Not Everything's Been Said

Remembering the City Featuring Carole King

by Jedd Beaudoin

11 November 2015

It's hard to predict why some records fail and others succeed. One of the lyricists behind a beautiful failure, the City's Now That Everything's Been Said (which in many ways serves as Carole King's debut album), David Palmer, remembers the road to the City and back.
 
cover art

The City

Now That Everything's Been Said

(Light In The Attic)
US: 2 Oct 2015
UK: 2 Oct 2015

The City’s Now That Everything’s Been Said is one of those gems that you might stumble upon tucked away deep inside the heavy vinyl stacks of the most ardent record collectors. It’s hard to stumble upon it in secondhand shops and at flea markets it seems because those who have found the record love it deeply, passionately and are reluctant to let it go. If you’ve heard this album it’s likely that you’re either a stalwart Carole King support or that someone—a close friend, your local record dealer—turned you onto it, gave you the gift of magic.

It’s an album touched by genius. It’s an album marked by new beginnings and, in a way, baffling failure.

King’s marriage to a fellow songwriter, the late Gerry Goffin, had dissolved around the Summer of Love. She’d left the comfortable climate of the East Coast for Southern California and the honeyed promises it dripped during that fruitful era. Ensconced in Laurel Canyon, King connected with a couple of other transplants: bassist Charles Larkey, who’d been part of a teenage band that King and Goffin had sought out, The Myddle Class, and guitarist Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar, a brilliant player who’d been in Flying Machine with a promising young songwriter, James Taylor. Despite having been in “rival” bands in their formative years both Kortchmar and Larkey did time in The Fugs and then followed the musical gold rush to California where their musical dreams had essentially fizzled by the time they connected with King just as the final embers of the 1960s singer-songwriter boom were dying out and the era of Monterey Pop and the far-out psychedelic was ushered in.

Not that there weren’t songwriters to be found. A teenaged Jackson Browne was already making the rounds with demos and earnest, thoughtful material; Joni Mitchell’s unique craft was starting to blossom and the foundations of the much-revered Laurel Canyon scene (though it wasn’t exactly that) had been laid. These three transplants—King, Kortchmar, and Larkey—soon found themselves jamming on a regular basis and King realized that maybe she was on to something.

The spirits of these three principals didn’t entirely jibe with the energy of the Laurel Canyon scene: they were essentially New Yorkers and a little edgier, a little less wide-eyed maybe than their Left Coast counterparts, and so when the time came The City became a perfect name for the core trio. They were from The City and here they were living in the center of a hippie dream. Maybe that was at the core of the miscalculations, if they can be called that, surrounding the record. It didn’t exactly replicate the hustle and bustle, the hard edge and avant-garde tendencies of New Amsterdam. And the hippie garb the players wore on the cover seemed to be plucked more from the pastoral pipe dream of Upstate than the mean streets of the Big Apple.

With the players in place, King called old friend Lou Adler, whose Ode Records was just launching. Adler, who ultimately produced Now That Everything’s Been Said, wanted to work with King but he wanted her as a solo artist, not with a band. In the end he acquiesced, saying that he would be happy to take anything King was part of. Drummer Jim Gordon, a protégé of the ubiquitous session cat Hal Blaine, came into the picture and the sessions began.

Of course there wouldn’t have been sessions without songs to record and the lot that The City had at their disposal are where the real charms of this album rest. This isn’t one of those clumsy first efforts that gets dug up and exposed once the musicians involved become world class stars. This is a fully formed gem of a record that could have just as easily served as King’s solo debut. Her voice, as always, is natural, effortless, equal parts haunting and seductive.

And, oh, the songs.

King had half a dozen tunes that she had written with Goffin and those form the bulk of the record although they blend seamlessly with the material she wrote with two new collaborators, Toni Stern and David Palmer. Stern was an L.A.-raised and then a fairly freshly hatched writer. Her collaborations with King yielded “Now That Everything’s Been Said”, not just the album’s titular track and one of its highest highs but also one of King’s all-time best, as well as “Why Are You Leaving?” and “I Don’t Believe It”. The two would also collaborate on “As We Go Along”, a classic from the ill-fated film Head starring The Monkees.

Later, just a few years later, Stern would pen lyrics for one of King’s biggest hits from the album that would be on everyone’s shelves for decades to come, Tapestry. The song? “It’s Too Late”, a record that topped the Billboard charts in 1972 and also scored King and Stern a Grammy.

