50 Years Ago: Carole King Releases a Double A-Sided No. 1 Single
Carole King's career- and genre-defining Tapestry was released on Feb. 10, 1971, but didn't enter the Billboard albums chart until two months later, on April 10. On June 19, it hit No. 1 and stayed there for 15 weeks. By the time Tapestry finally left the chart for good in 2011, it had logged a total of 318 weeks – one of the longest stays ever tabbed by Billboard.
On April 16, 1971, a week after Tapestry made its chart bow, the double A-side lead single consisting of "It's Too Late" and "I Feel the Earth Move" came out. It debuted on the singles chart on May 8; a little more than a month later, on June 19, it reached No. 1 and stayed there for five weeks.
Tapestry was just receiving the word-of-mouth support that would make it one of the most successful albums of all-time when the album got an extra boost it maybe didn't even need. Either way, this single helped propel the album into a whole other stratosphere. And the thing is, really, it could have been any of the LP's dozen songs that did the trick. It just happened to be its relatively rocking opening track and a timeless ballad that shows up two songs later that were called up for extra duty.
Producer Lou Adler, an old friend of King's from her songwriting days, spent some time with the finished tracks sequencing them into an LP running order, cutting a couple to tighten the flow and choosing the ones that would represent the work on radio.
Listen to Carole King's 'It's Too Late'
There's a line that runs though Tapestry – from opener "I Feel the Earth Move" through to the two ballads that follow, "So Far Away" and "It's Too Late," until the Side Two spread that reminds you of King's past – "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" - and future (the title track, the only time she's truly solo on the album).
The entire thing is woven like a statement of intention that just happens to be laced with a spectacular history to back it all up.
It didn't take long for Tapestry to be recorded; most everything was done in January, just a month before the album's release. King, the musicians backing her and friends Joni Mitchell and James Taylor – who provided guest spots and were also recording key albums in their careers at the same time – pretty much knew what they wanted when they entered Los Angeles' A&M Studios in early 1971.
Adler, who started Ode Records (the label behind everything from King's 1970 debut album, Writer, through 1976's Thoroughbred), chose "I Feel the Earth Move" as the LP's first single with "It's Too Late" as the B-side. But it wasn't long before the plaintive flip side began receiving more radio airplay, and focus quickly pivoted to that song.
Listen to Carole King's 'I Feel the Earth Move'
"I Feel the Earth Move" actually made its chart debut on June 12, a month after "It's Too Late" entered. But the single was tagged as a double A-side, even though few doubted which song took it to No. 1. "I Feel the Earth Move" is a good song, but "It's Too Late" is a great one. (The song is one of two on Tapestry cowritten with lyricist Toni Stern.)
Another double A-side single pulled from a pair of album tracks – "So Far Away" and "Smackwater Jack" – was released in the summer using a similar one-side-soft, one-side-a-little-harder formula. That record managed to make it to No. 14, a respectable showing considering a huge chunk of the planet had already owned Tapestry by then.
King couldn't repeat Tapestry's chart-busting numbers, but in all fairness, who could? Follow-up albums Music (from later in 1971) and Wrap Around Joy (1974) both hit No. 1, too, but she never returned to the top spot on the singles chart – though "Sweet Seasons," "Jazzman" and "Nightingale" all made it to the Top 10 over the next four years.
It was a perfect storm of time and place for King and Tapestry, buoyed by her back catalog but fueled by her new set of songs, including the timeless "You've Got a Friend," which Taylor recorded at the same time as King's version and rushed out as a No. 1 single. On an album of standout tracks, two notable highlights simultaneously helped spread the word. All these years later, "It's Too Late" and "I Feel the Earth Move" remain cornerstones of an exceptional career.