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What It Takes - Carole King, Hal David

What It Takes - Carole King
What It Takes - Carole King
What It Takes: Carole King
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00:00:03 OPRAH WINFREY: "Hattie Mae, this child is gifted," and I heard that enough that I started to believe it.

00:00:09 ROGER BANNISTER: If you have the opportunity, not a perfect opportunity, and you don't take it, you may never have another chance.

00:00:15 LAURYN HILL: It all was so clear. It was just, like, the picture started to form itself.

00:00:19 DESMOND TUTU: There was no way in which a lie could prevail over the truth, darkness over light, death over life.

00:00:27 CAROL BURNETT (quoting CARRIE HAMILTON): “Every day I wake up and decide, today I'm going to love my life. Decide.”

00:00:34 JOHNNY CASH: My advice is, if they're going to break your leg once when you go in that place, stay out of there.

00:00:40 JAMES MICHENER: And then along come these differential experiences that you don't look for, you don't plan for, but boy, you’d better not miss them.

00:00:52 ALICE WINKLER: This is What It Takes, a podcast about passion, vision, and perseverance from the Academy of Achievement. I’m Alice Winkler. Just three days after the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, 60 of Broadway’s biggest stars came together at a recording studio — and I’m talking about Lin-Manuel Miranda, Sarah Jessica Parker, Nathan Lane, Idina Menzel, Sean Hayes. They came together to record a song in support of the devastated LGBT community of Orlando, and this is the song they chose...


00:01:37 What the world needs now is love, sweet love

It's the only thing that there's just too little of

00:01:51 ALICE WINKLER: “What the World Needs Now” was a massive 1960s hit. The lyrics were written by Hal David, the music by Burt Bacharach. Five decades later, the song’s power to move people obviously still holds.

00:02:05 Lord, we don't need another mountain

There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb

There are oceans and rivers enough to cross

Enough to last (enough to last)

Till the end of time

What the world needs now

00:02:30 ALICE WINKLER: Hal David died a few years ago, at the age of 91, so we can only imagine how moved he'd be to see his song, his very favorite, finding a new life with new meaning. And he’d appreciate your knowing that he wrote the words.

00:02:47 HAL DAVID: People remember the people who sing their songs. They don’t remember those who write them.

00:02:54 ALICE WINKLER: We aim to correct that today. Hal David is the focus of this episode of What It Takes — Hal David and another of the most amazing and prolific songwriters of the 1960s and '70s, Carole King. Now Carole King, of course, is more famous as a singer. She happened to be one of the voices on this Broadway for Orlando recording you’re still hearing. That’s not why we’re pairing her with Hal David in this episode, but I do take it as a sign.

00:03:26 So here is the reason we’re combining Carole King with Hal David in one episode. In their interviews with the Academy of Achievement, each talked about the art of the song. Each was part of a legendary songwriting duo. Each came from Brooklyn and made a career in New York’s legendary Brill Building, and here’s the heart of the matter. If you were born between about 1950 and 1975, a good number of the songs you know by heart were probably penned by one of them.

00:03:58 If you’re younger than that, you probably still know their songs because they are songs with staying power and because your parents likely belted them out in the car on road trips.

00:04:09 MUSIC: WALK ON BY

00:04:09 If you see me walking down the street

And I start to cry each time we meet

Walk on by


00:04:24 The moment I wake up

Before I put on my makeup (makeup)

I say a little prayer for you


00:04:34 I’m here to remind you

What do you get when you fall in love?

You only get lies and pain and sorrow

So far at least until tomorrow

I'll never fall in love again

No, no, I'll never fall in love again

00:04:58 ALICE WINKLER: Those are just a very few of Hal David’s other songs, but let’s switch now for a moment to Carole King. Carole King’s rise to superstardom is well documented. For one, there’s a Broadway musical based on her life and career called Beautiful playing at the Stephen Sondheim Theater and touring the country. But if you only know her as the singer who made Tapestry in 1971, one of the bestselling albums of all time, then you’re missing a big part of the story.


00:05:30 Tonight the light of love is in your eyes

But will you love me tomorrow

00:05:52 ALICE WINKLER: More than a decade before Tapestry, Carole King, still then a teenager, paired up musically and romantically with Gerry Goffin. She wrote the music initially, and he wrote the lyrics. Together they wrote hit after hit after hit, recorded by other singers — people like, oh, The Beatles and The Shirelles, who gave Carole King her first number one hit.


00:06:19 Tonight you're mine completely

You give your love so sweetly

Tonight the light of love is in your eyes

But will you love me tomorrow

00:06:44 ALICE WINKLER: Carole King was 18, by the way, when that came out. Then there were The Drifters.


