Top 10 Versions Of Goffin/King Songs



The Carole King musical Beautiful came rolling into town recently, and although I would rather have a root canal than sit through musical theater, a commercial for the play got me thinking about all the brilliant songs the team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King wrote. Their influence on Rock has been long established. The range of styles, emotions and language in their songs served as a starting point for every songwriter who followed them, unwittingly or otherwise. Here are 10 of the best versions of their songs.

 

10. Chains – The Beatles

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By 1963 the Goffin/King songwriting team had already been responsible for a string of hits, and the Beatles were not just big admirers, they were obviously taking notes. Carole King was no small inspiration to these ambitious blokes who instinctively knew that this Rock & Roll racket would be all about the songwriting.

 

9. Pleasant Valley Sunday – The Monkees

An irresistible pop melody, but beneath the poppiness Gerry Goffin’s lyrics tackle some biting social commentary, pretty unusual for a Goffin/King song but then again, 1967 seemed like a long, long way away from 1963. It did then and it does now.

 

8. Take A Giant Step – Taj Mahal

A really great song that should have been a major hit, but was wasted as a B-side on the Monkees single “Last Train To Clarksville”. Taj Mahal slowed it down where you can better appreciate the beauty of the lyrics and melody. I’m really surprised some young musicians looking for material haven’t yet taken a run at it, it could still be a huge hit given the right treatment.

 

7. Up On The Roof – The Drifters

This is like a blueprint for pop songwriting. It’s a little story that anyone can relate to, with a beginning, a middle and an end. The lyrics balance conflict and resolution, and the melody swoops and soars accordingly in exactly the right places. It’s deceptively simple, and one of the best things they ever wrote.

 

6. Hi-De-Ho (That Old Sweet Roll) – Blood, Sweat & Tears

This list of songs contains such an amazingly wide variety of music, which is a testament to Carole King’s genius. The greatest songwriters never repeat themselves. On this one she tried her hand at full-on gospel, and by any measure she succeeded again.

 

5. I Wasn’t Born To Follow – The Byrds

And here she had a go at country music, and it sounded so much like something the 1967-era Byrds would have written that nobody knew, or even believed, that it was a Goffin/King song.

 

4. Smackwater Jack – Quincy Jones

The title track from the future music mogul’s tentative attempt at a performance album from 1971. This is Goffin/King gone funky, highlighted by session champ Chuck Rainey’s percolating bass line. And yes, that’s Q himself on vocals, which succinctly explains why he ended up sticking to production and mogul-ment.

 

3. The Loco-Motion – Grand Funk Railroad

The only song in Pop Music history to reach the Top 5 by three different artists in three different decades (Little Eva, Grand Funk, Kylie Minogue). I always pictured the Grand Funk guys performing these stupid dance moves in their hotel room with Sweet Connie and the other groupies, and unfortunately it’s an image I can’t un-imagine.

 

2. Don’t Bring Me Down – The Animals

It was a bit of a departure for the Animals to cover a Goffin/King song, but it turned out to be a perfect song for them and they took it and ran, creating one of Rock’s landmark arrangements. Never mind the dropped-in honky tonk piano transition, Hilton Valentine’s guitar sound still blows my mind. Lots of people were playing fuzz guitar at this time, but making it pulsate like he did was a game changer.

 

1. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? – Amy Winehouse

It was written as an ode to teenage love, but this song was always a lot more than bubblegum pop. The jazz chords and almost classical melody suggested something very grown-up and as it turned out, something pretty timeless too.

 

Honorable Mentions

(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman – Aretha Franklin
Goin’ Back – Nils Lofgren

Photo credit: Angela George [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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