Carpenters Articles

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Carpenters article:
100 Greatest Singers Of All Time
October 1998 from MOJO magazine

175 singers were polled for their favourites.

Aretha Franklin came out as #1.

Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton, Don Henley, James Ingram, Laura Nyro, Freddie Mercury, Emmylou Harris and Simon & Garfunkel didn't make it.

Karen Carpenter placed #35. Her entry reads:

# 35: Karen Carpenter
"Her voice had an honest emotional immediacy and her control of volume was amazing. Check out how quietly she sings verses." - John

Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants
A voice of such natural purity and engaging warmth, it soared above the crushing sentimentality of her MOR straitjacket. "Karen's gift was formidable," said Herb Alpert. "Her voice rang out like a bell, clear and friendly, soothing, musical and honest." The mark of her true class was in her enlightening reconstructions of journeyman standards like Ticket To Ride, Please Mr. Postman and There's A Kind Of Hush, a talent enhanced by the potency of innocence. But she only ever wanted to be the drummer at the back and the pain of fame drove her to anorexia, and death at 32. - written by Colin Irwin

Born: March 2, 1950; Died: February 4, 1983
Sublime moment: Transforming Klaatu's surreal Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft into an orgy of sensuality (Passage, A&M 1977)
Recommended: Yesterday Once More (A&M 1984)

Talking About Karen Carpenter Brings Back Feelings She Inspired
February 9, 1998 from The News Tribune

Let's get this out of the way right now: I love the Carpenters.

I love them with no irony, no angst, no hipster-style tribute-album bandwagoning.

I love them despite their bad hair, polyester clothes, clunky stage presence and tragic coda.

I love their music, though I admit Top of the World sometimes makes my teeth hurt.

I love the fact that Karen Carpenter played the drums. When asked why once, she said, "Why not?"

Why not, indeed?

Karen inspired me to play drums and sing. I'm great at neither, but I took her at her word when she sang, "Don't worry if it's not good enough."Too bad she couldn't be as forgiving with herself. Karen could've profited from a little bit of punk spirit, particularly when she left the drums for center stage. "You don't like me? You think I'm chunky? Hey, smarty, check in with me the next time you can sing a song note-perfect, soul-perfect and leave crowds in tears 250 times a year." But she didn't take it that way. Criticism burned in her, and friends blame it for her eating disorder.

I don't like to dwell on how Karen died, though it's never far from my mind when I listen to her music. And I couldn't help thinking about it in January when I made a pilgrimage to her grave while in the Los Angeles area on business. I'm often struck by her youth: she was just 16 when her first single, Looking for Love came out, and 20 when Close to You hit No. 1 in 1970.

And I'm amazed at how good she sounded, even when she was down to 89 pounds on her 5-foot-4-inch frame (she later got as low as 77 pounds). She had gained weight before her 1983 death at the age of 32, and friends were optimistic about her future. But as Richard said in a recent VH1 documentary, one of three new TV biographies of the duo, she just didn't look right.

When our two-hour talk turned to Karen, as it had to, Richard was stoic. "She was very down to earth, full of effervescence, full of love for people, love for her craft," he said. "Even in the darker days with her eating disorder, she was still cheerful."

Many of her friends thought otherwise, however. And Richard even seems to contradict himself when he talks about her disposition. "Rainy days and Mondays didn't get her down," he insisted. "She just had an inborn talent to go into that mode, to understand that. - She would be your typical - except for her talent - 20-year-old girl next door." But he also said she "sounded so beyond her years." To me, that's more than talent.

Of the recent specials, VH1's is the best because it lets Karen speak for herself via rare TV and radio interviews. Fans can find performances on video, but to hear her talk is a treat. Some of her words:

"He had always wanted to be where he is, always had ideas," she said of Richard in February of 1972. "I didn't know I could do anything until 16." That's when she started drumming.

"I got into band to get out of gym," she said in an undated interview. "Now when I got there I was absolutely fascinated with drums. I said, let me see if I can play. I know I can play. I went over, picked up a pair of sticks - it was the most natural feeling thing I'd ever done." Singing, on the other hand, "just happened" later, she said. She also learned to play some bass.

Richard said she was a good drummer from the start.

"She played on a number of our hits," he said. "But she just couldn't wham into those tom-toms the way a studio drummer could. ... It had nothing to do with her illness." He convinced Karen to step out from behind the drums. It wasn't easy, but he promised her the chance to play percussion in special circumstances.

It was probably like someone asking him not to play the piano, he acknowledged, but he didn't follow me when I tried to explore the notion of the drums as Karen's security blanket. He said he didn't know why someone would seek security by doing something so hard. It was one of the few awkward moments in our talk. For a stoic guy, he handled my gushiness well, even when I felt compelled to tell him how moved I was by visiting Karen's grave in Cypress, Calif.

I didn't tell him that I crawled under that chain meant to keep me 20 feet from the large, marble crypt. I couldn't resist. I didn't have flowers to add to the many already there, but I did leave Karen a thank-you note. I love the Carpenters. I'm not afraid to like stuff other people consider lightweight, or lame (as my affection for comic books, action figures, the first few seasons of "Baywatch," Pontiac Fieros and Ms. Pac Man proves, but those are other columns).

