Carpenters: Classic or dud?

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Okay, for me one of the greatest musical groups ever. So many classic songs, Karen's voice, heartfelt...yep...I even like "calling occupants of interplanetary craft".

james e l, Friday, 4 May 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

A fine group to be sure, and full of wonderful songs, but for some reason I keep equating them with ABBA. Karen's voice is profoundly... depressssssssing... and I mean that as a compliment.

If you've never see 'The Karen Carpenter Story' with the Barbie dolls, you haven't lived.

The Sonic Youth cover of 'Superstar' is better than their original version.

JM, Friday, 4 May 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

I had their "best of" on an 8-track. Then the band snapped. Which I guess means that I played it often. So classic.

Sterling Clover, Saturday, 5 May 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

The Carpenters are great.

Otis Wheeler, Saturday, 5 May 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link


Omar, Saturday, 5 May 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

"Superstar" and "Goodbye To Love" can still make me cry. So, erm, near-classic.

Robin Carmody, Saturday, 5 May 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

You're not alone, Jimmy. ABBA (the night on the tiles) and the Carpenters (the morning after) go hand-in-hand quite naturally. Not just from the '70s connection but from the production standpoint as well, since both groups were immaculately produced and ahead of their time. When I hear either, everything is soft focus and/or through cheesecloth. (Now that I think of it, I didn't find out I was near- sighted until the end of the '80s, so maybe that's why.)

My favorite Carpenters cover is American Music Club's "Goodbye to Love." Depending on the song, that tribute record is either right on the money or fucking horrid.

Andy, Saturday, 5 May 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

not classic, but very good.

superstar is probably my fave. and i agree with jimmy. i too equate them with abba. there's like a distanced-ness thing going on.

and sonic youth's version of superstar is, indeed, very good.

gareth, Sunday, 6 May 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

Not my bag really. But I still reckon they had some damn good songs. Wouldn't go out and buy anything by them. I liked "This Guy's In Love With You" covered by Faith No More (was that Carpenters? or David and Bacharach? I forget)

dog latin, Sunday, 6 May 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

"This Guy's In Love With You" was Bacharach and David - not sure whether the Carpenters recorded it (I've never heard them doing it), but the hit version was by Herb Alpert.

Robin Carmody, Sunday, 6 May 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

Another 24-karat classic.

And it's not a camp thing: I think the problem I had with the Carpenter's tribute from a few years back was how jokey and kitsch some of the songs were treated. It seems so fundamentally wrong to me, because there's something profoundly haunted and sad about all of their songs, even the supposedly upbeat songs like We've Only Just Begun -- probably due to Karen's voice. Sonic Youth were really one of the only ones to get it right, and Superstar remains one of the best songs they have ever done.

Nicole, Monday, 7 May 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

Oh, undeniable classic. I still like to think that somewhere, out in the ether, a little silver flying saucer is listening to "Calling Occupants", and thinking - this is a planet worth checking out.

Followed by thinking "What's so flipping most extraordinary about a silver flying saucer, singing drummer girl."

Pete, Tuesday, 8 May 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

three months pass...
Karen's voice had too much depth for carpenters' material (refer in particular to songs such as "top of the world) what a waste. . .

beth, Sunday, 19 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

"Goodbye To Love" and "I Need To Be In Love" are the two songs I most wish I'd written.

Dickon Edwards, Friday, 24 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

And "My Body Keeps Changing My Mind" is the one song title I'd wish I'd written

Dickon Edwards, Friday, 24 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

two months pass...
I recently listened to Carpenters tribute album, which was so-so. But it reminded me of how many songs by the Carpenters I really love. I don't think I can stand to listen to most of their music now, because it is too painful for me, but I like it very much, and without irony. I have to admit though that I was a kid in the 70's, and I am probably a lot less critical of pop music from that period than from any other period.

DeRayMi, Monday, 5 November 2001 01:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

two years pass...

@d@ml (nordicskilla), Saturday, 20 December 2003 17:14 (nineteen years ago) link

Sometimes I think "Solitaire" is the greatest song ever recorded.

Johnny Fever (johnny fever), Saturday, 20 December 2003 20:15 (nineteen years ago) link

Classic. (Classic)



As classic as they come.

David Allen, Saturday, 20 December 2003 22:02 (nineteen years ago) link

Just to reinforce the near-unanimity: utterly CLASSIC!

Karen's voice IS melancholia made audible.

