Though the ubiquitous Aretha Franklin version is the best-known -- spurred on by its prominent place on oldies radio, television advertisements, and soundtracks, like the one to the baby-boomer film The Big Chill -- Carole King's own version of her song "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" is arguably more interesting and rewarding. Clearly the Queen of Soul has full command over the song as usual, but perhaps this is the point; King's Tapestry (1971) recording is a vulnerable little performance -- intimate, with just piano, a little bass, and some well-placed backing vocals for accompaniment. The Franklin single -- from Lady Soul (1968) -- is certainly tasteful and affecting, though it is a bit bombastic. Oddly, the version by the white woman from Brooklyn may possibly have more "soul" than the church-trained Queen's hit recording. Of course, this depends on your definition of the word "soul." For example, some people believe that John Lennon had more soul than Mick Jagger ever will, though clearly Jagger is a better soul singer than Lennon was. (Heck, even Paul McCartney is, and Lennon would have probably been the first to agree.) Now, no one begrudges Franklin her throne as supreme soul sister number one. Her version is a living, breathing, classic piece of pop-soul. Like many of her mid- to late-'60s recordings, it is based around a gospel piano part. Jerry Wexler (who also gets a writing credit) allows Franklin's gospel approach to lead the track, but assures its pop success with some pizzicato strings and warm brass accents. Franklin sings it perfectly, with a lovely sense of the building arrangement, and the Sweet Inspirations provide stellar backing vocals. But the arrangement gets a bit intrusive, especially near the end when the brass, in particular, nearly steps in the way of Franklin's ad-libs. However, the immortal recording is near-perfect, even if a bit safe by Franklin standards; the singer does not let it loose until well after the song's bridge, and then, not even really until the final line as the song fades out. In fact, she sings the song fairly straight, more or less on the beat most of the time. King, though, strips the song -- which she wrote with her partner and husband, Gerry Goffin -- bare, down to her own limited vocals and piano. She also slows it down to a tempo worthy of Ray Charles, giving it an even more pronounced gospel feel. King's austere recording is the definition of intimacy; as listeners, we feel like we are in a room with her late at night for a spontaneous and sensitive reading of the song. The production is minimal, with very little if any studio reverb or compression on her vocals. The dynamics feel like a live performance. King's voice is the thing here, to be sure. It is a fragile instrument, expressive in its own fashion, wholly separate from that of Franklin, and in no way does she try to compare or compete with that latter well-known performance. Arguably, though, this version is necessarily conscious of Franklin's recording, and is therefore colored by that context and judged in light of it; the performance's effectiveness comes in part from its more studied, unhurried pace, viewed thusly as a reaction -- intended or not -- to Franklin's recording. King's phrasing is behind the beat for nearly the entire recording, lingering at the chorus, where she sings at the top of her range: "'Cause you make me feel/You make me feel/You make me feel like a natural woman," her voice vulnerably hoarse. She drags out the "you" on each line, an aching phrase that gives the song a palpable sense of melancholy. There is, as Stevie Wonder would later sing, a joy inside her tears. King makes the song truly sound like her own, uncovering another layer of emotion. We do get the message from both recordings -- that the narrator is a strong woman, a woman strong enough to admit her human weaknesses and need for support. And that's just it: Ironically, the song is not so much about being a woman as much is it is about being human: "When my soul was in the lost and found/You came along to claim it/And didn't know just what was wrong with me/Oh till your kiss helped me name it/Now I'm no longer doubtful/Of what I'm living for/'Cause if I make you happy I don't need to do more." Discussing the album Tapestry in a 1989 interview for The Gavin Report, King noted, "I always preferred being a songwriter. So Tapestry was the album in which it came together. Tapestry was really a collection of songs that I was doing demos of." This unadorned quality clearly affected many listeners, as the album went on to sell over 13 million copies. King the writer was becoming King the performer, seemingly baring her soul in the process. But lest we are tempted to confuse the singer with the songwriter, King reminds us that Goffin wrote many of the songs' lyrics. "Gerry writes amazingly from a woman's point of view," she said. "I didn't feel the weight of responsibility (for representing women of the era in general) even though I wrote a lot of those lyrics too. I just didn't think about it." Yet some have viewed "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" in just such a context. Commenting in his seminal 1986 examination of '60s soul music, Sweet Soul Music, Peter Guralnick said that the song contained a "typically submissive '60s-style 'female' lyric," though one that, in Franklin's hands, could "become an anthem of emerging consciousness."