Art of the Remake XIV

This is an unusual entry in this occasional series. A demo from a songwriter that is later recorded by another artist is not exactly a remake. Nonetheless, the contrast here is interesting, so I pass it on.

Here is the demo of Pleasant Valley Sunday, sung by Carole King, who wrote it:

That is a lovely bit of vintage pop, with the feel of that musical annus mirabilis of 1966. It would have been a good single by itself, and possibly a hit just as it is. Carole King had a very nice voice. She wrote a lot of hit pop songs in the Sixties, which were great. I am not a fan of her later solo career music, which is pleasant but does nothing for me.

Here is the version of her song which was a well deserved hit for the Monkees:

The Monkees are more rockin’ with it.

The changed lyrics are interesting. The Monkees sing “My thoughts all seem to stray, to places far away. I need a change of scenery … .” Carole sings “My thoughts all seem to stray, to places far away. I don’t ever want to see … another Pleasant Valley Sunday.” The Monkees leave their rejection of the bucolic suburban scene more ambiguous, which is a lyrical improvement.

Note that there is a lot of utterly unjustified disparagement of the Monkees. Dr. Frank once provided a total rebuttal to that stance, which he described as Monkees Derangement Syndrome. It is worth reading if you care about these controversies.

13 thoughts on “Art of the Remake XIV”

  1. Wow. Never heard that demo before. It’s awesome–and to my taste, much better than the Monkees’s version. I think at least part of it is that the M’s are rocking it *too much*, so that it ends up sounding downright upbeat. (Kind of like Sam Cooke’s original “What A Wonderful World This Would Be” vs Art Garfunkel’s much more plaintive version.)

    Thanks for finding this!

  2. Kirk, I agree. I like the demo better than the single. It is a thing of beauty.

    Can you imagine being Don Kirshner, producing the Monkees TV show, and you call Carole King and Jerry Goffin and say, hey, I’d like a song from you guys for my TV show, can you send me a demo? And then THAT arrives in the mail? This obvious gem of a song? Can you imagine hearing that now-standard pop song for the very first time? He had to know instantly it would be huge hit.

    That must have been a really great moment.

  3. I remember reading Isaac Asimov as a teen, then again much later in life. Always an interesting experience because you see the characters differently and even experience the story differently. There was a character, a bight, precocious young girl named Arcadia, who strained against the normalcy, the quiet, the peace and prosperity of her home. It’s so BORING!. She wanted adventure! To see the universe! Become a famous writer, the kind everyone who is anyone reads, not just some stuffy old academics. What good is that? She’s soon swept up by events into a war that is far beyond her comprehension and only belatedly looks back on the peace and security of her home with longing and nostalgia.

    That’s what I hear in those lyrics. Pleasant Valley is a good name.

    Here a similar piece:

    Joni Anderson (Mitchell) – Born to Take the Highway (1965)

    Notice also the same theme, the girl describing a peaceful, secure, happy childhood, who wants to take the first turn past the sun. This connects back to the Claire Berlinski essay on the hiatus of peace, security and general happiness that the West experienced after WWII.

    Joni Mitchell-Just Like Me (1966)

    What a beautiful, talented, and seemingly very sweet young woman she was.

  4. BTW, that’s an amazing and beautiful little clip you stumbled on there Lex. What an incredible talent she had. Thanks! I’ve never heard that before.

  5. Michael, agreed. It is amazing and beautiful. Popular music from about 1963-67 reached an incredible peak which we will never see again. It was one of America’s golden ages. I will resist the urge to write thousands of words on the topic in this comment.

    By the way, an excellent book on the era is Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era. This book has the amazing fact that John Lennon and Paul McCartney in 1963 said Carole King and Jerry Goffin were their favorite songwriters, and of course the Beatles did a cover of Chains on their first album, which is a Goffin and King song.

  6. Also, on the naiveté of looking down on peaceful suburban life, Carole King was 24 years old when she wrote the song. At my advanced age, that seems like childhood. Plus, she had been living in Manhattan and in a high tempo existence as a writer of hit records. Then she and her husband moved out to suburban New Jersey, and it seemed boring. I’m sure it was. The suburbs are wasted on people without children, in a lot of ways. Nonetheless, people should know better, but they often don’t.

