[–] cynicaloldfart 0 points 1 points (+1|-0) ago 

Written and recorded by Carole King in 1971, this song became the biggest, and most well-known hit for then 23-year-old James Taylor, and his only #1 in America. It was the first single off of his third album. Taylor was the first to record it, putting down the track at Crystal Sound studios on Vine Street in Los Angeles with his band, which included King on piano. Days later, King recorded her version at A&M studios on La Brea Avenue. King's version was released first, appearing on her Tapestry album in February 1971. The song appeared on Taylor's Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon album in April, and was released as a single around the same time, going to #1 US in July.

Taylor heard this song for the first time in November 1970, when he played a week of shows at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, she played the song during soundchecks while Taylor listened in the balcony. By this time, his album Sweet Baby James had taken off, and Taylor was drawing large crowds. He asked his good friend Carole King to be his opening act, and King grudgingly accepted - she wasn't used to playing her own songs live and was very nervous. King has stated that "the song was as close to pure inspiration as I've ever experienced. The song wrote itself. It was written by something outside myself, through me." According to Taylor, Carole King told him that this song was a response to his 1970 hit "Fire and Rain," where Taylor sings, "I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend." King's musical response: "you've got a friend right here."

During a recording session for his Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon album, Taylor had some studio time left over after recording two songs that day. His producer, Peter Asher, suggested they take a crack at "You've Got a Friend," so Taylor and his band recorded the song. It sounded great, but Taylor didn't want to steal King's song out from under her, so Asher called her with the bold request to let Taylor record the song, which was clearly destined to be a hit. King graciously granted permission, and Taylor's version was released as a single, going to #1 in the US. This worked out well for King, however, since it became a lynchpin of her Tapestry album, and while she never released her version as a single, the album sold over 10 million copies in the US. There are some differences in the lyrics between King and Taylor's version, mostly just slight variations. The biggest difference is in the opening lines:

When you're down in troubles
And you need some love and care

When you're down and troubled
And you need a helping hand

Joni Mitchell sang background harmonies on this song with Taylor. He told Uncut: "Joni's singing a parallel fifth harmony that kinda makes the chord into a major ninth. It feels like it frames the music in an interesting way to have her coming off at such an unusual note. Her voice is so pure and so perfectly in tune and confident, that it works immediately no matter what she does."

Taylor's version of this song won the 1971 Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. The song also won for Song of the Year, an award that goes to it's writer, Carole King.