Andy Royston takes a listen to Carole King’s delightful song Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, and the different ways it has been covered through the years.
The songs of Goffin and King are superb examples of the song writing craft of the Sixties. Finely honed to meet the demands of the clients who commissioned them, and written with the requirements of AM radio always firmly in mind, they still managed to express themselves in a rich and personal way. Jon Landau Rolling Stone Magazine 1971
A Carole King Song list >>
Forget your Elvis, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry. In 1960 popular music was in the stranglehold of the payola driven national TV shows, and music was as saccharine as it could get. Tin Pan Alley song factories still provided most of the hits. American Bandstand’s Dick Clarke was the only DJ with a national audience, and companies went to all kinds of lengths, including placing Clark as a co-writer of the songs, to get onto his show.
The result of this was, well, drivel. How Much Is That Doggie In The Window, Mr Sandman, and Itsy Bitsy Yellow Polka Dot Bikini set the standard at the top of the charts and everyone seemed so squeaky clean and Lux white. Teen ears, though were turning to the “cat music” radio stations and hearing records by black performers made for black customers, but were also selling well to white teenagers. Street corner acapella doo-wop songs by groups like the Penguins, the Flamingos and the Platters were the real coming of age records of the day.
Carole King was working in the Brill Building, a latter-day counterpart to the older Tin Pan Alley on West 28th, still a bobby-sox-and-school-books teen (she was 18 already married with a child). Yet she and her young husband Gerry Goffin were churning out songs for this hungry teen audience. Just a piano, a cubicle and a deadline to meet, like so many other young writers. She worked as part of team commuting in every day from a suburban Brooklyn home – a jobbing songwriter making a buck. Gerry Goffin was still working as a chemist to support the family, he had set the mark of a million the number of singles sold that would trigger him quitting his day job. Very soon the song came along that meant he could do just that.
The Shirelles Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
Black acapella based groups had been mostly male, and it took a while for female voices to make their presence felt. At a time when black female groups never charted four girls from the Bronx called the Chantels had a crossover pop hit with Maybe. A door was open and the race was on to capitalize.
Goffin and King were given the opportunity to write for The Shirelles, a teen group who had already had a few minor hits, including Tonights The Night – and featured Shirley Owens straightforward lead voice. The Male R&B songs at the time were full of boastful male attitude, so lyricist Gerry Goffin was looking to give a feminine perspective on the fragile nature of new love. Her lover thinks only of tonight, while she is concerned about tomorrow.
The maturity of the lyric, its frankness and coherence concerning modern relationships was a standout. As writer Michael Campbell observed in his book Popular Music In America Shirley Owens, though a teen at the time, sounds courageous enough to ask the question and vulnerable enough to be hurt by the answer. The message of course was colorblind – all teens could relate to it. It went straight to number one.
Carole King Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
The Carole King who walked into Studio B, A&M Recording Studios (a genuinely historic studio located on the old Charlie Chaplin lot in Hollywood) was very different from the young mom who co-wrote the song in ’61. Her Brill Building days were behind her and she was feeling her way into her solo career after relocating to the west coast.
In recording her landmark Tapestry album she revisited a handful of old songs. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow was a song that had matured nicely. The theme of a woman contemplating the impact of a sexual experience within a growing relationship fit perfectly into the early 1970s’ freedom of sexual expression.
In the context of a woman in her late twenties, emerging from a bad marriage and looking for love once again in sunny Laurel Canyon, the song retains its depth. Even in an era of free love and sexual liberation the song still feels fresh, relevant and adult. When sung by the teen Shirelles the long was all about coming of age and losing virginity. As part of the Tapestry collection, slowing the song to a down-to-earth folk arrangement, the added melancholy made it much more mature and reflective.
This – as part of the phenomenal success of the Tapestry album – placed a new kind of woman on the pop/celebrity stage; writer Sheila Weller would write that she was “an embodiment of youthful female substance”. King had long signaled that women should be taken seriously as a top-grade song writer, but in the context of Tapestry she’d created a new kind of earth-mother intimacy that touched the lives of millions.
Conviction and commitment are the life blood of Tapestry and are precisely what make it so fine. Of course, commitment alone means nothing; but commitment coupled with the musical talents of a genuine pop artist mean everything. To paraphrase Pauline Kael, writing about director Jean Renoir, Carole King is thoroughly involved with her music; she reaches out towards us and gives everything she has. And this generosity is so extraordinary that perhaps we can give it another name: passion. Jon Landau Rolling Stone Magazine 1971
Other Significant Covers.
Carol King and James Taylor 2012, live at the Troubadour.
James Durbin (American Idol – 2011)
Sonny and Cher
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