C is for the Carpenters

It was the version of Superstar by an unknown singer named Bette Midler that caught Richard Carpenter’s attention.

Some of the albums I own that came out in 1971, the year I went to college, include Sticky Fingers – Rolling Stones; Pearl – Janis Joplin; Aqualung – Jethro Tull; What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye; Every Picture Tells a Story – Rod Stewart; Who’s Next – the Who; Santana (III); Led Zeppelin (IV); Hunky Dory – David Bowie. And, oh yeah, Carpenters, the eponymous third album put out by the sibling duo of Karen and Richard Carpenter.

Talk about uncool! These are the artists who took one of the Beatles’ hardest rockers, Ticket to Ride [LISTEN], and turned it into a ballad on their first album. (I rather liked it.) I loved Karen’s voice, though, and I thought they performed some lovely songs.

Side 1
The “tan album” begins with Rainy Days and Mondays [LISTEN], written by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams, which I swear radio DJs at the time referenced every time there was precipitation on the first day of the workweek. The Carpenters* had recorded the Nichols/Williams tune We’ve Only Just Begun [LISTEN] on their previous album. Both songs went to #2 on the US singles charts.

Richard Carpenter was a great arranger for himself and his sister, and a decent keyboard player, but often wrote drippy songs, with a person named Bettis, and, worse, sang them. Saturday at least was only eighty seconds long.

Let Me Be the One was yet another nice Nichols/Williams song.

(A Place To) Hideaway was a lovely song by someone named Randy Sparks

For All We Know [LISTEN] was another hit single, going to #3. It was written for the 1970 film Lovers and Other Strangers.

Side 2

Superstar [LISTEN], written by Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell, was originally recorded by Delaney and Bonnie in 1969. Then it was covered in 1970 in Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen Revue, with ex-Delaney and Bonnie singer Rita Coolidge as featured vocalist. But it was the version by a largely unknown singer named Bette Midler that caught Richard Carpenter’s attention. Their recording had the audacity of changing the line “And I can hardly wait to sleep with you again” to “And I can hardly wait to be with you again,” which solidified their white bread status among many. I thought it was a sage commercial move myself. Yet another #2 single.

Druscilla Penny [LISTEN], another Bettis- R. Carpenter song I hadn’t heard in years, yet remember instantly. Goofy song sung by Richard.

One Love [LISTEN] – a Bettis-R. Carpenter that was NOT goofy. Sung by Karen.

Bacharach/David Medley: Knowing When to Leave/Make It Easy on Yourself/(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me/I’ll Never Fall in Love Again/Walk on By/Do You Know the Way to San Jose – I was never a big fan of medleys, but they are great songs sung well. The idea actually came from Burt Bacharach a couple of years earlier, I learned. (Of course, their first hit was the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song (They Long to Be) Close to You [LISTEN], which had gone to #1

Sometimes. Written by Henry and Felice Mancini, it is a suitable ending.

They won their third Grammy, this time for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group for the Carpenters LP. They had previously won for Best New Artist, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo, Group, or Chorus, for Close to You in 1970. The quality of her singing on this album reportedly got Richard to suggest that Karen get from behind her beloved drum set and sing center stage in a live performance.

The Carpenters put out a half dozen more albums, with hits such as [LISTEN TO THEM ALL] Top of the World , the Sesame Street song Sing and Yesterday Once More, possibly my favorite of their songs.

This I did not recall: “Richard sought treatment for his addiction to quaaludes at a Topeka, Kansas, facility for six weeks starting in January 1979. He then decided to take the rest of the year off for relaxation and rehabilitation.” But Karen didn’t want to either stop singing or “seek help for her anorexia” Nervosa for a few years. When she did seek treatment a few years later, it caused a dizzying yo-yo weight gain and loss which ended up killing her on February 4, 1983.

The only good thing to come of her passing was a greater awareness of anorexia and also bulimia. Richard, among other things, continues to keep the flame for the music of the duo.

*Yes, I know the name of the group is Carpenters, not The Carpenters, so named, Richard once said, “After much thought, we decided to name the act ‘Carpenters’ (No ‘The’; we thought it sounded hipper without it, like Buffalo Springfield or Jefferson Airplane.)” But I always thought Carpenters sounded like woodworkers.


ABC Wednesday – Round 14