Albums Review: Sounds of Yesterday, Society of Tomorrow
Gender Equality — Tapestry vs. Lemonade
To follow me on social media and listen to my “Anonymous Semantics” EP, click on the link Here.
Throughout human history, there are several social issues that have marked us, and one of the longest-lived is institutional and systemic machism, which deprives countless opportunities for women with immense professional and interpersonal competence.
Although there has been considerable growth over the last few years (in countries such as Latvia and Jamaica), which offers us greater hope for the future in the search for gender equality (I speak for myself, but those who do not agree, I recommend this reading even more, because human beings are always capable of learning and reflecting on their own ideals, it is not recommended to live in the ignorance forever), this is still an evident reality, because from administrative to minor positions, the role of women in the business world is systematically questioned.
Unfortunately, this is a very resonant reality in the music industry. Based on statistical data conducted in February 2019 by USC Annenberg Inclusion Innitiative (made between 2012 and 2018 to the American industry, the most dominant in the world), this conclusion is quite demonstrative by the disparity of opportunities and acceptance by the public.
From positions such as music production (2.2% of female producers), composition (12.3% of female songwriters) and female artists in charts, representing 17.1% of 700 artists, which indicates a rather problematic decrease over this period, even taking into account the digital accessibility we have at our disposal today (from 22.7% in 2012, to 17.1% in 2018), this shows that something has to be changed, in order to provide more ways for the female sex to feel increasingly valued and encouraged, in the industry.
If it weren’t for examples of diverse artists like Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, Madonna, Diana Ross, Lady Gaga, among others, we wouldn’t have so much versatility and talent that inspired so many generations of artists (including myself, especially Joni Mitchell of those mentioned), musical genres and cultural movements successors.
Therefore the two albums under analysis, characterize exactly the importance of these to this art form that I love and cherish so much, which in my opinion, the role of women is fundamental for its progress and growth.
Carole King — Tapestry
Genre(s): Soft rock, singer/songwriter, piano rock, pop
The first album under review, is entitled Tapestry by American artist Carole King, released in 1971 by Ode Records (which is currently one of Sony Music Entertainment’s subsidiary labels).
From Tapestry, the artist has achieved the status of pop star and icon for future generations of women in the music industry, although it has not always been her purpose.
Despite having taken piano lessons and music theory learning, from the age of four, King only embarked on a music career in mid 1958, after having dropped out of Queens College and met her future husband Gerry Goffin.
Having started in the iconic Brill Building office building in New York City (also known as a music genre, due to the amount of songs written and produced in the place), Goffin and King began one of the most successful songwriting partnerships of the latter half of the 20th century, being responsible for writing more than two dozen of chart hits in the US and the UK (between 1960 and 1968, along with other sporadic periods in 1970, 1971 and 1984).
Some of these included “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” for The Shirelles (and later by King), “I’m Into Something Good” for Earl-Jean (best known for the British Herman’s Hermits version), “The Locomotion” for Little Eva (and later for Grand Funk), “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” for Aretha Franklin, among others.
After a few turbulent years on a personal level due to her divorce from Goffin in 1968, King moved from New York to Los Angeles, where she found her taste for performance and the singing of her songs.
Despite the little commercial success of her debut album Writer in 1970, she did not give up and embarked on Tapestry (in reference to an intricate or complex sequence of events in her life), a magnum opus demonstration of fragile and vulnerable impetus, as well as her audacity as an artist.
It contains a combination of the artist’s old songs (such as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”) and new ones, representing the duality of her old life on the East Coast, with her new life on the West Coast.
The music project was produced by Lou Adler, with the cooperation of several collaborators, from sound engineers like Hank Cicalo (engineering) and Vic Anesini (mastering), instrumentalists like Carole King herself (vocals, piano, keyboards, background vocals), Joni Mitchell (background vocals), James Taylor (acoustic guitar, backing vocals), Curtis Amy (flute, baritone, soprano and tenor saxophone, strings quartet), among others, that provided a very subtle and characteristic sound of uptempo singer-songwriting and piano rock genres (such as “I Feel The Earth Move” and “Beautiful”) and downtempo (such as “So Far Away” and “You’ve Got A Friend”) songs, full of motifs, wind and string instruments, catchy and effective sounds/chord changes, forming an ideal package with King’s straining voice (in my opinion, her songwriting abilities surpass the vocal ones), which makes us feel at home, complete, comfort, calm and nostalgic.
