Carole King: Live in Central Park

Carole King

Carole King: Live in Central Park

Carole King returns home in a new concert documentary Home Again: Live In Central Park. Available on The Coda Collection channel on Amazon Prime, the documentary features exclusive interviews and never before seen performance footage from Carole’s landmark 1973 concert.

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Saturday In The Park

Ryan Bahm

6 Min Read

Carole King never wanted to be a star. Famously, she shied away from the spotlight, honing her songwriting craft and composing music for other artists to perform instead. “My rationale was that I viewed success and stardom as two different things,” she wrote in her 2012 memoir, A Natural Woman. “Successful recording artists were played on the radio, were respected by the public, and had longevity. The songs they sang moved and inspired people.”

Carole thrived in recording studios and the cubicles of the Aldon Music office inside the Brill Building of Tin Pan Alley. There, with her piano and daughters Louise and Sherry tucked away in a playpen, she churned out hits with her then-husband, Gerry Goffin, who wrote the lyrics for her compositions. Writing music was a job, and the couple was great at it. They saw success throughout the 60s with chart-burners “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (The Shirelles), “The Loco-Motion” (Litte Eva), “Up On The Roof” (The Drifters), and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” for the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

When Carole played piano with him on tour, he was always looking, I believe, to get her to sing her songs.

After she and Gerry split, Carole, along with her daughters and hefty cat Telemachus (who would co-star on a coming album cover), left the sweet seasons of New York for the sun-soaked promised land of California. They settled on Wonderland Avenue in Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. She rekindled a friendship with Lou Adler (Producer of Home Again), formed a new songwriting partnership with Toni Stern, and lived among notable neighbors Frank Zappa, the Mamas & the Papas, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joni Mitchell, and James Taylor.  “Thank goodness for James,” said Adler. “He was important to what happened to Carole as a performer. When Carole played piano with him on tour, he was always looking, I believe, to get her to sing her songs. He finally accomplished that at the Troubadour in Los Angeles when he got her to sing ‘Up On The Roof.’”

Then came Tapestry, the one with the cat. Although not her first solo endeavor, the critically acclaimed and commercially successful 1971 album lifted her name from the liner notes to the collective consciousness of an early-70s American audience. It came at the perfect time as the burgeoning batch of her singer-songwriter contemporaries like John Denver, Carly Simon, Gordon Lightfoot, Janis Joplin, and James Taylor were breaking through. Finding herself right where all the action was happening, Carole followed Tapestry with Music and Rhymes & Reasons, but it was time for a homecoming. 

We pounded away on the radio ‘cause we were worried that we wouldn’t have a lot of people.

Saturday, May 26th, 1973, started as a gloomy, overcast, unusually cold spring day in New York City, which worried the show’s organizers. “We pounded away on the radio ‘cause we were worried that we wouldn’t have a lot of people,” said promoter Ron Delsner, who had worked his way up from writing copy at advertising agencies in the Mad Men days. “There weren’t full-page ads in the New York Times. We just went on the radio and said, ‘Promote this. It’s free,’ It was very laid back. Not a big thing in your face.” From recording  “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in an old recording booth in Coney Island at age 3 to the Great Lawn in Central Park, Carole King was home again. 

Forget the enormous light rigs, the makeup, or the costume changes. This show was free of excess and free to attend. Chip Monck, the stage manager, architect, and sergeant at arms, readied the simple stage setup featuring a bandstand for the murderers’ row of musicians backing Carole. Having been a part of Monterey Pop, Woodstock, and the infamous Altamont Free Concert, Chip had seen a lot and was the right man for the job to ensure the afternoon in Central Park went smoothly. 

The Fantasy tour kicked off on May 18th, 1973, in Chicago and introduced audiences to the new album. Fantasy, released shortly after the Central Park show, was Carole’s first time experimenting with a different sound aided by The David T. Walker Band, who brought elements of funk and R&B to her music. “Central Park was focused on the musicians,” said Adler. “The look and sound of the musicians, Carole as a player within the group, and an emphasis on the horn section, were all very new to a Carole King record.”

At that point, we realized we’ve got something here. This is big.

Miraculously, the sun came out, and with it, a large crowd filed onto the Great Lawn of Central Park. Those in attendance included Mayor John Lindsay, Jack Nicholson, Anjelica Houston, Joni Mitchell, and Faye Dunaway. “At that point, we realized we’ve got something here. This is big,” said Adler. “The Fantasy album had not been released yet. I didn’t feel you could go on this tour, especially at the Central Park show, and not do songs from Tapestry.” So Carole took the stage alone to start. With just her piano, she gave a warm, intimate performance playing through several fan favorites, which included “Beautiful,” “Smackwater Jack,” and “Home Again,” ending the first half of the show with “It’s Too Late.”  

Following a brief changeover, the musicians joined Carole on stage, most wearing St. Louis Blues hockey sweaters featuring the iconic “Blue Note” crest as a humorous bit. “The Musical note looked cool, and they were cheaper than suits,” said Adler of the sartorial decision. The David T. Walker Band was a fantastic group of players at the heart of Los Angeles recording sessions and played with many of the most prominent acts of the 60s and 70s, including The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Etta James, and Herbie Hancock. Carole, situated front and center, conducts the cast of players with her head as they groove through the tunes of Fantasy.

Fortunately for those who weren’t there on that lawn in 1973, Adler had the good sense to bring an engineer and a camera crew to capture the Central Park show. “After doing the film Monterey Pop I felt that something this big should be filmed but at the time, I had no idea what I was going to do with the film,” he said. The world had to wait 50 years to see the results after the film was set aside and untouched until Producer John McDermott entered the picture. Together with Director George Scott, they painstakingly restored the disparate archival recordings, a real challenge, especially when it came to the crowd whose lips they had to read to sync the audio and video.

I was doing it for the moment, and what that meant to Carole was being in Central Park, being in New York, and coming home.

The results speak for themselves. Home Again is a spectacle. Part intimate solo performance, part full-band bash, it shows Carole King at the peak of her powers, genuinely enjoying playing and relishing the love of her hometown crowd. “I never much thought about the outcome of anything I produced,” said Adler. “I was doing it for the moment, and what that meant to Carole was being in Central Park, being in New York, and coming home. That was what was important.”

Ryan Bahm is a San Francisco-based Product Designer, Developer, and Musician. After being awakened by the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack, he has been an obsessive music fan, in and out of bands for the better half of his life. He has worked with clients including Visa, Specialized Bicycles, and Fellow Products and has played iconic Bay Area venues like Bottom of the Hill, 924 Gilman, and Slim’s (RIP). Ryan approaches all creative projects with the DIY ethos instilled in him from his roots in the punk rock and skateboarding communities. Ryan is not a writer, well, not in the traditional sense. But if you are reading this, he has at least one byline. Desert Island Bands: The Lawrence Arms, The Bouncing Souls, The Menzingers, Alkaline Trio, Less Than Jake, The Sidekicks.

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