By the time Carole King wrote “I Feel the Earth Move,” a double A-side released with “It’s Too Late” in April 1971, she wasn’t yet 30 and had already penned some of the biggest hit songs of the ‘60s.

The budding star had 10 years of songwriting under her belt, alongside her former husband and songwriting partner Gerry Goffin. The lyrics for many of those songs, however, were largely written by Goffin. After the couple divorced in 1968, King hesitated to become a solo songwriter. "I didn't want people to interpret what I wrote, I think I have a block against that," the singer admitted in a 1970 interview, noting that "people can point to a phrase in lyrics." "I want to make LPs. I don't want to be a star."

King had spent the ‘60s, the dawn of the sexual-liberation movement, raising two kids; she was pregnant at 17, while her husband had affairs, including one with Earl-Jean McCree of the girl group the Cookies that resulted in a child. By the end of the decade, King packed up her daughters and moved from Manhattan to the Laurel Canyon suburb of Los Angeles.

Tapestry, King’s second solo album, arrived on Feb. 10, 1971, one day after the deadly San Fernando earthquake hit L.A. The album’s opener was, coincidentally, “I Feel the Earth Move.” That wasn’t what the song was about, though the serendipity of it captured the attention of listeners.

Listen to Carole King's 'I Feel the Earth Move'

The rollicking song was by far the most sexual track on the album, reflecting where King was in her life and the expansion of women’s liberation in America. “I Feel the Earth Move” is sung to a lover who sets King’s heart a “trembling.” There are cries of “Oh, baby, I can’t stand it," while King “lose[s] control, down to my very soul.” The piano provides the crashes while King’s voice strains against its limits, rolling with the melody, evoking a sense of physical reaction.

“To suggest an earthquake, I concluded with a continuous cluster of notes on the piano cascading rapidly downward in pitch until the band, and I ended the run together on a final C bass note,” King later wrote in her autobiography, A Natural Woman.

That ending was removed by Lou Adler, with King’s approval, though she still frequently performed it in concert. At the time, Adler served as King’s producer and manager; he was the one who put King into A&M Studios - studio B to be exact - for the song and album’s recording. Next door in studio C was Joni Mitchell, who was recording another seminal album singer-songwriter album from 1971, Blue.

Mitchell’s studio had a red Steinway that King thought sounded special, so when Mitchell vacated and King’s band had three hours in the room, they recorded “I Feel the Earth Move” on that piano.

“I Feel the Earth Move” was released as a single in April, two months after Tapestry arrived. The song, along with its flip side "It's Too Late," went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June, where it remained for five weeks. King’s success didn’t end there. She’d go on to win four Grammys at the 1972 award ceremony, more than any other artist that year.

 

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