The April release of The Essential Carole King (Ode/Epic/Legacy)-a two-disc set supplanting 1978's Her Greatest Hits: Songs of Long Ago and the four compilations that have followed in its wake-will inspire head scratching from anyone familiar with Carole King's left-wing activism.
By "activism" one doesn't mean her support for the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, a woman's "right" to taxpayer-funded abortion on demand, or for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. Celebrity liberals can campaign for such causes in their sleep.
In the case of Carole King, whose 1971 album Tapestry was diamond certified in 1995 to commemorate its 10-millionth sale but, curiously, hasn't sold another million since, activism means her visit to Cuba in 2002 as part of a goodwill delegation, a visit King capped by performing her classic "You've Got a Friend" (track six on The Essential Carole King), hermana a hermano, for Fidel Castro himself.
"The news that King traveled to Havana and serenaded Fidel Castro with 'You've Got a Friend,'" wrote Ninoska Pérez Castellón at the time, "is painful, to say the least."
To say the most, the news was proof that Castro's nearly half-century of brutal tyranny was more acceptable to King than the constitutionally rooted conservatism that she opposed in the United States. Somehow Proverbs 26:6-"He that sendeth a message by the hand of a fool cutteth off the feet, and drinketh damage"-came to mind.
In its March 2005 "Update on Non-Combat Victims of the Castro Regime," the Truth Recovery Archive on Cuba calculated that the number of firing-squad executions, extra-judicial assassinations, deaths (of political prisoners) in prisons, and Castro opponents who had "disappeared" or were "missing" came to 8,386.
It's flabbergasting to realize that to King and others like her such a statistic means nothing, especially given that, at least on the evidence of the tracks comprising The Essential Carole King's second disc, King is no dummy.
Subtitled The Songwriter, it features 15 hits that other acts had with songs King and her then-husband Gerry Goffin wrote together in the 1960s. With the exception of the final track, Billy Joel's 1992 recording of "Hey Girl" (apparently included to suggest that King's compositions are "still" popular), the songs make a most impressive oldies playlist.
Goffin, not King, wrote the lyrics, so perhaps one shouldn't scrutinize the likes of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" (the Shirelles), "Take Good Care of My Baby" (Bobby Vee), "The Loco-Motion" (Little Eva), "Up on the Roof" (the Drifters), or "Pleasant Valley Sunday" (the Monkees) for clues to King's dismaying lack of cognitive dissonance in soliciting Castro to be her BFF (although the line in "Pleasant Valley Sunday" denigrating Pleasant Valley as "status-symbol land" would definitely win points in a socialist paradise).
King's own post-Goffin lyrics, however, are fair game. And as disc one (subtitled The Singer) demonstrates, her idea of wisdom was often little more than warmed-over sentimentalism, of which Brian Wilson and Norman Vincent Peale seemed to be the chief ingredients. "You got to get up every morning with a smile on your face," she sang on "Beautiful," "and show the world all the love in your heart."
The good news: "Beautiful" is missing from King's new collection. The bad: "Only Love Is Real" isn't. "Childhood dreams like muddy waters, / flowing through me to my son and daughters," King sings. "Everything I ever thought is confirmed as truth to me."
"Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit?" asks Proverbs 26:12. "There is more hope of a fool than of him."
Somehow that verse comes to mind too.