The other lyricist? Oddly enough, another person from King’s past on that other coast, writer and vocalist David Palmer who’d been an integral member in Larkey’s The Myddle Class. Palmer would go on to write another one of King’s biggest hits from the 1970s, “Jazzman,” which appeared on the 1974 album Wrap Around Joy.

By 1974 Palmer had been in and out of Steely Dan, though not without leaving his mark: it’s his voice you hear on one of the Dan’s most enduring tunes, “Dirty Work”.

Palmer’s entry into the Now That Everything’s Been Said is not especially complicated but it offers its own multitude of intrigue.

Raised in New Jersey Palmer and friend Rick Philp joined forces circa 1964 in The King Bees, an outfit that would soon include Charles Larkey on bass. One fateful evening the band met up with writer Al Aronowitz, writer for, among other publications the New York Post. One of the first journalists to write respectfully and thoughtfully about pop music, Aronowitz is said to have introduced The Beatles to Bob Dylan and marijuana.

He also introduced The Myddle Class to Carole King and Gerry Goffin, perhaps an equally heady but far more legal mix. By then signed on as manager for the five lads from New Jersey, Aronowitz had known King and Goffin for some time and had penned an excellent 1963 article titled “The Dumb Sound” for The Saturday Evening Post. An in-depth examination of the pre-Fab Four era of pop it is a classic work of rock journalism and one that cemented Aronowitz’s friendship with Goffin and King.

By early 1965 the couple was looking for a band to produce—“a kid band,” in Palmer’s words—and Aronowitz presented them with his clients. By the time the group’s first single was issued in late ‘65 they were no longer The King Bees. Kortchmar’s band of the same name had already released material under that name and so The Myddle Class was born. Palmer and Philp shared writing credit with Goffin and King on the A-side “Free As The Wind.” It was issued on the couple’s Atlantic-distributed Tomorrow label and received some favorable press. 

Aronowitz’s connections didn’t hurt. He knew the members of the Velvet Underground and the group drove out to Summit, New Jersey to open for the Myddle Class at a high school dance. Not bad. And not bad considering that the Myddle Class was pretty much the top of the heap in that neck of the woods. “There was a band called the Critters, I think,” Palmer recalls. “They were like The Beatles of the area and we were like the Rolling Stones of the area.”

King recalls working with the Myddle Class favorably in her 2012 memoir A Natural Woman, in particular Palmer’s lyrics. “When we met Gerry and Carole,” Palmer says, “we weren’t really good writers but we were learning how. But I must say that they were both very encouraging.”

A second single, “Don’t Let Me Sleep Too Long” b/w “I Happen to Love”, came along in 1966 and somewhere in all of that the Myddle Class shared the stage with Kortchmar and James Taylor in New York City. The group issued one more single under the tutelage of King and Goffin but as the decade was nearing its close and the draft loomed, members were sent scattering.

Philps went off to Boston to attend Emerson College, effectively ending the rise of the Myddle Class. “The band was just not going to work,” Palmer says, “and we could feel it. Carole and Gerry were having problems in their relationship, they were breaking up. It was just bad, bad timing for everybody concerned.” Palmer also traveled to Boston and took a job while waiting for entrance to Emerson where he would study English. It was sometime during that period, he recalls, that King called him from California and asked if he’d write some words for her new project.

“The way that she used to write was that she would get the lyrics from Gerry first and then she would write melodies and chord changes,” he says. “It wasn’t always like that but it was typical.” He gave her one the records greatest tunes, “Paradise Alley”, and “Victim of Circumstance”. Palmer’s memory of the latter is surprisingly hazy. “I was reminded the other day that I had two songs on that record and I could not remember the other one!” he says with a laugh.

Palmer says that his lyric writing was aided by the company he kept. “Al Aronowitz was a very, very smart writer,” he says, “and very close to Dylan. That stuff. And I loved poets; I was a big Rimbaud fan. Those were the guys I wanted to emulate.”

He says that he wasn’t surprised by the final product that emerged from the City sessions. “I knew Carole was great. This was before she was Carole King of Tapestry but she was already amazing. Kootch was a stone great guitar player who loved the blues and loved R&B and he diversified later on. The musicianship in that band was extraordinary.”

When Now That Everything’s Been Said did finally emerge it sank without a trace despite high expectations. It had industry support and Adler’s skill as a promotional machine is legendary. Some have suggested that it was King’s reluctance to perform live that helped relegate the record to the footnotes of music history. Others, Palmer included, think the answer may be easier to find: just the case of the record having come into the world at the wrong time.

