The core of Carole King’s Tapestry is its beautiful simplicity as its seemingly uncomplicated lyrics conjure a profound emotional conversation. Her piano-playing is part of this dialogue as one can sense her close bond with the instrument as she uses her voice to create a call-and-response with its keys. While other instruments were added to the final mix, there’s an undeniable focus on King and her piano and it almost feels like she is in the room, singing and playing just for you when listening to the album on an audiophile hi-fi.
Tapestry’s title track is a blend of King’s personal laments and fiction. While a majority of the album discusses heartbreak and eventuating the positive aspects of life, “Tapestry” narrates the story of a worn-down traveller who turned into a toad. King uses the story as a metaphor for her own feelings, singing “A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold.” She wants her listeners to interpret the story based on their own life experience and to use her songs to make their own explorations as its through her own songwriting where she often illuminates her past experience with new discoveries.
There was a time when King couldn’t find the courage to reveal her personal stories and messages under her name. Before Tapestry, King and her former husband and songwriting partner Gerry Goffin scored big hits with Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, and the Monkees. James Taylor initially influenced her to release compositions under her name, and in turn, King observed and studied Taylor’s music for inspiration.
“Fire and Rain” similarly deploys metaphor as Taylor reacts to the death of a friend, and he wields an acoustic guitar for his narrative much in the way King employs the piano. As he sings about the stages of the mourning process, his voice is full and calm, and the lyrics are human and relatable. The track was released on James’ sophomore album, Sweet Baby James, which sparked multiples collaboration between him and King— she plays piano and sings on the album and would later tour with him.
James Taylor also made a lasting impact on Joni Mitchell, enough for her to pen her magnum opus, Blue. Blue and Tapestry were recorded in the same A&M studio in 1971, making it convenient for both singers (and James Taylor) to collaborate. “Blue” is composed of only piano and vocals and is loaded with different angles of sadness, so again there is beauty in the simplicity. She felt she had no secrets, and as listeners, we’re challenged to take it all in and experience them for ourselves. Her bold chords pierce your heart, considering she wrote with nothing on the line.
There has never been a structured timeline to experiencing these bouts of painful love, and Fiona Apple shocked the world with her scarred perspective when she was only 18. Her debut album, Tidal, is sophisticated both lyrically and instrumentally and built around the piano, just like Mitchell and King. Apple also applies fiction in her lyrics on “The First Taste’, singing that she is bait in her lover’s spiderweb and waiting to be consumed by them to forget her blue emotional state. Producer Patrick Warren helps expand the track’s pallet by giving it a jazzy vibe with added tack piano, chamberlain, guitar, and vibraphone swirling around her vocals.
Carole King’s Tapestry is an essential gateway for many songwriters (especially female songwriters) to explore and relieve their personal struggles through song whilst remaining positive. The other artists featured here use both their lyrics and instruments to untangle their lives in a similar, transparent fashion. King’s ability to seamlessly connect the good and bad makes her audience feel like she is a true friend who is always there for comfort and understanding.