Lyrically, the tracks were written and co-written (like “Where You Lead”, which was written alongside Tori Stern, who wrote alone “It’s Too Late”) by King, who wanders through various themes such as loveloss, breakup, pressure of the performer/artist lifestyle (on “So For Away”, my favourite song of the album), nostalgia, spirituality (on “Way Over Yonder” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”) and the consequent pride of having overcome them, representative of a total display of vulnerability and innocence in her delivery, something that along with Joni Mitchell, had never been done before by any female artist.
Tapestry is not only the pinnacle of the female figure in the music industry, but it is also business changing at a commercial level: it still holds the record for most consecutive weeks at number one (15) by a female solo artist, remained on the Billboard charts for 318 weeks (second all-time to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon) and resulted on 4 Grammys at the 1972 Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, Song of the Year for “You’ve Got A Friend” (making her the first female artist to win these two categories), Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female and Record of the Year (for “It’s Too Late”), with estimated worldwide sales of 25 million units, making it one of the best-selling albums in history (Carole King is also the most successful female songwriter of the second half of the 20th century in the US, with 118 written and co-written hits, along with 61 hits in the UK; Tapestry is ranked 25 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time).
Therefore, King has been one of my favorite songwriters since my teenage years, and I recommend the listening of this album for any fan of soft rock, folk, singer-songwriter and ballad type of songs (Link here).
Beyoncé — Lemonade
Genre(s): R&B, neo soul, soul, art pop
The second album in review is called Lemonade, by African-American artist Beyoncé Knowles released in 2016, by Parkwood Entertainment (management and entertainment company founded by Beyoncé in 2010) and under exclusive license from Columbia Records.
Its release was accompanied by a sixty-five minute promotional film (the album and film did not have any kind of promotion prior to its release, because the artist believed that social media would take care of it for her, something that proved unprecedented in the industry), entitled “Beyoncé: Lemonade” at HBO.
With the intention to express Lemonade’s concept in a cinematic way, the film was divided into eleven chapters called “Intuition”, “Denial”, “Anger”, “Apathy”, “Emptiness”, “Accountability”, “Reformation”, “Forgiveness”, “Resurrection”, “Hope”, and “Redemption” (containing all tracks from the album), portraying her emotional and self-survival journey around infidelity on the part of Beyoncé’s husband, acclaimed rapper and entrepeneur Jay-Z.
This betrayal propelled the motto to the title and album, which is surrounded by the saying widely used by Knowles’ mother and grandmother “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade” (the phrase is also uttered by Jay-Z’s grandmother in the film), a phrase that the artist follows as an engine for overcoming adversities that stand in her way.
Putting this in perspective, this concept album is ruled in a cyclical way. From song to song, Knowles applies subliminal messages in relation to the man’s treatment of black women in relationships, relating them to elements of African-American history and culture, black feminism and trauma, demonstrating her sense of responsibility in being a role model for all women worldwide.
The project was conceptualized in Knowles’ home (while taking care of her youngest daughter) and in several studios where it was produced/arranged, such as Apex and Mad Decent in Burbank, California, The Beehive, Conway, Henson and Record Plant in Los Angeles, California, Jungle City, New York and Larrabee, Mirrorball and Pacifique in North Hollywood, California.
It had the collaboration of numerous producers and engineers, such as Beyoncé herself, Kevin Garrett (producer on “Pray You Catch Me”), Diplo (producer on “Hold Up”), Jack White (producer on “Don’t Hurt Yourself”), James Blake (producer on “Forward”), Jonny Coffer (producer on “Freedom”), Stuart White (recording and engineering on all tracks), Ramon Rivas (engineering in songs such as “Freedom” and “All Night”), Tony Maserati (mixing on “6 Inch”, “Sandcastles” and “All Night”), among others; as well as instrumentalists and arrangers, such as Jack White (vocals and bass guitar on “Don’t Hurt Yourself”), The Weeknd (vocals on “6 Inch”), James Blake (vocals and piano on “Forward” and jupiter bass on “Pray You Catch Me”), Kendrick Lamar (vocals on “Freedom”), Mike Dean (drum programming & keyboards on “Love Drought”), Jon Brion (string arrangements on “Pray You Catch Me”, “Don’t Hurt Yourself” and “All Night”), among others.
