Carole King and Gerry Goffin, her husband and writing partner, didn’t singlehandedly compose the soundtrack to my adolescence, but it’s hard to imagine coming of age without “Up on the Roof,” “A Natural Woman,” and “The Loco-Motion.” King, born Carol Klei18n in Manhattan in 1942, was barely out of adolescence herself when she and Goffin wrote these songs. When she had her first number-one hit, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” recorded by the Shirelles in 1960, King was only 18. She was also married and a new mother.
King never sought stardom, or even a solo career. A collaborator at heart, she ended up creating Tapestry, one of the best-selling albums of all time, on her own, mostly because Goffin had left her, and she didn’t perform as a solo artist until James Taylor insisted. He literally pushed her onstage. Once there, not surprisingly, she found that she loved it, and from then on her solo career flourished. Everything musical came naturally to King.
When it came to romance, however, King made some spectacularly bad choices. While she deserves credit for facing up to and writing about this with candor, that candor occasionally makes A Natural Woman tough to read. We all know how frustrating it is to see a smart, accomplished, and seemingly together woman give her heart to a total loser. None of King’s husbands or boyfriends seem worthy of her. But when she hooks up with a delusional jerk who lives in his van, then takes him home, lets him control every aspect of her life, and not only stays after he abuses her but actually marries the guy, it’s hard to keep reading.
Ultimately, however, King achieves the goal she’s set for herself, which is to “keep writing, recording, and making a good living while enjoying a normal life.” A Natural Woman shows her trying for, and for the most part achieving, this precious balance. She raises four children, moves to Idaho, teaches Yoga, and becomes active politically. This could be the life of any woman of our generation. Except for composing mega-hits, writing for Aretha, and jamming with James Taylor.