Saturday, February 21, 2009

“Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” / Carole King


Regrets? I’ve had a few. And since lust is on the agenda, let’s talk a little about that morning-after feeling – or even more particularly, the evening-before-the-morning-after feeling. We girls can’t help it; we are biologically programmed to be cautious about copulation, and it kicks in even before we do the deed. Can you even imagine a man singing a song like this?

Of course, Carole King first wrote this song in 1961, to be recorded in a perky sort of cha-cha-cha by the Shirelles, so it’s totally coy about what’s going on. “Tonight you're mine completely,” she begins, contentedly, adding “You give your love so sweetly.” (“give your love” – that’s suitably vague, isn’t it?) I love how the song zooms upward on “sweetly,” with a shiver of desire. But then her alarms start to go off, and the melody circles uneasily around: “Tonight / the light / of love is in your eyes.” Those slurred notes on “li-ee-ight” flicker in and out of a minor key as she scrutinizes that light of love – and you know she doesn’t trust it. All the gliding syncopation of the first three lines drops wearily into straight time for the clinching line: “But will you love me tomorrow?

What a great songwriting team Carole King and Gerry Goffin were; they pull this craft off in every verse of this song. Verse two modulates from “a lasting treasure” into the appetite of “a moment's pleasure,” frets over “the magic of your sighs,” then stubbornly repeats the title question. In the bridge, as the melody crests upward, I completely feel the tension between her longing to believe in him – “Tonight with words unspoken / You say that I'm the only one” – and her self-protective instincts, anticipating “But will my heart be broken / When the night meets the morning sun?”

For 1961, that was pretty bold, taking about being together all night (wink-wink). Even in 1964, Ed Sullivan wouldn’t let the Rolling Stones on prime-time TV sing about spending the night together. Of course, the version I know best is Carole’s own recording, on her 1971 masterpiece Tapestry, the soundtrack of my freshman year in college. Considerably slowed down from the Shirelles’ version, with Carole’s magisterial piano for accompaniment, it gives this decision so much more weight. The Shirelles were just wheedling for reassurance; Carole is really pinning this guy down, making him confront his responsibility. Listen to how the back-up vocals (oh, there go James Taylor’s unmistakable harmonies) trip over each other on “when the night,” like this whole scene has just gotten way complicated.

So she steels herself for the last verse, posed on the threshold of this decisive moment. I can just picture this girl clenching her fists by her side, pushing him away, making him look her in the eyes. “I'd like to know that your love / Is love I can be sure of” -- that “your love/sure of” rhyme is pure Tin Pan Alley, but it’s a very telling juxtaposition. “So tell me now,” she demands levelly, with that uneasy slur again on “now.” “And I won't ask again” she promises, and I believe her. This is her do-or-die moment, because there’s no going back: “Will you still love me tomorrow?”

What do we think, ladies – will he?

Will You Love Me Tomorrow sample


Clutch Cargo said...

"What do we think, ladies – will he?"

Not very likely...hey, I'm a guy, what would you expect? You know the drill...once we get what we're after...
Terrific songwriting though.

wwolfe said...

Goffin/King are my favorite songwriters. King's melodies are subtle and sophisticated, yet manage to sound easy as pie. (Until you try to write something even half as good, that is.) And Goffin's lyrics match the melodies in their intelligence, insight, and craft. To cite just two examples, I find it remarkable that Gerry Goffin had the empathetic imagination to be able to write the lyrics to both "Will You Love Me Tommorow?" and "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman," as perfect a pair of bookends for a woman's sexual experience as I can imagine. (The two songs also book-ended the Goffin/King songwriting career nicely, too.)

I, too, first heard this song on "Tapestry," thanks to my older sister. And I like it very much, both for its nostalgic value and for its musical quality. But I much prefer the Shirelles' original. As fine a singer as King is, Shirley Alston of the Shirelles is one of the very best. Very few can convey so many conflicting emotions, moment after moment, for the length of an entire song, in the way Shirley can. And she never overacts. In addition to her great vocal, there's the arrangement, with one of the finest string parts ever set to a pop song, conveying both the thrill and the fear felt by the protagonist.

Finally, there's the difference in the stakes of the two songs. King risked hurt feelings and regret. That's not unimportant - in fact, her voice tells us how much those can hurt - but Shirley Alston's character risked a ruined life, nothing less, and she let us know that she knew it. A teenage black girl in a poor part of the city in 1960 had much more to lose than than Carole King did in 1971, and we feel that in the Shirelles' version in a way that we can't in King's.

Holly A Hughes said...

Nice analysis -- you may be right, the Shirelles' version could well be the better song. It's just that I can't be objective about any songs on Tapestry, or James Taylor's Sweet Baby James, either. I suspect they are complete and utter hippie-lite schmaltz, like a mid-70s version of emo, but they saw me through my freshman year in college and I'll never forget it.