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Carole King, Still the Queen of the Pop

Friday, August 6, 2004; Page C02

At Wolf Trap on Wednesday, Carole King took a short break in her glorious stroll down memory lane to let the audience in on the songwriting process. She and tour partner Gary Burr bounced words and chords off each other until they came up with a verse and a chorus to a number they dubbed "It's My Turn."

It wasn't an equal partnership: Burr's bio trumpets that Ricky Martin and Juice Newton have recorded his songs; the Beatles covered King. But King, who has few or no equals as a pop craftsman, was trying to make the point that anybody can write a tune. The key to her art, King claimed, was "fearlessness."

King and her piano covered nearly five decades of her classics at Wolf Trap. (Andi Kling)

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Oh, Carole! If that's all it took, Evel Knievel would have as many gold records as broken bones. If King, now 62, has any notion of her brilliance, she never let on. All she did was smile and, mostly from behind a grand piano, belt out one classic after another in a show that covered nearly five decades in 2 1/2 hours.

The only criticism of her set is that she's written (most often with former Brill Building partner and ex-husband Gerry Goffin) too many great songs to get to every fan favorite every night. This is a woman, after all, whose powers were such at one point in her career that she gave a song to her babysitter, Little Eva Boyd, and that tune ("The Loco-Motion") went straight to the top of the charts.

Nevertheless, King still aims to please. She reprised "Chains," which the Beatles put on their debut LP. And "Pleasant Valley Sunday," a page the Monkees took from her songbook. And "You've Got a Friend," the best-known version of which was recorded by James Taylor. And "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," the goose-bump-inducing single written for Aretha Franklin. But there's only so much time. King threw an abbreviated "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" into a medley. She wrote that when she was 17, and a lovelier pop song hasn't been written since.

-- Dave McKenna

© 2004 The Washington Post Company