Carole King's Fantasy (1973)
Judging a record by its cover, King’s fantasy is to be in a cut-scene during the opening credits of Cheers. That said, it’s got funky horns and string and OH GOD OF COURSE BA-BA-BASSSSSS which in production recalls Gaye’s 1971 masterpiece. What’s Going On echoes the experiences of real, oppressed peoples questioning their realities. It’s difficult, it’s heartbroken and confused, it’s only abstract because putting a name on it hurts.
In comparison, King’s song cycle is inward looking protest music for the vaguely woke.
Some of it kinda works, like when the singer muses “Heaven knows I can always watch the daytime shows/ And wonder which story’s mine.” There’s an everydayness to that which resonates. And there are a lot of missing men in these songs, building on the perspective and independent female strength of her 1971 home-fucking-touchdown record Tapestry.
But other moments are no damn good at all. Side two opener “Haywood” is an exhausting chunk of white advice for the titular black character, a heroin junky who has “been out on the street again” even after “mama” (yep) made him promise to go straight after his brother John John (uh-huh) got killed. Then, after a song about how nice it would be to live far away from all this death and crime, King presents her “Welfare Symphony,” a song which manages to understand even less about welfare than it does symphonies.
The song cycle ends with final lines of fuzzy hope: “And someday our reality will be as good as never never land.” It’s a snap-your-fingers-change-your-mind utopian social vision that would make a fortune cookie blush. Thus is often the problem with fantasies – they’re stupid.
— Ghil Scraw