00:06:50 And if this world starts getting you down

There's room enough for two up on the roof

(Up on the roof)

Up on the roof

00:07:02 ALICE WINKLER: And Herman's Hermits.


00:07:04 Last night I met a new girl in the neighborhood

Whoa yeah

Somethin’ tells me I'm into something good

(Something tells me I'm...)

00:07:16 ALICE WINKLER: The Monkees.


00:07:18 Another pleasant valley Sunday (Sunday)

00:07:25 ALICE WINKLER: And let's not forget Little Eva.


00:07:31 Everybody's doing a brand-new dance, now

(Come on baby, do the Loco-motion)

I know you'll get to like it...

00:07:39 CAROLE KING: As of this interview, I’m 72 years old, officially turned 72 earlier this week.

00:07:45 ALICE WINKLER: This interview was recorded in 2014.

00:07:48 CAROLE KING: And the journey includes having grown up and not thinking of myself as beautiful in the sense that most young girls were expected to be beautiful. There was an ideal that we were held to. I didn’t feel beautiful when I was growing up, and I found my niche. I couldn’t compete with girls who were thought of as beautiful.

00:08:13 So I found my niche in music, and that was where I found my beauty, and I always knew I could do that. I always felt confident in doing that, and then as I grew up, I brought other, you know, insecurities, but I always knew that my music worked. I married a lyricist. My first husband was a lyricist, and I wasn’t even thinking about being beautiful then.

00:08:40 I was thinking about writing songs and in that there was beauty. One of the things I admired about him was he had really great intelligence, and he exposed me to ways of thinking about — I always liked to read. I always liked to go to plays, but he had a sensibility. My mother had the same sensibility. It was an understanding. I’m more instinctive about my understanding of things. They had the instinctive understanding but also the ability to verbalize it and make it an intellectual experience to talk about it.

00:09:17 And I learned so much from Gerry and from my mother, and all of that went to inform my learning process. And then when Gerry and I eventually divorced, I had to find my own voice and my own way of thinking, but I brought to my life what I had learned from him, and I became a lyricist along with being a musician.


00:09:45 When you're down and troubled

And you need some love and care

And nothing, nothing is going right

00:10:05 CAROLE KING: The music was always there for me, always, always. It still is. It’s like I cannot do it for six months, and when I need it, it just comes rushing out because that’s what I do. But the lyric-writing, there are just layers upon layers that I didn’t really understand but came to learn. And then as I went through life and had other experiences, the experience of having success as a songwriter, it’s like, "Wow, this is great," you know. And then becoming a singer — I was nudged into that by James Taylor, who taught me how to perform; and Lou Adler, who gave me the confidence to make a recording as a recording artist on my own.

00:10:49 I never wanted to be an artist. So now I’m a recording artist, and then I’m a performing artist, and all of this kind of unrolled. I never really had ambitions to do more than be a really good songwriter. This is a journey.


00:11:05 And I'll be there

You've got a friend

00:11:15 ALICE WINKLER: This child of Brooklyn came by music naturally.

00:11:19 CAROLE KING: It was important. It was important to my grandmother to have music in the house. My grandmother grew up in Russia, and in her little small village she was — my grandmother was the daughter of a baker, and they didn’t have a lot of money. In her village, the girls with a lot of money her age had pianos in their living rooms, and so she dreamed that her daughter would play piano. And she exposed my mother to music, and my mother’s real affinity was theater, but she learned enough music to pass on to me.

00:11:53 ALICE WINKLER: Carole King, of course, had a lot of talent, and she almost had perfect pitch, but she had something else, too, at a very young age.

00:12:03 CAROLE KING: I have a level of chutzpah in that, if there’s something that I would like to achieve, I don’t do it with arrogance, but I think, “Someone’s going to make it. Why don’t I?” You know, “Why not me?” And if you don’t try, you’ll never know. Maybe you could have achieved it. So there is that level of “Go for it.”


00:12:25 Looking out on the morning rain

I used to feel so uninspired

00:12:36 ALICE WINKLER: In 1957, she told her dad she wanted to meet the famous rock and roll DJ Alan Freed, and so she did. Alan Freed suggested that she just start looking up record companies in the Manhattan phone book, and she did that, too.

00:12:52 CAROLE KING: I was a teenager when I first started going to record companies in New York. I was 15, and I loved the people that were making records then, and I thought, "Well, I want to do that, too."