Each of these provided the instrumental richness marked by artistic creativity, both by the aggressiveness and expressiveness noted in the exploration of rock, blues and hip hop genres on tracks like “Don’t Hurt Yourself” (which samples the drums of Led Zeppelin’s version of “When The Levee Breaks”) and “Freedom”, the angelic and dreamy sensation of salvation, through the exploration of string instruments, gospel and R&B genres in songs such as “Pray You Catch Me” (mainly reggae influenced), “Sandcastles” (my two favourite songs on the album), “Forward” and “All Night” (which is reggae influenced and samples Outkast’s brass line on “SpottieOttieDopaliscious”), characteristic aspects in the trap rap genre like rhyme schemes, additive production along with sidechain compression on the bass/drums, energy and performance electricity in songs like “Sorry”, “Love Drought” (my least favorites) and “Formation” (which has influence of New Orleans’ bounce music), country and zydenco based sounds on “Daddy Lessons”, as well as the sensuality & intimate impetus of alternative R&B on “6 Inch” (which samples Isaac Hayes’ version of “Walk On By”).
This impetus complemented the lyrical content, which as previously mentioned, revolves around womanism and women empowerment.
Following this conduct, Knowles implements narratives inspired by personal experiences and beliefs established by society, in relation to black women in relationships (on “Pray You Catch Me”), traumas associated with it such as anger, resentment (on “Hold Up” and “Don’t Hurt Yourself”), disbelief (on “Sorry”), trust issues, insecurities (on “Love Drought”), strenghts and reach for forgiveness (on “Daddy Lessons”, in which she refers to the betrayal of her father to his mother and the warnings given by him, regarding Jay; on “Sandcastles”, which is an analogy between waves that wash sandcastles and promises at weddings, tested by real life) and the consequent overcoming of these adversities reaching self-love (on “All Night”), peace within (on “Forward”) and power (on “6 Inch”, in which she refers to heels as a symbolism of power and wealth for the independent woman), something they all deserve to achieve, relating these themes to African-American history/culture and the embraceness of their roots and characteristics (on “Don’t Hurt Yourself”, which draws inspiration from black musicians, such as Bessie Smith and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who used their personal troubles to empower black women, and a reference of a Malcolm X’s quote, about the importance of black women to society) ; on “Freedom”, in which she addresses her struggle by alluding the history of slavery and paying recognition to the victims, remembered by the Black Lives Matter Movement; and on “Formation”, which is an identity and afirmation statement to all black women to keep going, and also alluding to slavery and southern food, which is very attached to Knowles’ soul and roots), demonstrating all the points that make this, a significant and game changing project in the popular music of the 21st century.
Although I have never been a big fan of Beyoncé musically, I consider her a great woman, artist and example for future generations, and therefore, I recommend Lemonade to all fans of 2000’s R&B, soul, feminism and concept albums (Link here).
Clash of Times (Tapestry vs. Lemonade)
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, gender equality was in constant development from the second wave of feminism (the term is often used synonymously with the “Women’s Liberation Movement”), marked by several historical events and an openness of discussions that were predominant for the progress of society, such as suffragism (the right to vote was first achieved by a woman in 1971, Switzerland) and gender discrimination.
Although these issues were not overcome at the time, Carole King is a perfect example in the search for an equalitarian world for men and women.
According to Village Voice’s critic Robert Christgau, her voice liberated female singers, but I believe she did much more than that.
With Tapestry, King allowed women to witness the success and recognition by one of them, by believing that one day, they will achieve achievements as or more great, and so for all these factors, is an essential musical work for sociocultural knowledge.
Now, if we compare the 1970’s to the previous decade of the 21st century, the focus on the struggle for gender equality has been more vocal on certain aspects.
Very marked by the fourth wave of feminism via movements like #MeToo, it made us aware of social issues like rape culture, sexual assault, street/workplace harrassment, body shaming and the influence of social media for these, something that affects women in the business world as much as in the personal and artistic, issues that Beyoncé always showed awareness to, and Lemonade, is a clear example of this fight for respect and equality.
To quote Billboard’s journalist Miriam Bale, Lemonade is “a revolutionary work of Black feminism” and “made by a black woman, starring Black women, and for Black women”, making each woman feel able to carry out her own process of “self-knowledge and healing”, because they are all worthy of founding themselves, they all count and are worthy of success and dignity, regardless of their gender, race or wealth.
Therefore, both Tapestry and Lemonade represent a significant milestone for women in the music industry, one in commercial and compositional terms, and the other, at the identity and empowerment level more directed to womanism.
These works transcend art for their ability to demonstrate the value that women have in life, that through work, sweat and heart, we are all worthy to experience success and happiness, regardless of our gender, and for me, is an essential ideal to have as a human being.
“Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.” — Chimimanda Adichie
Thank you to everyone who read the article, be free to share it with everyone, and leave a comment below, of what did you think about it, if that’s your wish 😊.