Carole King is perfecting a new concept – the eternal pop star. Consider:
– She was still a teen-ager when some of the songs she co-wrote – “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” and “Take Good Care of My Baby” – became hits in 1971.
– And now? She’ll turn 80 on Feb. 9 and remains relevant. Proof of that is in “Carole King & James Taylor: Just Call Out My Name,” which debuts at 9 p.m. and midnight ET Sunday (Jan. 2) on CNN, repeats at the same times Jan. 8 and then goes to HBO Max.
The film uses footage from the 2010 tour by King and Taylor (shown here), adding fresh interviews with both, plus their colleagues. Clearly, King – like Paul McCartney, who will turn 80 on June 18 – is remaining a force forever.
You can sense that by watching the film and reading more about her, including “Girls Like Us” (Atria Books, 2008), Sheila Weller’s combined biography of King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon.
On one hand, King was hugely ambitious. At 15, in New York, she led a girl group and almost had a record deal, until one of the parents said no. At 16, about to enter college, she was, as one producer put it, “this very cute little girl in bobby sox and schoolbooks under her arm,” stopping in to pitch songs. At 19, she and then-husband Gerry Goffin put their baby in a playpen while pitching and polishing.
Later, at the other end of the continent, she was part of the California music scene, alongside Taylor, Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt and more, including the Eagles and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
On the other hand, she wasn’t ambitious at all. She dropped out of the High School for the Performing Arts (the “Fame” school), to go back to her old school. She was reluctant to write or sing solo. After she finally did, she still diverted. She moved to Idaho, became a rancher and environmentalist and twice married outdoorsmen, whom friends labeled as “Rick One” and “Rick Two.”
Much earlier, one evening showed the contrast between pop ambition and a homebody: King finished a composition, left a note for Goffin to write the words when he got home from his day job … and went to play Mahjong with her mother. When she got home, she and Goffin polished a rock classic, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”
King has co-written endless hits, including “Natural Woman,” “One Fine Day,” “Chains,” “Crying in the Rain,” “Go Away Little Girl,” “Run to Him,” “I Feel the Earth Move,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “Loco-Motion” and “I’m Into Something Good.”
Still, she was reluctant to perform. She was the pianist in Taylor’s band when he nudged her outfront.
When she prepared her 1971 “Tapestry” solo album, she even let Taylor, now 73, record its best song (“You’ve Got a Friend”) first. It became No. 1 for him, but her album – which also included “It’s Too Late” and “So Far Away” — also went No. 1; it won four Grammys, sold at least 22 million copies and stayed on the Billboard charts for six years.
Those are the days reflected in the CNN film. Two friends trade songs (onstage) and memories (on film), capturing pieces of eternal pop stardom.