Will You Love Me Tomorrow: The Shirelles; Carole King and James Taylor

Hello there! In this week’s blog we consider the great 50s pop song Will You Love Me Tomorrow. We will review the original by the early girl group The Shirelles, and a cover of that song by Carole King and James Taylor.

I should mention that Gerry Goffin died just about a year ago, and at that time Jerry Coyne wrote a column in honor of Goffin in his chronicle Why Evolution is True. In that column he included video of The Shirelles and Carole King/James Taylor performing Will You Love Me Tomorrow. So my blog about this song was inspired by Coyne’s earlier tribute.

Gerry Goffin and Carole King:

Gerry Goffin and Carole Klein met when they were students at Queens College. Carole had begun writing songs under the name Carole King, and they soon formed a team where Carole wrote the music and Gerry provided the lyrics. The photo below shows the teen-age couple Goffin and King in the RCA recording studio in 1959, where they look like the personification of young love.

The two were married in 1959 and they began working part-time, Gerry as a chemist and Carole as a secretary. However, in the evenings they wrote pop songs at Don Kirshner’s Aldon music publishing company, part of the famed “Brill Building” pop music scene in New York. Their first big hit was Will You Love Me Tomorrow, which was released by The Shirelles in 1960 and reached #1 on the Billboard pop charts.

Following that hit, they were able to find full-time work in the music business, and they churned out a series of impressive hits. They were a dynamite song-writing team, pairing King’s wonderful catchy, hook-filled tunes with Goffin’s uncanny ability to produce lyrics that accurately encapsulated what it was like to be a teenager in the 50s – the combination of youthful idealism, ambition, self-doubt and horniness. Not only that, but in their best songs the lyrics and melody mesh perfectly.

Goffin and King seemed a match made in heaven; however, storm clouds were on the horizon. It was the early 60s, the world was in turmoil, and young adults had to deal with rapidly changing societal norms. Timothy Leary and others introduced LSD to the public in the early 60s. Gerry Goffin tuned in, turned on, and (figuratively speaking) dropped off a cliff.

After he started dropping acid, Goffin did things like climbing up on a ladder to paint “Love Your Brother” on the side of his house. In addition, he experienced severe psychological problems, was diagnosed manic-depressive, and for a while was hospitalized and subjected to massive doses of Thorazine and electro-shock treatments. Talk about your bad trips!

Not surprisingly, their marriage did not survive this and other jolts. Furthermore, relatively little of the Brill Building pop dynasty survived the British Invasion. Goffin and King went their own ways. Goffin continued to write lyrics for pop songs, notably for artists like Gladys Knight and the Pips, Diana Ross, and Whitney Houston, while Carole King set off on what became a superstar solo career which we will detail in the last section of this post.

However, Goffin and King’s great partnership was incredibly important during that era, and their legacy continues to impress to this day. In 1990 Goffin and King were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Another indication of their importance to pop music was that in 1963, John Lennon stated that his ambition was that he and Paul McCartney might become “the Goffin and King of England.” The Beatles also produced covers of the Goffin-King songs The Loco-Motion and Chains.

Of the slew of Goffin-King hits, my personal two favorites are the Shirelles’ Will You Love Me Tomorrow which we feature in this post, and Aretha Franklin’s (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. However, out of the dozens of their other collaborative hits we will also give a shout-out to songs like One Fine Day by the Chiffons, Up On the Roof by the Drifters, I’m Into Something Good by Herman’s Hermits, and the Monkees’ Pleasant Valley Sunday. Goffin and King were a tremendous song-writing team!

The Shirelles and Will You Love Me Tomorrow:

The Shirelles were an African-American girl group who formed while they attended high school in Passaic, New Jersey. Here is a photo of the group circa 1959, from L to R they are: Beverly Lee, Doris Coley, lead singer Shirley Owens and Micki Harris (I’ll use their maiden names in this post). For a school talent show they performed a doo-wop song they had written, I Met Him on a Sunday. One of their classmates, Mary Jane Greenberg, subsequently introduced the girls to her mother Florence Greenberg, who was the owner of Tiara Records.

