May 20, 2024


I Fall For Art

What Makes James Taylor’s “Carolina In My Mind” a Great Song?

From a songwriter’s perspective there are few songs greater than James Taylor’s “Carolina In My Mind”. What is it about this song that makes it such a complete songwriting package? The answer: The song’s melody, mood, lyrics and chorus. In other words, everything!

“Carolina In My Mind” first appeared on James Taylor’s 1968 debut LP James Taylor which was released on (The Beatles’) Apple Records. The song was written in various locations including London and the Mediterranean islands of Formentera and Ibiza. James Taylor has often indicated the inspiration behind the song was homesickness. Although Taylor was embarking on what was to become and incredible career the emotions of missing his family, dog and home state (Carolina) were the inspiration for the song. As Adele recently acknowledged when accepting her (several) Grammy awards, songs coming from deep emotions are usually the most genuine and in turn become an artist’s “best” work.

So as a songwriter James was off to a running start with “Carolina’s” subject matter: Real homesickness. (Who has not been homesick at one time or another?) And while great writers can conjure up images to convey homesickness the fact James Taylor was actually experiencing those emotions gives the song its credibility, not to mention its over-all feel and sound. This mood is conveyed in the song’s chorus: “In my mind I’m goin’ to Carolina. Can’t you see the sunshine. Can’t you just feel the moonshine. Ain’t it just like a friend of mine to hit me from behind. Yes I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind.”

By placing the chorus at the very beginning of the song James immediately draws the listener into a “comfortable” place. So when that same chorus comes around again a bit later in the song the listener feels as if they already “know” the song. This is the key to strong songwriting. The song must peak the listener’s attention (in this case with a very strong chorus opening the song) in order for the rest of the song to get through whatever initial barriers may exist between writer and audience.

Of course the strength of the song’s melody is another key to its greatness. The verses are sung in a conversational style with tight melody lines and are a perfect compliment to the chorus. The song’s closing lyrics leading into the final chorus complete this package:

“Dark and silent late last night I think I might have heard the highway calling. Geese in flight and dogs that bite. Signs that might be omens say I’m going, going, I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind. With a holy host of others standing ’round me. Still I’m on the dark side of the moon. And it seems like it goes on like this forever. You must forgive me If I’m up and goin’ to Carolina in my mind.”

With the perfect combination of melody, mood, lyrics and chorus James Taylor’s “Carolina In My Mind” is an example of a “great” song.