Carole King: Queen of the Sixties Hits
by David Soulsby, author of the novel "Somewhere in the Distance"
With the highly-acclaimed stage musical Beautiful
currently celebrating the musical genius of Carole King it’s a fitting time to look back at her substantial Sixties
accomplishments. It was a time when, with her then husband Gerry Goffin and various other collaborators, she
created an enviable mountain of memorable pop and rock classics. They were big songs that spoke of love, dreams,
heartbreak, hopes and ambitions. They all had a strong emotional impact as well as being some of the catchiest
numbers ever written.
In 1960, the all-female group The Shirelles got the King
rollercoaster off to a terrific start with the plaintive Will You Love Me Tomorrow. The lyric asks whether
the boy and girl assignation is ‘a lasting treasure or a moment’s pleasure’. The answer is a rousing lasting
treasure. It sounds as vibrant and heartfelt today as it did the day it first attracted the world’s
Throughout 1961, the Queen of Pop was keeping the creative engine
well on track with, among others, the uplifting Some Kind Of Wonderful by The Drifters, the emotive
Take Good Care Of My Baby by Bobby Vee, and the majestic Halfway To Paradise, originally
performed by Tony Orlando in the States and a huge chart success in Britain for Liverpool-born singer Billy
The Drifters always gave a song everything they had and Some
Kind Of Wonderful was no exception. It was chart success and became one of the group’s live performance
favorites throughout the early Sixties. The song had a new lease of life at the back end of the decade when Marvin
Gaye included it on his classic In The Groove album.
By 1962 the King hits were piling up and arriving on the charts at
a phenomenal rate. The Drifters gave Up On The Roof a spiritual take. You felt that you were
transported above the hurly burly and noise of the streets and life all around. It’s a brilliant song, brilliantly
executed, a great piece of pop. Again, The Drifters gave their all, producing a timeless masterpiece.
The ever-exuberant Bobby Vee had another triumph with Go Away
Little Girl. So too did Steve Lawrence. And in Britain, singer/actor Mark Wynter had a Top 10 hit with it. It
was obviously a tune that just wouldn’t go away!
For those who just wanted to get up and dance The
Loco-Motion by Little Eva ticked all the boxes. It was a feel good, full throttle, let yourself go beat. It
was just sheer fun. There was no pretension, just a simple and joyous sound.
The Everly Brothers were always top notch when it came to close
harmony perfection and it was no surprise when they superbly captured the beauty and pathos of King’s Crying In
And it was the subject of rain that brought King the vocalist into
the charts with It Might As Well Rain Until September. It ruled the roost for several weeks and let the
world know that King was not just a great composer but could deliver a tune with the best of them.
The Beatles held King in high regard and chose Take Good Care
Of My Baby as one of their renditions for a 1962 recording audition, with George Harrison on lead vocal. The
audition was unsuccessful but we all know what was to follow later that year when they made their debut in the
British charts with Love Me Do. There was no stopping them and they remained loyal to King by selecting
Chains as one of the tracks on their debut album Please Please Me in early 1963.
One of my favorite female groups, The Chiffons, put their mark on
1963 with One Fine Day, one of King’s most evocative offerings. The girls from The Bronx gave one of their
finest performances. Indeed, the song has been honored by being listed as one the 500 greatest.
Come 1964 and the British Invasion of America was in full swing
and among the groups who crossed the Atlantic big-time was Herman’s Hermits with the baby-faced, chirpy lead singer
Peter Noone making the young girls scream and swoon. The monster hit for them was King’s I’m Into
In the mid-Sixties, The Righteous Brothers made the soulful power
ballad their very own and Just Once In My Life was a perfect vehicle for their talents. The yearnings for
a love to last and not vanish reverberated across the airwaves. Carole King had done it again!
By 1966 the hits just kept hitting the target. Two of the most
memorable were Don’t Bring Me Down by The Animals and Goin’ Back by Dusty Springfield. And the
following year there were two more triumphs with (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman by Aretha
Franklin and Pleasant Valley Sunday by The Monkees, songs as different as chalk and cheese but both
outstanding in their own way.
You wouldn’t have expected a group like the gloriously-named
psychedelic outfit Strawberry Alarm Clock to perform a King creation, but in 1968 they tackled Blues For A
Young Girl Gone and Lady Of The Lake. The band, best known for 1967’s off-the-wall Incense And
Peppermints, gave the material their own personalized touch and didn’t let the King magic down.
So there you have it, smash hit after smash hit, songs recorded
and performed by a mixed array of pop and rock artists during the decade that will for ever be remembered for its
great, groundbreaking music. I rather like the comment from one reviewer of the Beautiful musical who said that
King had ‘had more hits than an Internet search engine’. I couldn’t have put it better myself.
David Soulsby lives in Romford, Essex, England, and is now retired after 46 years as a journalist. During his career, he worked on local and national
newspapers and magazines, and in the Sixties met many of his musical heroes, including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan,
Roy Orbison, Sonny Boy Williamson, James Brown and Mel Torme. He’s now freelancing as a writer
and proof-reader, working from home. He’s the author of Somewhere In The Distance, a novel
about four friends growing up in the