Florence signed on as the girls’ manager, and after a short time the Shirelles (an amalgam of Shirley Owens’ first name and the name of another girl group, the Chantels) had I Met Him on a Sunday licensed to Decca Records, where it reached #50 on the Billboard charts. However, Decca dropped them after their next release fared poorly, and Florence Greenberg signed them to her label Scepter Records.

The Shirelles really took off after Greenberg hired songwriter Luther Dixon to work with the group. Their song Tonight’s the Night just barely cracked the Billboard Top 40, but their next release Will You Love Me Tomorrow became the first girl-group song to hit #1. After that the Shirelles became a pop music powerhouse. They re-released a cover of the song Dedicated to the One I Love; in its initial release, with Doris Coley singing lead, it had barely cracked the Top 100, but the re-release peaked at #3 on the charts.

This was rapidly followed by a string of other Shirelles hits. The girls became headliners in rock concerts, and it initially looked like they might continue on top indefinitely; however, the group was in for a string of disappointments. Since the girls were still teenagers, Florence Greenberg assured them that Scepter Records was holding their royalties in trusts that they would receive once they reached 21. After their twenty-first birthday, the Shirelles asked for their royalties, and – April Fool! – the trust did not exist.

The Shirelles were not the first musical group to fall for the “your royalties are being held in a trust” scam, and they would not be the last. They severed their ties with Scepter while suits and counter-suits were filed over the royalties that were owed them. The suit was eventually settled out of court, but The Shirelles were unable to sign with another label during the period of litigation, and they were not able to overcome the combined challenges of the many other girl groups on the scene at that time, compounded by the British Invasion.

Will You Love Me Tomorrow is a remarkably serious and frank song for the pop era circa 1960. A young woman contemplates making love to her boyfriend, but is plagued by concerns that he may discard her if she agrees to have sex with him.

Tonight you’re mine completely
You give your love so sweetly
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes
But will you love me tomorrow?

… Tonight with words unspoken
You say that I’m the only one
But will my heart be broken
When the night meets the morning sun?

The singer finally solves her dilemma by agreeing that if her boyfriend assures her of his fidelity now, she will consent and she “won’t ask again.”

Goffin’s lyrics provide a sensitive reflection of the female perspective in this relationship.  His lyrics are also exceptionally mature for this era, and this points out how pop music was “pushing the envelope.” Remember that during this time the Motion Picture Production Code was still being enforced, so that in the movies an unmarried couple having sex would have to either get married, or meet an unfortunate fate. And even married couples in the movies were always shown sleeping separately in double beds! So, kudos to rock and roll for helping to extract us from the sexual Dark Ages. However, apparently some radio stations refused to play this song because they considered its sexual innuendo to be too racy.

Here are the Shirelles performing their hit song live in 1964. By this time, following the lead of American Bandstand, it was common for many groups to simply lip-synch their songs along to the record. So it is a rare treat to watch the group give a genuine live performance here. Shirley Owens shows off her powerful and rather distinctive vocals. Her voice sounds to me as though she is singing a bit flat, although she’s really right on pitch. The other members of the Shirelles – Beverly Lee, Micki Harris and Doris Coley – give a passable performance on the backup vocals.

And here is the audio of Will You Love Me Tomorrow from their 1960 recording. Note the straight-ahead tempo driven by the bass and drums, the lush strings that were a frequent touch on Brill-Building pop songs, and Shirley Owens’ great vocals.

spotify:track:04PkK9BlBOyCezjoJT2dAB

By the way, given the tremendous success of this song, it is quite surprising that lead singer Shirley Owens initially turned it down, saying that it was “too country” (WTF??) Apparently Owens relented only after the producers added strings to the orchestral mix.

Not surprisingly, this great girl-group classic has been covered by scores of artists. The song proved irresistible to female vocalists, so there are covers of this song by Brenda Lee, Lesley Gore, Dusty Springfield, Cher, Roberta Flack, Bette Midler and Linda Ronstadt among many, many others.