00:13:09 You make me feel like a natural woman

00:13:14 CAROLE KING: Not as an artist but as a songwriter, and maybe at that time I thought, "Well, maybe I can sing them," but I didn’t want to be a star or anything. I just wanted people to hear my music. And so I called up record companies and got appointments because in those days you could. It was in the mid-'50s and you could get appointments. The music industry wasn’t a mammoth industry the way it is now, and there were things called A&R men, which were “artists and repertoire.” People that actually knew music made the decisions, and they had pianos in their offices.

00:13:51 So I went for it, and Don Costa recognized some talent. Don Costa was an A&R man. He was an arranger, a producer, and he recognized my ability and let me make records and put them out.

00:14:09 ALICE WINKLER: After Carole King and Gerry Goffin had their first really huge hit with “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” they were able to get a working space in the office building at Broadway and 49th, better known simply as the Brill Building. The Brill Building had become the vortex of the pop music industry in the 1940s, and by the '50s and '60s, as rock and roll took off, it was the place to be if you were a music publisher, record label, radio promoter, or songwriter.

00:14:40 Hal David and Burt Bacharach met at the Brill Building and began their legendary partnership just a few years before Carole King and Gerry Goffin arrived. Music historians and musicians themselves often talk about it as a song factory, but Hal David had a different take, as he told the Academy of Achievement in 2010.

00:15:01 HAL DAVID: Well, I guess you could call it that, but I never thought of it — but I thought it was more of a home. By this time I got to know so many of the people, so many of the other writers, and very often we’d sing our own — sing our songs to other songwriters, and they’d sing their songs to us. And of course, if they had a hit when we didn’t have a hit, we’d be jealous, even though we were kind of happy for them. But jealous — “Why not me?”

00:15:36 ALICE WINKLER: That competitive atmosphere fueled a lot of music. Hal David first got a job inside the Brill Building after he got out of the Army, where he had auditioned his way into the Special Services, providing entertainment to troops on the Pacific front. He worked on skits and musicals and realized he wanted to follow in his successful brother’s footsteps as a songwriter.

00:16:00 HAL DAVID: I went to my brother, and I said, "Well, what do I do?" He said, "Well, there’s a building called the Brill Building." It was the Tin Pan Alley of our time, in New York, and he said, "It has 11 floors. You can start on the first floor and go from publisher to publisher until you reach the 11th, or start on the 11th and go from publisher to publisher until you reach the first."

00:16:32 My first collaborator is still my oldest and dearest friend, Norman Monath. We'd play the song for the publisher live at the piano. And one day I got a song recorded, my first song. It was called “Horizontal,” and a woman named Bunty Pendleton, who was on RCA Victor, recorded the song. It was the thrill of my life.


00:17:05 I just want to be horizontal

For a year or three or maybe more

I just want to stay horizontal

From the day I walk through the door

Disconnect the phone in the parlor

Throw away the key and go to bed

I just want to be horizontal

Need a pillow under my head

I've done a lot of hiking

Never to my liking

I've left that all behind

Now all at once I'm lazy

Though it may seem crazy

There's only one thing on my mind

00:18:21 ALICE WINKLER: It wasn’t a hit, but it made Hal David enough money to pay his rent, and by 1949 he did have a big enough hit to get a contract offer. Hal David says he didn’t read the contract, and he didn’t send it to a lawyer. He was so excited, he just signed for a couple hundred dollars and a space to work with a piano. Several years and several big hits later, he and Burt Bacharach started talking.

00:18:45 HAL DAVID: Burt was under contract to Famous Music, which was a publishing arm of Paramount. I had an arrangement with Famous Music. We knew each other. He was writing with one person. I was writing with somebody else in offices at Famous Music, on the sixth floor of the Brill Building, and one day we decided we’d try to write a few songs together.

00:19:20 ALICE WINKLER: One of them was this very jaunty tune, “The Story of My Life.”


00:19:24 Someday I'm going to write

The story of my life

I'll tell about the night we met

And how my heart can't forget

The way you smiled at me

00:19:44 ALICE WINKLER: It was recorded by country singer Marty Robbins and became the number one hit on the country charts, and number 15 overall.

00:19:52 HAL DAVID: Firstly, I didn’t know about country songs. I didn’t know there was such a thing as country songs, or rhythm and blues songs, or whatever. I thought there were just songs. Then we had “Magic Moments” with Perry Como, which was a very big hit internationally. But we still continued working with other people, and I think we started to write together permanently — or “exclusively” is perhaps the better word — when Dionne Warwick came into our lives.

00:20:31 She came into our lives, and she came up to see if she could make some demonstration records for us, demos. This probably was around 1961. She had done backup singing, and we knew her from that, and she had asked if she could so some demos for us, and we invited her to our place at Paramount. And she came and she sang for us, and she blew us away, just blew us away.