“Some records come out and just don’t happen,” he says. “There’s no greater reason. It’s the music business there’s never any rhyme or reason.”

The City’s failure didn’t stall anyone involved. Adler’s imprint became a formidable presence in the years to come and Larkey and Kortchmar quickly formed Jo Mama, which some deemed a West Coast version of the Band. The group backed King and Taylor at a famed Troubadour concert and has its loyal following to this day. Palmer stayed in Boston after the record’s release, saying that he didn’t put too much thought behind the record’s success.

“I didn’t get my hopes up and I wasn’t hurt that it was a disappointment because I’d had so much disappointment in the music business already,” he says with a laugh.

During his tenure in Boston, Palmer ran in circles with Lloyd Baskin of Seatrain and comedian/guitar wunderkind Martin Mull. He also met future Steely Dan/Doobie Brothers guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. “He was in one of the worst groups ever,” Palmer says, “The Ultimate Spinach”.” (That group had actually some initial success with its psychedelic sounds but by the time Baxter entered the picture, the bloom, as they say, was off the rose.) Sadly, many of the plans he had for his musical career were changed when Philp was murdered by his roommate.

“It was horrible. A horrible deal,” Palmer says now. “I didn’t want to be in music anymore.” He drifted for a time, making his way to New York for a tenure with Jake and the Family Jewels, then a return to Boston and then a fateful call from Jeff Baxter.

“I came to L.A. in July ‘72 to Village Recorders where Steely was cutting tracks and heard that music for the first time. I had never heard anything like it. I thought, ‘Oh my god! This is revolutionary!’ I knew it was going to be a hit. I just knew.”

By then he and King had lost touch. “I didn’t want her to think I was using our friendship for any reason, so I didn’t want to get in touch until I had something huge to show her,” he recalls. “So, when Can’t Buy a Thrill was done, I called Carole and said, ‘I want to play you something.’ She heard it and said, ‘This is going to be a monster.’ She knew.”

His time with Steely Dan was brief. By 1973, Donald Fagen had decided that he would front the band and Palmer was out. “The writing was kind of on the wall. They operate in a certain way but I have to say that for many years afterward I had no trouble with royalties or anything like that for years afterward. They treated me very well,” he says. (Palmer did file suit against Steely Dan in 2014 over unpaid digital royalties.) 

King called him for “Jazzman” around that time and their friendship—although not a close one, he adds—continues to this day. Palmer rode out the 1970s with Wha-Koo, a band that had little success on these shores but was very popular in other markets. By 2002 Palmer had ditched the music industry in favor of photography. “I had looked in the mirror one day and said, ‘I hate this industry.’ The music wasn’t very good and I started to sound like my parents, ‘I hate this music.’ I picked up a camera one day and was excited again. I found something that I really love to do.”

Kortchmar went on to co-write some of Don Henley’s biggest hits in the 1980s and drummer Jim Gordon became an integral member of Derek and the Dominoes, authoring the gorgeous piano coda heard on “Layla”. Larkey and King married and remained so through half of the 1970s; he took up sessions with a wide range of artists. But the 1970s proved a dark time for the drummer and the man who’d once been an in-demand session musician became increasingly erratic in his behavior. Palmer had run into him on the road during his Steely Dan days and, later, while trying to put together a post Wha-Koo band, looked up his old friend.

“I went to see him one night and talk about putting a band together. And he was not there. There was some real illness going on with him. I didn’t realize that he was schizophrenic. There was no outward manifestation of the illness other than he was just shut down,” Palmer recalls.

It wasn’t long after that meeting that Gordon attacked and murdered his elderly mother. He is serving a sentence at a California prison and is eligible for parole again 2018 when he will be 73. Palmer says he knows someone who sees Gordon on a semi-regular basis but the final diagnosis is this: “It’s so sad.”

Light in the Attic’s new reissue of Now That Everything’s Been Said will no doubt spark some new interest in the band, even if there’s little chance that King, Kortchmar or Larkey will do much to mark the occasion, although none of them have ever discussed the record in anything less than positive terms. As for Palmer, he says he’s aware that there’s been some interest in recent years over the lost singles of The Myddle Class and that maybe, if legal cobwebs were to be untangled and the stars were to align, music lovers would be able to hear that group and discover it too. 

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