But I figure I owe it to myself, and to the woman Karen could have been, to like what I like, and live how I live and not worry (too much) about what other people think.

I'm still working on that.

Richard Carpenter's Only Just Begun
January 1998(?) from BAM

-incomplete article

Richard Carpenter remembers watching an instalment of Our World, an acclaimed but short-lived ABC documentary series that aired a little over a decade ago. In a segment recapping the year 1970, the Carpenters wistful ballad Close To You was used as an audio backdrop to the film footage of B52s dropping bombs over Cambodia.

"It was an interesting juxtaposition," recalls Carpenter, noting the ironic intent of pairing one of his groups romantic pop hits with images reflecting the strife and controversy that was tearing the United States apart at the time.

The soft airy and immensely popular music of the Carpenters really did stand in stark contrast to the political mood and the increasingly rebellious rock that was gripping young America in the early-mid 70s. While the heavy metal was spawning and the Stones where singing about drugs and decadence, the brother sister team of Karen and Richard Carpenter offered melodic pop songs that pulled at the heartstrings.

While John and Yoko protested the war, The Carpenters played the White House after president Richard Nixon, asked the Downey California duo to perform at a state dinner honoring German Chancellor Willie Brandt.

Hipsters and Revolutionaries sneered at the Carpenters squeaky clean image. Critics laughed them off as musical lightweights. The group responded by racking up 20 top-40 hits and establishing themselves as a quintessential middle American pop group capable of appealing to listeners from the age of six to sixty.

By the late 70s the stream of hits had slowed to a trickle. In 1983 the group came to a halt when Karen died of a heart attack caused by anorexia nervosa. She was just 33 years old.

Removed from the cultural stigmas that surrounded the duo in the 70s, the Carpenters music has since grown in stature. Some critics and artists (like Chrissie Hynde and Madonna ) have acknowledged the understated beauty of Karen Carpenter's melancholy singing, Richard's classy and refined work as the pair's producer, arranger and sometimes songwriter has also come to greater light in the face of a slew of overwraught ballads that have been unleashed in the last twenty years by the likes of Barry Manilow and Celine Dion. He was recently named one of the 500 top producers ever by Billboard and his arrangements have been studied at numerous University music departments, including Stanford and the Berkley school of music.

In 1994 artists including Sonic Youth, Sheryl Crow and Matthew Sweet contributed to If I Were A Carpenter. A Carpenters tribute album. In January VH1, PBS, and A&E all aired documentaries on the group.

Recently, Richard Carpenter released Pianist, Arranger, Composer, Conductor, an album of orchestral versions of Carpenters songs. It was his first album since Time. His debut solo project of 11 years ago.

Carpenter, 51, recently talked to Bam about Pianist, Arranger, Composer, Conductor, Karen and how the Carpenters have been interpreted and misinterpreted over the years.

Bam: Did setting the music of the Carpenters to an orchestra just seem like a logical thing to do given it's melodic sweep?

Richard: It did as part of a multi-album deal. Polydor K.K. (in Japan) wanted (an orchestra-based) album of Carpenters music. I thought this would be a challenge to approach it differently after so many years of hearing the original arrangements. Burt Bacharach (who wrote Close To You with lyricist Hal David) used to produce hits for Dionne Warwick and then turn around and put an album out every year or so of instrumental takes (of those songs). I went into this album really picturing it as a whole. One song really segues into the next so the album is like a long suite.
Bam: The title of the album pretty much sums up what you meant to the Carpenters. Yet despite what you did behind the scenes, I get the sense that there were people that thought you were riding Karen's coat-tails. How much did that hurt you?
Richard: Our peers (understood my role) Because I was nominated for a number of best arrangement (Grammy Awards). But the average person...

I was a little more sensitive then because I was quite young. The average person doesn't know or care, nor should they, about what a record producer does. Before we got the big Baldwin piano on stage. I was strictly using a Wurlitzer electric piano (in concert). There were so many groups at the time like the Partridge Family or the Mike Curb Congregation where people just stood behind an electric piano but couldn't play it at all. So I didn't exactly fill people with the idea that I was doing much! They just liked what they heard and thought Karen just about did it all, including all the vocals. Of course that wasn't true All those multi-layered vocals were the two of us overdubbed. The last chorus of Top Of The World" Karen sings (the high part) and I sing (the low part). A girl once asked her, "How do you sing that 'down' (part)?"
Bam: In the recent VH1 special you spoke of the sadness and anger that you felt after Karen's death. Do you still think, "What if?" What if you had fully recognized her illness earlier? What if she had a better support system around her? Have you been able to put all that behind you or does it still haunt you?
Richard: It's behind me I've drained myself emotionally and psychologically with any other way that I could have approached it. Everyone around her did their best. One reason that disorder is so damn insidious is because of the people who suffer with it don't think they're suffering from anything. So you're really, in essence, talking to a wall. I did everything I could . We all did.

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