earth Move” reached No. 1 in the charts in 1971. King composed both the music and lyrics for this song. Though other artists have covered “I Feel the Earth Move,” King’s performance has remained a crowd-pleaser for decades.
‘(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman’
King and Goffin wrote “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman” together. The iconic Aretha Franklin‘s 1967 version of this song climbed to No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967. However, Franklin’s standout performance didn’t stop King from recording “A Natural Woman” for 1971’s Tapestry. The song also inspired the title of King’s 2012 autobiography, A Natural Woman.
‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow?’
A 17-year-old King co-wrote “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” with Goffin. In 1960, the Shirelles became the first Black all-female group to have a No. 1 hit with the tune. A decade later, King herself sang “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” on Tapestry. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” is popular among artists; covers include Amy Winehouse‘s take in 2004 and Norah Jones’ in 2009.
‘You’ve Got a Friend’
King wrote both the music and lyrics for “You’ve Got a Friend,” which was included on Tapestry. James Taylor, a friend and musical collaborator, also recorded the song; his take topped the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1971. Though “You’ve Got a Friend” is a link between the two musicians, King didn’t write the song specifically for Taylor. “He was in my mind,” she explained, “but that song just came through me.” The tune received a Grammy Award for song of the year in 1972. In addition to King and Taylor’s lauded versions, Barbra Streisand and Michael Jackson released their own covers in the early 1970s.
In the wake of the popularity of “The Twist” (1960), King and Goffin wrote “The Loco-Motion.” Little Eva took the catchy pop song to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1962. The next few decades saw “The Loco-Motion” reach new audiences: Grand Funk Railroad hit No. 1 again in 1974, followed by Australian pop star Kylie Minogue charting at No. 3 with the song in 1988. King shared her own recording of “The Loco-Motion” in 1980.
‘Up on the Roof’
King wrote the music and Goffin penned the lyrics for this song, which was performed by doo-wop group The Drifters in 1962. King released her own version on Writer, her 1970 debut solo album. Her friend Taylor also recorded the song in 1979, breaking into the Top 40. Other cover artists include Ike and Tina Turner on their 1973 album Let Me Touch Your Mind. “Up on the Roof” was part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.”
King wrote “Jazzman” with Dave Palmer, and her performance of the song reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974. Twenty years later, the animated television series The Simpsons introduced the tune to a new generation when Lisa Simpson played “Jazzman” following the death of the character of jazz musician Bleeding Gums Murphy.
“Beautiful” is another King solo composition that appeared on Tapestry. Streisand also covered the song for her album Barbra Joan Streisand (1971). The song provided the title for a musical about King’s life: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which ran on Broadway from 2014 to 2019.
‘One Fine Day’
“One Fine Day,” which the girl group the Chiffons took to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, was another collaboration between King and Goffin. King’s own 1980 cover charted at No. 12. In 1997, the song provided the title for a movie that co-starred George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer. Natalie Merchant covered the song for the film’s soundtrack.
‘Where You Lead (I Will Follow)’
King and Toni Stern also collaborated to write “Where You Lead (I Will Follow).” The song was included on King’s Tapestry and covered by Streisand on her album Barbra Joan Streisand. The 2000s TV show Gilmore Girls used a version of the tune, with King singing with her daughter Louise Goffin, for its theme song.
‘So Far Away’
King wrote this song on her own, and its successful composition helped her gain confidence as a solo songwriter. “So Far Away” was included on Tapestry (with Taylor playing guitar) and reached No. 3 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart.
In the spring of 2020, as people throughout the United States began social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, King released an updated take on “So Far Away.” Her altered lyrics reflected the moment: “Everybody has to stay in one place anymore / It would be so fine to see your face at my door.”