00:21:03 Such great musicality. I mean she’s a real musician, and you know, she's just so musical. And we learned quickly that she could do our songs so well. We did our first date, and we had a song called “Don’t Make Me Over.” The first time she really recorded by herself, and it was an enormous hit. And then we had hit after hit after hit after hit for about 17 years.


00:21:37 Don't pick on the things I say

The things I do

Just love me with all my faults

The way that I love you

I'm begging you

Don't make me over

Now that I can't make it without you

Don't make me over

00:22:05 ALICE WINKLER: There was definitely some symbiosis at work there. Hal David found inspiration in Dionne Warwick’s voice, and she found truth in his lyrics. Here she is in a 2010 interview with the Academy of Achievement.

00:22:20 DIONNE WARWICK: I have to believe what I’m singing about and not feel that I’m singing something that I don’t feel comfortable singing. I never had that problem with Hal David, ever, but Hal David is — I don’t call him a songwriter. I refer to him as a poet. He is — he’s very special and has a way of writing to the heart. Not at it, to it. And I have actually found myself hoarse on occasion and have literally stood while the music played and spoke the lyrics.

00:23:07 And I mean it had the same effect as if I were singing it. Since 1962, I've been singing these songs, and each one is delicious. What can I tell you?


00:23:23 Do you know the way to San Jose?

I've been away so long

I may go wrong and lose my way

Do you know the way to San Jose?

00:23:35 ALICE WINKLER: Their hits together included “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “Walk on By,” “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” and lots more. But that first hit, her very first solo recording, was in 1961, and it happened to be the same year Carole King and Gerry Goffin had their first hit. Here’s how Hal David described the process of writing a song, followed by Carole King describing her creative process.

00:24:02 HAL DAVID: We sometimes started with some lyrics, sometimes started with some melody, sometimes started with a whole lyric, sometimes started with a whole melody. Sometimes we’d sit in a room and just work on a song and build it. It was almost like architecture. The one thing that Burt and I did particularly well was he could write to a lyric. Not every composer — technically any composer can write to any lyric, and technically any lyric writer can write to any melody, but you’ve got to be able to do it well.

00:24:47 He is far and away the best composer I’ve worked with who could write to a lyric, and I think I do write lyrics to his music in a pretty good way, too.


00:24:59 The lights in the harbor

Don't shine for me

I'm like a lost ship

Adrift on the sea

The sea of heartbreak

Lost love and loneliness

Memories of your caress

So divine, how I wish

You were mine again, my dear

I'm on this sea of tears

The sea of heartbreak

00:25:39 HAL DAVID: We used to meet every day, and we were usually writing three songs at one time, but not fast. You know, we were really very good craftsmen in terms of not letting things go until we were happy with them.

00:25:58 ALICE WINKLER: They were happy with their songs, yes, but interviewer Gail Eichenthal asked Hal David if he had a good sense of which ones would make it big with listeners.

00:26:08 HAL DAVID: I always think the song is going to be successful, if I take it around. I don't show a song that I don't think will be successful.

00:26:20 GAIL EICHENTHAL: So that means you're not terribly surprised when it is successful?

00:26:23 HAL DAVID: I'm always surprised. I'm always surprised.

00:26:29 MUSIC: ALFIE

00:26:30 What's it all about, Alfie?

00:26:35 HAL DAVID: There are two lyrics I’m most proud of. One was a big hit called “Alfie.” I think “Alfie” may be a lyric I got the closest to getting exactly everything I felt about the subject. We wrote that for a film, a British movie that Paramount was going to release.

00:27:01 Burt was in California now. He was with Angie Dickinson. I was still — my main home was on Long Island. He said, "Why don’t you get a start?" It was my job to get a start. I had a lot of trouble with “Alfie” because “Alfie” was a funny title. It doesn’t sound funny anymore, but “Alfie,” before you heard the song, sounded like an old-fashioned English musical song, something you would dance to and be silly about, and I had to get that out of my mind.

00:27:45 And I struggled with it and struggled with it and couldn’t get it and couldn’t get it, and one day I thought of, "What’s it all about, Alfie?" And from there on I knew how to do it. “What’s it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live? What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?”

00:28:07 “Are we meant to take more than we give? Or are we meant to be kind? And if only fools are kind, Alfie, then I guess it is wise to be cruel. And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie, what would you lend on an old golden rule? As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above, Alfie, I know there’s something much more. Something even non-believers can believe in.”

00:28:44 “I believe in love, Alfie. Until you find the love you’ve missed, you’re nothing, Alfie. Without true love we just exist, Alfie. When you walk, let your heart lead the way, and you’ll find love any day, Alfie.” I love that line, “When you walk let your heart lead the way.”

