To Carole King: We'll Still Love These Hits Tomorrow
Carole King: The Writer Behind the Music
By Andy Rodriguez and Leslie Simon
It was 1961. If you turned on the radio, chances are it would be playing the hit song by The Shirelles “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” Credited with launching the “girl group” genre, groups like The Shirelles dominated the airwaves with their matching outfits, teased hairstyles, coyly singing lyrics that often had double meanings, both innocent and not-so-much. Accepted by audiences of all colors, The Shirelles broke barriers as their songs became major hits on mainstream radio and TV, paving the way for the success of Motown.
Behind the scenes, a shy Jewish songwriter was cramped into a tiny space at the 1650 Broadway in NYC, writing songs for acts like The Shirelles who subsequently turned them into big hits. Carol Joan Klein, also known as Carole King, was born on February 9, 1942 in Manhattan with a childhood home in Brooklyn. Her mother had played piano as a child and the piano she bought for their home gave King her first experiences with music. At the age of four, they realized that Carole had absolute pitch. From then on, she habitually practiced music and let it become a big part of her life.
King has been an active force within the industry since she was 16 in 1958. Starting out as a staff songwriter at the famed Brill Building, she has since created 25 solo albums, been the recipient of four Grammy awards, and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 as well the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 alongside her first husband and writing partner, Gerry Goffin.
Her long and prolific career is captured in the jukebox musical Beautiful: The Carole King Musical which is opening at the Arvada Center on September 8th!
Carole King's Start as a Songwriter
King met her first husband and writing partner, Gerry Goffin while attending Queens College. However, she dropped out after becoming pregnant with their daughter, Louise, and began working as a secretary by day and songwriter by night. Even though she had dreams of being a singer, several attempts of recording and releasing singles throughout the late 50s and 60s never panned out. She found writing for other musicians to be the more successful route at that time.
Gerry Goffin and Carole King with their children, Sherry and Louise, circa early 1960s, photo by unknown.
King and Goffin were initially hired by Don Kirshner, an famed American music publisher, to write songs for his music publishing company, Aldon Music in the Brill Building. In the 60s, the Brill Building was the hub and center of the American songwriting universe. Kirshner used his “golden ear” to help manage and produce top tier talent at the time such as Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond, Paul Simon, Gerry Goffin, and eventually Carole King.
Through the Aldon Music company, opportunities in songwriting opened up for Carole King. Kirshner would put songwriters to work in a tiny room with just enough room for a small piano and a bench. These rooms were kept within earshot of each other so the writers would know what their “competition” was up to.
Kirshner would also pin writers against each other, and whoever produced the best song would get to pitch to the top musicians at the time, like Bobby Vee or Dee Dee Sharp. It was truly a cutthroat business.
Even though King was a full-time mom with a secretary day job, she was behind-the-scenes helping the acts of the time make music history. She wrote “Tonight’s the Night” for The Shirelles, the popular all-female music group, and it reached the #39 spot in the Billboard Top 100 in October 1960 - the biggest hit for the group at the time.
On the tails of this accomplishment, Don Kirshner commissioned the writing duo to come up with another song for The Shirelles, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” This song was an instant success and sold a million copies.
This first breakout hit allowed King and Goffin the privilege of quitting their day jobs and writing songs full-time.
The hits kept on coming. In 1961 they wrote the song “Take Good Care of My Baby” for singer Bobby Vee which would turn it into a number one success. Doo-wop group The Drifters saw “Some Kind of Wonderful,” and “Up on the Roof” become huge hits.
King was even able to write a hit song that made her babysitter a big star. Eva Boyd, also known as Little Eva, rose to stardom in 1962 with her hit song “The Loco-Motion" written by King and Goffin.
Though “The Loco-Motion'' was originally written for R&B singer Dee Dee Sharp, Sharp turned it down, leaving the door wide open for Little Eva to perform.
The singer had been introduced to Goffin and King through The Cookies, a local "girl group" who also recorded for the songwriters. Eva ended up serving as their babysitter for $35 a week - until she became famous.
The hit song made both parties $30,000 each in royalties. In today’s currency that would work out to about $300,000 after adjusting for inflation.
Overall, King wrote and co-wrote 118 pop hits on the Billboard Hot 100 in the latter half of the 20th century, shaping the music that we listen to even today.
Little Eva shows off her hit song, “The Loco-Motion” in front of a locomotive. L-R producer Al Nevins songwriter Carole King, Little Eva, songwriter Gerry Goffin and producer Don Kirshner on August 29, 1963 in New York City, New York, photo by Popsie Randolph/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.
Before you see Beautiful - The Carole King Musical, prepare yourself and check out these timeless songs that Carole King helped create.
"Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" with performances by The Shirelles and Carole King
"The Loco-Motion" performances by Little Eva and Carole King
"One Fine Day" with performances by The Chiffons and Carole King
"Some Kind of Wonderful" with performance by The Drifters and Carole King
"Up On The Roof" with performance by The Drifters and Carole King
"(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman" performances by Aretha Franklin and Carole King
For a Further Deep Dive and Other Resources
Though a lot of material was covered above, there's plenty more to find below. Check out these links to do a deeper dive on Carole King and the people who made her songs hits.