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Desert Island Disc Challenge: Carole King, me and a Couple of Palm Trees

Something to pick you up when you’re laying face down in the sand.

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Editor’s note: As part of CMN’s ongoing music journalism program, we asked our team of music writers to take on the age-old challenge of choosing one piece of music they would like to have with them if they were stranded on a deserted island. It’s an absurd notion, but also irresistible. See all the different approaches they took to the challenge right over here.

Contemplating which album you would select when trapped on a remote island is one decision, but another if forced to be in paradise. And it’s an entirely different question: Are you choosing to live in isolation forever? Are you stretched out on a lawn chair underneath the beating sun or determining how you’ll make it through the next 24 hours? Am I a prisoner or on holiday? If this is a family vacation, then maybe both.

I have an unearthly feeling that I’m fated to be Tom Hanks in Castaway, depending on an anthropomorphic volleyball for stimulating conversation while lost and alone.  

The situation calls for Carole King, who embodies despair, strength, and perseverance, and The Legendary Demos — a compilation album of her demos for the hits she recorded between 1962-71. The 13-track album features “It’s Too Late,” “Crying In The Rain,” and “Tapestry” in their rawest form, King’s voice unadulterated and free of distracting background sounds.

It’s a refreshing reminder that musical talent was once born out of one’s own ability to perform. Today, the focus is geared towards the final, manufactured sound.

One can only assume that, when stranded on an island, you’d want to cut the bullshit in whatever way that manifests. That’s what the 39-minute album accomplishes with “Beautiful” — you can hear King, playing the piano in a studio alone, belting: “You’ve got to get up every morning / With a smile in your face / And show the world all the love in your heart / Then people gonna treat you better / You’re gonna find, yes you will /That you’re beautiful, as you feel.”

While the message she preaches does not necessarily translate perfectly for the scenario of being lost in uncharted territory, you can improvise — a skill best learned when stranded.

In all honesty, The Legendary Demos is not featured once in my Spotify “Heavy Rotation” playlist. I haven’t even listened to the album more than a handful of times. And while I’m versed in her chart-toppers, it’s her life story, captured in the lyrics of her songs, that I’m truly fascinated by: In 1959, King was 17 years old, pregnant with her first daughter Louise, and married to her college sweetheart and songwriting partner, Gerry Goffin.

The same year, she would write “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” for The Shirelles, a song that would reach the top of the Billboard charts in 1961, a first for a black, female group at the time.

By 1966, her recording career would stall, and two years later, she would divorce Goffin. King ascended the charts once again with her 1971 album Tapestry, which sold over 25 million copies and won four Grammys, including Album of the Year.

That is a condensed version of the roller-coaster life she’s endured, which included highs and lows that would break many people. Her story even inspired a Broadway musical, Beautiful: The Carole King Story.

When choosing a record that will be your companion in hell or heaven, remember that you’re also bringing along the artist behind the songs. Cardi B, Taylor Swift, or Halsey all sound appealing until you realize that you’re possibly spending entirety, relying on their voice and words for encouragement and in times of despair.

King has already undergone extraordinary variations of these emotions. More importantly, she could pick you up when you’re laying face down in the sand.

If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.

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