50 Years Ago, Carole Kings Tapestry Dominated the Grammys, and She Wasnt Even There

Looking back 50 years at anything that isn’t related to geology, evolution or astronomy feels like a glimpse at a long-bygone age. That’s especially so for the 14th annual Grammy Awards, which took place on March 14, 1972 at the Felt Forum in New York’s Madison Square Garden and were broadcast on ABC.

The show was hosted by virtuoso easy-listening singer Andy Williams; presenters included Ed Sullivan, the Fifth Dimension, the Carpenters and “Brady Bunch” star Florence Henderson. Carly Simon won Best New Artist; Kris Kristofferson won Best Country & Western Song for “Help Me Make It Through the Night” (no surprise, since he held three of the five nominations in the category); and in a horrifying-in-retrospect accolade, best children’s album went to “Bill Cosby Talks to Kids About Drugs.”

However, in uncharacteristically hip moves, Isaac Hayes’ “Shaft” won Best Original Score for a Motion Picture; Aretha Franklin, Bill Withers and Ike & Tina Turner won R&B categories; Cheech and Chong, nominated for Best Comedy Album, flew their freak flags to the consternation of many TV viewers; the recently split Beatles were honored with the Trustees Award, of all things; and Paul McCartney won Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) for “Uncle Albert/ Admiral Halsey,” a Monty Python-esque mashup that is indisputably one of the strangest songs ever to top the Billboard Hot 100.

Yet the evening’s big winner — with an unprecedented-at-the-time four Grammys — wasn’t even at the ceremony: Carole King, whose blockbuster album “Tapestry” spent 15 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and remained on the chart for five years. She elected to skip the ceremony and stay home with her ten-week-old daughter Molly, a move that foreshadowed the stage-shy singer’s disinclination to tour behind the album’s success. In her absence, she won Album of the Year over “Shaft,” George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” and the Carpenters’ self-titled debut; took Record of the Year for “It’s Too Late”; Best Pop Vocal Performance for the song “Tapestry” (topping Joan Baez, Cher, Janis Joplin and Carly Simon); and Song of the Year for James Taylor’s version of her composition “You’ve Got a Friend.”

And in a testament to King’s even-then monumental songwriting legacy, her songs won two more awards for other artists: Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend” won Best Pop Vocal Performance, and Quincy Jones won Best Pop Instrumental Performance for his version of “Smackwater Jack,” another song from “Tapestry.”

King rarely does interviews, but Herb Alpert, who presented one of King’s awards at that show, recently talked with Variety about the album, which was produced by Lou Adler, also founder of King’s label, Ode Records. “Of course [the album’s success] caught Lou off-guard,” he said of his longtime colleague, who accepted the trophies on King’s behalf and also won Grammys as the album’s producer. “I don’t know if he thought it was going to be that monster record. But I watched the concept that he had for Carole: He wanted to make a record that was like a demo record, almost, and understated — just go for the beautiful songs that she writes. And he was absolutely right. It was a wonderful recording, and I think people respond to artists that are honest.”

However, just as quickly as King achieved such pinnacles of success, she decided she didn’t want what came with them: She’d spent nearly the entire previous decade working behind the scenes as a songwriter, penning with former husband Gerry Goffin such classics as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “One Fine Day,” “Up on the Roof” and “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman,” among many others. In her 2012 autobiography, “A Natural Woman,” King explains, “With ‘Tapestry’ now a multiplatinum-selling album that had wildly exceeded my teenage dreams, I didn’t know what to do with my success. I didn’t want the problems that came with being famous, and I didn’t want my private life to be public I just wanted to do what I’d been doing as a wife and mother before the success of ‘Tapestry.’” And that is effectively what King has done in the past 50 years — taking stardom on her own terms, releasing albums and touring while living in Idaho and focusing on charity, philanthropic and environmental work.

And her tapestry of rich and royal hue will come full circle 50 years later, at the 64th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, when “Here I Am (Singing My Way Home),” a song she wrote with Jennifer Hudson and Jamie Hartman for the Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect,” is in the running for Best Song Written for Visual Media — offering King an opportunity to add another Grammy to her formidable list of lifetime achievements.

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