00:29:15 MUSIC: ALFIE

00:29:15 I believe in love, Alfie

Without true love we just exist, Alfie

Until you find the love you've missed

You're nothing, Alfie

When you walk, let your heart lead the way

And you'll find love any day, Alfie

00:30:01 HAL DAVID: We were surprised that the director didn't like the song. He was adamant. He finally said, "Well, my son is very hip, and he knows about songs, and we'll play it for him." Apparently, his son didn't like it either. And if it weren't for Howie Koch, who was the head of the studio, who became a great friend of ours but whom we — at least I didn’t know at the time — Howie said, "What's this song I hear about?"

00:30:37 And we played it for him, and he loved the song. He finally had to say, "I won’t release the movie without the song." That’s one of my very favorites, but one of — and Burt’s as well.

00:30:50 CAROLE KING: Creativity comes in different ways. I've written with co-writers, and there's a wonderful spark that happens when you write with a co-writer. Somebody, one of the two of you, it doesn’t matter which, says — puts out an idea, and the other one, you know — it’s like any collaboration, you know. Business people collaborate. It's — there is that. Ideas. There’s an idea. I don’t know where that comes from. That’s out of thin air.


00:31:17 I figured it out

I was high and low and everything in between

00:31:26 ALICE WINKLER: Wayne Reynolds, Chairman of the Academy of Achievement, asked Carole King to describe what it's like when she hears a song she's written on the radio.

00:31:36 CAROLE KING: There are different stages. Hearing your song on the radio is a big piece of it. You suddenly know, "Oh, my God, a whole lot of people are going to hear this." But the stage for me is like, first of all, when an idea comes and I work on it and I shape it and, you know, it’s just a flowing thing that at the end of which, you know, I keep — I’ll reject something, and then something will come in, and I’ll fix it.

00:32:02 So there’s inspiration, but there’s also the perspiration part where you actually craft a song. And then when I’m finished, I actually know when I’m finished. Some people say, "I work on it until they take it away from me." But I actually know when it’s ready, and once it’s ready, that’s a first “Oh, a song where there was a nothing.” And then the playing of it for the first person you play it for, and you see in the person’s face and their reaction to it what you hoped you would see.

00:32:34 And then you record it, and that’s the joy of imagining how an instrument would sound because it’s just me and my piano. And then it’s all the things I hear that — a drumbeat, a guitar figure, violins, background vocals, and when you kind of hear them in your head, but then you actually hear them come to life, and they’re better than you even imagined. That level of realizing, and then if I’m not the singer — and back in the early days I was never the singer — you give it to a recording artist who sings it, and you go, "I can’t sing that well."

00:33:16 And by the way, I know I’m a good singer now but — and what I bring to a performance is authenticity, but I can’t make those notes that Celine Dion or Aretha Franklin make.


00:33:30 The reason

In the middle of the night

(In the middle of the night)

I'm going down 'cause I want you

(I want to touch you)


00:33:49 CAROLE KING: So hearing them sing those notes that I know I wanted to sing, sing them so the way I wanted to. Or to hear James sing “You’ve Got a Friend” in the way that I imagined it might sound, that’s another level. And then the last stage is, like, hearing it on the radio or realizing that hundreds, thousands, millions of people are hearing it and that it’s meaningful to them.

00:34:15 Those are the stages, and it all starts with that little spark of idea that comes from whomever, whatever, wherever, through me.


00:34:26 HAL DAVID: When I heard music that I liked, I heard words right away. Not necessarily the words I’d wind up using, but I heard words, I heard titles, I heard — as somebody pictures something, I heard something. I’ve always been like that. They have to sound like they weren’t even created, they just happened, just natural perfection when they turned out right.

00:34:58 ALICE WINKLER: Kind of the way ballerinas make their audience believe they are floating, while really they are standing on tormented toes, meticulously controlling every muscle. At least that’s the metaphor that came to my mind, listening to Carole King and Hal David describe the work that goes into crafting a song that sounds like it was just meant to be.


00:35:20 On the day that you were born the angels got together

And decided to create a dream come true

So they sprinkled moon dust in your hair of gold

And starlight in your eyes of blue

00:35:38 ALICE WINKLER: Thanks for listening to What It Takes from the Academy of Achievement. I’m Alice Winkler. Thanks, as always, to the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation for funding What It Takes.


00:35:47 Follow you all around

Just like me, they long to be

Close to you


What It Takes is a podcast of conversations with well-known people in almost every field. The interviews have been recorded over the past 25 years by the American Academy of Achievement. They offer life stories of people who have had a huge impact on the world. They offer insights you can apply to your own life.