Carole King and James Taylor and Will You Love Me Tomorrow:

Earlier we discussed Carole King’s extraordinary song-writing partnership with Gerry Goffin. Carole had a terrific musical pedigree – even in high school she was dating Neil Sedaka and producing demo records with Paul Simon. Then she and Gerry Goffin had been mainstays of the great Brill Building stable of pop music writers and performers in the early 60s.

Following her breakup with Goffin in the late 60s, Carole King moved to Laurel Canyon in California and joined forces with many of the talented musicians living there at the time. In particular, she became good friends with Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. Hooking up with lyricist Toni Stern, King embarked upon a solo career, singing and playing piano.

On King’s first album, Writer in 1970, James Taylor played acoustic guitar and sang backing vocals. The album got some favorable attention, but otherwise was somewhat disappointing. However, everything turned around with King’s second album, Tapestry, in 1971. That turned out to be one of the seminal albums of the 70s – it was the best-selling album of all time from a female artist until surpassed by Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard.

With Taylor and Joni Mitchell providing backup vocals, Tapestry has sold 25 million copies worldwide. The album contained a mixture of old and new songs from King. Fresh interpretations of the Goffin-King standards Will You Love Me Tomorrow and Natural Woman were paired with new songs that combined King’s melodies with Toni Stern’s lyrics.

Tapestry was a genuine blockbuster – it received four Grammys, including Song of the Year for You’ve Got a Friend. This award was particularly noteworthy as Carole King was the first woman ever to win the Song of the Year Grammy. Her bio in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes Tapestry as
A tour de force of confessional songwriting and understated performances, Tapestry held down the top spot on the album charts for 15 weeks, earning King a Grammy for Album of the Year in 1971.

Over her career, Carole King has turned out to be a songwriting whiz, as over 100 of her songs charted in the Billboard Hot 100. In addition to induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 2013 King became the first woman to receive the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. But King was not only a superstar musician, she is also recognized as a feminist pioneer. In particular, the earlier Goffin-King songs like Will You Love Me Tomorrow and Natural Woman are now appreciated for their contributions to the growth of feminism during this period.

Carole King’s version of Will You Love Me Tomorrow appeared on the Tapestry album. Unlike the original up-tempo Shirelles version, this was a much slower, more serious, even doleful take on the song. This version is much more appropriate, given the serious and frank nature of the dilemma confronting the singer.

In 2010, Carole King and James Taylor staged their Troubador Reunion Tour. This tour was designed to celebrate the bond that had developed between them, when the two of them first appeared together at The Troubador in Los Angeles in 1970.  The photo above is of Taylor and King performing together in 2006.  Here are Carole King and James Taylor performing Will You Love Me Tomorrow.

If I had my pick of guys to sing harmony with me, I would opt for either James Taylor or David Crosby. Both of these are consummate artists who possess the ability to blend in with any partner they are paired with. This is just one of several notable songs and covers that feature King and Taylor, and the net result is an unforgettable, moving version of this classic song. It is particularly appropriate that Carole King, who wrote the melody for the song, is reprising it here.

Source Material:
Wikipedia, Will You Love Me Tomorrow
Wikipedia, The Shirelles
Wikipedia, Gerry Goffin
Wikipedia, Carole King
Gerry Goffin: Beyond the Brill Building; Jon Kanis, San Diego Troubador

About Tim Londergan

Tim Londergan is professor emeritus of theoretical physics at Indiana University-Bloomington. He studies the properties of the quarks and gluons that form the internal structure of protons and neutrons. He also writes a blog "Tim's Cover Story" that compares covers of important songs in rock music history. He and his wife share their college-town life with two delightful cats, Lewis and Clark. His hobbies include tennis and ornithology, and he is a life-long fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
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2 Responses to Will You Love Me Tomorrow: The Shirelles; Carole King and James Taylor

  1. Pingback: (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman: Aretha Franklin; Carole King; awards and honors with Aretha and Carole | Tim's Cover Story

  2. Pingback: One Fine Day: The Chiffons; Carole King; Bette Midler | Tim's Cover Story

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