An earlier version of this post appeared on pcmunoz.com on August 16, 2005
"Home Again" -- Carole King
Written by Carole King
From Tapestry (Sony, 1971)
Though "It's Too Late" might be a little more famous, and "You've Got a Friend" certainly gets covered more often, I've always felt that the piano ballad "Home Again" is the emotional center of Carole King's classic Tapestry album. It begins with a starkly direct confession:
Sometimes I wonder if I'm ever gonna make it home again
It's so far and out of sight
At that early point in the song, the arrangement is simply piano, quiet guitar, and voice, lending the piece an inviting intimacy. An understated, perfectly-timed drum fill rolls in at the tail end of the first chorus, which, like the opening verse, is simply declared:
I won't be happy 'til I see you alone again,
'Til I'm home again, and feeling right
Listening to King's earnest, emotional vocal on this song, one is reminded that according to music industry legend, Carole King's early piano-and-voice demos were prized by the music-loving label execs of the '60s, who often sought out and hoarded her raw, solo demo tapes. There is definitely something exciting and honest about a songwriter's unadorned, bare-bones demos, and I think one of the strengths of the Tapestry album (and "Home Again" specifically) is that the arrangements and vocal performances let the songs shine by prioritizing instinct and feel over chopsy, technical perfection. Carole King herself has reportedly said that there's no way she could ever get a gig as a piano player -- but she's all over Tapestry, happily and soulfully accompanying herself on piano.
One of the great things about listening to a minimally-arranged song by a master songwriter like Carole King is that an interested listener can identify the varying elements/influences which cohere into her distinctive songwriting voice. The bridge/pre-chorus is a good example:
Snow is cold, rain is wet...
Chills my soul right to the marrow
One can fairly easily trace the first line of this section to King's roots as a Brill Building/late-era Tin Pan Alley songwriter: only someone who has put in real time as a workaday writer of pop songs could possess the self-assurance to include lines that definitely work, but might be considered cliché or lazy by a snobbish audience. Even the melodic content of "Home Again" has stylistic similarities to the late '50s and early '60s songs which Carole co-wrote with Gerry Goffin (dig that verse melody, especially). The second two lines of the bridge/pre-chorus section, on the other hand, seem to me to be more in line with King's confessional singer-songwriter contemporaries of the '70s, many of whom grew up on her earlier songs for other artists (such as"Locomotion", "Up on the Roof", and "One Fine Day"). The vocal performance King turns in on this section of the song is really something to hear. Informed by both complete abandon and a commanding sense of how her song ought to be executed, her voice here expresses an unsure vulnerability, as well as an undeniable self-confidence.
"Home Again" ultimately works so well because the sentiment rings so true. Who among us hasn't yearned for a place where we find the comfort of family, friends, and a feeling of belonging? Here, Carole King uses her substantial gifts to give voice to the deep longing we all feel at one time or another for a place to call home.
What Carole King may or may not know is that for many of us who grew up in the '70s, listening to Tapestry is one sure way to feel at home, anytime and anywhere.