Thursday, January 13, 2011

"It's Too Late" (1971)

2. Carole King, "It's Too Late" (May 22, 1971, #1, 5 wks.)

Like most people, I tend to prefer Carole King's work as a songwriter in the early '60s when she was a key part of the Brill Building brain trust that ruled the pop airwaves of the time. Usually co-written with her then-husband Gerry Goffin, her songs include "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" by the Shirelles, "The Loco-Motion" by Little Eva (who was a household maid and babysitter for King and Goffin), the infamous "He Hit Me (And it Felt Like a Kiss)" by the Crystals (produced by Phil Spector), "Pleasant Valley Sunday" by the Monkees in 1967—it's actually a long list. The album from which this comes, Tapestry, is entirely different, a creature of its mellow post-hippie times, gauzy and gentle and slightly burnt-out about things. But the truth is I didn't know any of this about her or the album in the summer of 1971, when you couldn’t turn on the radio and avoid hearing for long the strains of “It’s Too Late.” It always caught me up, made me genuinely sad, even tearful on some occasions. Its details were so right, opening with “Stayed in bed all morning just to pass the time,” its generalities provocative (“Something inside has died and I can’t hide”), its overwhelming conclusion impossible to refute: “And it’s too late, baby, now it’s too late.” The song captures an essence of giving up, which is likely why it struck so many deep chords at the time with me and, obviously, others. But in another way, “It’s Too Late” runs somewhat against convention. More than anything, it’s a song about giving up on a deeply felt connection, a person you have been living with, for no obvious or good reason other than “Now you look so unhappy, and I feel like a fool.” There is thus a good deal of deceptive complexity to it, which I think has contributed to making it so enduringly significant for me.

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