100 Greatest Singers Of All Time
October 1998 from MOJO magazine
175 singers were polled for their favourites.
Aretha Franklin came out as #1.
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
I'm still working on that.
Richard Carpenter's Only Just Begun
January 1998(?) from BAM
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
"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
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
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
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