  7. Gringo, I saw that. Joni always struck me as emotionally tormented. I don’t want to play doctor, but people like that have, in my experience, a tenuous grasp on the world as we see it. I’m reluctant to judge her harshly since I don’t know what she deals with. She was an incredibly talented musician and poet, which is what I focus on. I don’t look to her for analysis. And as a young woman she gives the impression of being very sweet.

  8. Interesting post and an interesting song by Carole King. Very fascinating. I’ll have to check out the book about the Brill Building era.

    I’ve been reading a good book called “Girls Like Us” by Sheila Weller which is about the lives and careers of Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon. Really good book.

    But I’m not sure if King was so naive about the humdrum suburbs — as reflected in the song — or if it was something else all together.

    By 1964 (King was 21-years-old and Goffin was 23), and after success w/ songwriting and having two children , King and Goffin probably thought of a house in the New Jersey suburbs as a wise-investment for their hard work. Also, their business manager, Don Kirshner, lived in the next town over in Jersey.

    Thing is…Goffin had been having an affair w/ Jeanie McRea in ’63. McRea was the singer for The Cookies, and had made the King and Goffin song “Chains” a hit the same year. McRea discovered that she was pregnant w/ Goffin’s child, so Goffin helped McRea and her husband buy a house in New Jersey in an effort to be active in the child’s life. King probably felt frustrated and betrayed.

    Enter NY Post writer, and New Jersey neighbor, Al Aronowitz. After writing a story on Goffin and King, he became best friends w/ Goffin, and introduced King and Goffin to The Beatles in ’65. And yes, The Beatles *revered* King and Goffin as the most influential song writers of the early ’60s.

    Some people say that Aronowitz introduced Goffin to LSD, which was risky, because Goffin was somewhat psychologically unstable at times. Some people even contend that Goffin — who had worked as a chemist while he and King were struggling songwriters — began to make LSD in his New Jersey suburban home. Sadly, Don Kirshner was called to the Goffin/King house to try to defuse a tense situation while Goffin was in the midst of a psychotic episode. Kirshner succeeded to calm him down, but later remarked that there might not have been a King and Goffin if things went wrong that night in a New Jersey suburb in 1966.

    After Goffin returned home from an institution and hospital, King separated from him and bravely took an offer to move to Los Angeles, w/ her two kids, to help write songs for the Monkees’ movie “Head” in ’67.

    Ironically, ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ of 1966 is a song about leaving behind the staid, risk-less comforts of suburbia, but in reality, there was some crazy stuff going on in those New Jersey suburbs at the time she wrote it.

    And I would have to say that Carole King is the most intriguing lady in the book.

  9. Jason, thanks for the details. I knew Goffin took LSD and had ongoing mental problems afterward. I thought that had occurred in California, but I obviously remembered the details incorrectly. Moving to California and getting into LSD out there would have “fit the narrative” better, which is probably why got it wrong.

    The postwar suburbs were a place of radical cultural change. The sexual revolution happened there. It was the GIs who were WWII and Korean War veterans who started swinging and wife swapping in the 1950s. Drug use got going in suburban high schools.

    Carole King is interesting, with regard to my personal musical taste, during the time she was writing pop hits. Her own career, which is considered to be her “real” contribution to music does nothing for me.

  10. Well, from what I understand, after they separated, Goffin did follow King to California and embraced the counter-culture more.

    You’re probably right, though. Both King and Goffin were deeply affected by the changes in society and were seeking more than the status-quo US suburban dream, so the song makes more sense that way.

    I was never a *huge* fan of Carole King’s solo stuff and never owned any of her stuff until last year, but am absolutely fascinated by what was going on in New York in the late ’50s and early ’60s at the Brill Building after reading the small segment on Carole’s early songwriting life in the book.

  11. Another one who worked in the Brill Building was Neil Diamond.
    He lost some cool points during his career after going through his schmaltzy Hollywood phase, but came out of it on top because he was a genuinely great and committed songwriter.

    Regardless, whenever I hear his songs, it always brings happy memories

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