The 10 greatest Carole King cover versions

Carole King
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Carole King makes a rare visit to the UK in July, to perform her groundbreaking 1971 album Tapestry in its entirety. In the 45 years since its release, it has sold in excess of 25 million copies, and has long been regarded as the template for singer-songwriter confessionals. Yet, King was always a reluctant figurehead or standard-bearer, having spent much of the previous decade fashioning hits for others. Here, Classic Rock celebrates the indelible fingerprints she has left on music history, highlighting what others have done with her songs.

Grand Funk Railroad - The Loco-Motion

A US Number One for King’s and co-writer husband Gerry Goffin’s babysitter Little Eva in 1962, The Loco-Motion returned to the top of the Stateside charts 12 years later courtesy of an unlikely cover version. Flint, Michigan, longhairs Grand Funk Railroad were early pioneers of arena rock (selling out Shea Stadium faster than The Beatles), with seven albums under their belt before they heavied-up this throwaway bubblegum perennial.

The Byrds - Wasn’t Born To Follow

They may have cut their teeth in the mainstream pop environment of New York’s Brill Building song factory, but Goffin & King helped define America’s counter-culture when this track, first heard on the 1968 Notorious Byrd Brothers album, featured prominently in the movie Easy Rider. It’s nigh-on impossible to hear it without it conjuring up images of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper biking across America, in defiance of “The Man”.

The Monkees - Pleasant Valley Sunday

Goffin & King were living in a house on Pleasant Valley Way, West Orange, New Jersey, when they penned this, giving the prime time TV-created popsters one of their biggest hits. While the bulk of The Monkees’ output was lightweight love songs, here was a neat slice of social commentary, at turns both biting and affectionate, shining a light on middle-class aspiration and creature comfort consumerism - the very rockbed that had spawned the band in the first place.

Larry Lurex - Goin’ Back

Featuring on the same Byrds album as Wasn’t Born To Follow, having already provided Dusty Springfield with a UK Top Ten hit, this melancholy masterpiece surfaced again in 1973 as one side of the only solo single released by a man who would become better known as Freddie Mercury. Recorded during a break in sessions for Queen’s eponymous debut album, it also features contributions from Brian May and Roger Taylor.

Hole - He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)

Hands-down the most notorious song in the Goffin & King canon, written after the previously mentioned Little Eva told them the abuse she received from her boyfriend was a sign of his love. The Phil Spector-produced 1962 single by The Crystals suffered a near complete radio ban and was swiftly followed by a slightly more palatable ode to bad boys, He’s A Rebel. One suspects Courtney Love’s ‘90s revival was fuelled by the lyric’s shock value.

The Animals - Don’t Bring Me Down

The Geordie boys’ last major hit on both sides of the Atlantic (in the summer of 1966) was a surprising detour into the world of psychedelia for both the band and the song’s writers. Ironically, The Animals had previously mocked Goffin & King on album cut The Story Of Bo Diddley. Vocalist Eric Burdon is more subdued than usual, allowing Dave Rowberry’s pulsating organ and Hilton Valentine’s fuzz guitar to give the track its momentum. Later covered by Tom Petty

The Beatles - Chains

The original version of this early, minor Goffin & King offering was by The Everly Brothers but ultimately shelved. The subsequent November ‘62 recording by girl group The Cookies was embraced by several Merseybeat groups, and has a special significance to Beatles aficionados. Taking into account its place in the running order of the Fabs’ debut long player Please Please Me (fourth track on side one), it would have been the first time most fans heard George Harrison sing lead.

Maria McKee - I Can’t Make It Alone

One of four Goffin & King co-writes first heard on Dusty Springfield’s 1969 seminal soul classic Dusty In Memphis, the song was given a pounding country rock makeover by former Lone Justice front woman McKee on her 1993 solo album You Gotta Sin To Get Saved. This version finds McKee in full flight with Minneapolis Americana greats The Jayhawks, Gary Louris’s harmony vocal especially prominent.

Rod Stewart - (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Man

Chosen as Aretha Franklin’s debut Atlantic single in 1967 (producer Jerry Wexler earning a writing credit alongside Goffin & King), Carole revisited the song herself on Tapestry, to great acclaim. Critics were less kind about Stewart’s gender-shifting rendition on 1974’s Smiler, an uneven album comprised mostly of covers to complete his Mercury Records contract before a big bucks move to Warner Brothers. “Sincere, but pallid,” was Rolling Stone magazine’s verdict.

Lisa Simpson - Jazzman

Tapestry has undoubtedly spoken to generations of sensitive Lisa Simpsons, so it’s fitting that Homer and Marge’s middle child should pay homage to another of her musical heroes, Bleeding Gums Murphy with a King tune. Carole’s own version, with lyrics by former Steely Dan member David Palmer, featured on her 1974 album Wrap Around Joy, it’s singles chart placing of Number Two representing her biggest post-Tapestry hit.

Carole King plays Tapestry at Barclaycard British Summer Time in Hyde Park, London, on July 3. Tickets are on sale now.

Terry Staunton was a senior editor at NME for ten years before joined the founding editorial team of Uncut. Now freelance, specialising in music, film and television, his work has appeared in Classic Rock, The Times, Vox, Jack, Record Collector, Creem, The Village Voice, Hot Press, Sour Mash, Get Rhythm, Uncut DVD, When Saturday Comes, DVD World, Radio Times and on the website Music365.