Additional exhibit: "Rainy Days and Mondays"

Nag! Nag! Nag! (Nag! Nag! Nag!), Saturday, 20 December 2003 23:21 (nineteen years ago) link

one month passes...
Long ago and oh so far away
I fell in love with you before the second show
Your guitar it sounds so sweet and clear
But you're not really here it's just the radio
Don't you remember you told me you loved me baby
You said you'd be coming back this way again baby
Baby baby baby baby oh baby
I love you I really do

Loneliness is such a sad affair
And I can hardly wait to be with you again
What to say to make you come again
Come back to me again and play your sad guitar

Don't you remember you told me you loved me baby
You said you'd be coming back this way again baby
Baby baby baby baby oh baby
I love you I really do

Don't you remember you told me you loved me baby
You said you'd be coming back this way again baby
Baby baby baby baby oh baby
I love you I really do

Rockist Scientist (rockistscientist), Tuesday, 10 February 2004 04:44 (nineteen years ago) link

My favorite is "We've Only Just Begun"

Mark (MarkR), Tuesday, 10 February 2004 05:31 (nineteen years ago) link

"I Can Dream, Can't I?" off Horizon is spooky and beautiful.

stevie (stevie), Tuesday, 10 February 2004 09:43 (nineteen years ago) link

My favorite is "We've Only Just Begun"

Paul Williams, little criminal genius.

Naive Teen Idol (Naive Teen Idol), Tuesday, 10 February 2004 15:29 (nineteen years ago) link

We've Only Just Begun is also one of the best tracks on the tribute album. I think it was Grant Lee Buffalo, who I could otherwise not care less about... but the moaning/singing that was Karen's trademark comes through on the Grant Lee version.

Other favorite is Hurting Each Other, which seemed to be their career peak ...

dave225 (Dave225), Tuesday, 10 February 2004 20:54 (nineteen years ago) link

Too much schmaltzy sounding stuff for me to call them a classic, but they were pretty terrific, sometimes.

may pang (maypang), Tuesday, 10 February 2004 21:00 (nineteen years ago) link

one year passes...
Does anyone know if any of the pre-1970 Carpenters songs have been released anywhere? I happened upon a short tv documentary about them today, and they were talking about how their pre-1970s stuff had almost this bizarre vocal jazz meets Pet Sounds type feel. Sort of piqued my intrerest....

Michael F Gill (Michael F Gill), Monday, 11 July 2005 01:04 (seventeen years ago) link

I seem to have found the answer to my question: the first CD of the 4CD box "From The Top" covers 1965-1970.

Michael F Gill (Michael F Gill), Monday, 11 July 2005 01:21 (seventeen years ago) link

ysi please?

president carter loves repetition (Jody Beth Rosen), Monday, 11 July 2005 05:54 (seventeen years ago) link

one year passes...
"We've Only Just Begun" was originally a bank commercial.

at the moment I'm having trouble getting "Yesterday Once More" out of my head....

Shakey Mo Collier, Thursday, 19 April 2007 20:32 (fifteen years ago) link

Every sha-la-la-la, every whoa-oh-oh-oh... so fine...

I love "Yesterday Once More." And "Superstar." And "Solitaire." And "I Can Dream, Can't I."

Dan Peterson, Thursday, 19 April 2007 20:48 (fifteen years ago) link

I never ever get tired of her voice - and the songs aren't bad either. Goodbye to love is the one that really gets me and I'm afaid I have to admit that it contains my favourite guitar solo ever.

roger whitaker, Friday, 20 April 2007 01:42 (fifteen years ago) link

seven months pass...

I'm honestly kind of surprised this thread isn't some 500 posts long. Hm.

Me on the blog recently about them, Todd Haynes, etc. This kinda came up out of nowhere.

Nicole's comment way upthread v. OTM, especially about Sonic Youth.

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 4 December 2007 03:35 (fifteen years ago) link

While on the issue, is there a suggested collection of Carpenters songs? I've recently taken an interest in the music but don't really want to sift through all their albums. Is that being lazy?

pinkie, Tuesday, 4 December 2007 06:26 (fifteen years ago) link

Gold looks reasonable enough.

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 4 December 2007 15:30 (fifteen years ago) link

C obviously. Karen's voice is really something else - in another performer its low, husky quality would've been put to use being hot n sexy, but instead its almost always used to a way more melancholy and detached effect.

Shakey Mo Collier, Wednesday, 5 December 2007 00:17 (fifteen years ago) link

Thanks Ned, I picked up the 35th Anniversary Edition today at the store today. It was used, and the thought of two discs was appealing.

pinkie, Wednesday, 5 December 2007 04:31 (fifteen years ago) link

Rock, as they say!

I just remembered that "Close to You" was used to very good effect in MirrorMask a couple of years back.

Ned Raggett, Wednesday, 5 December 2007 04:41 (fifteen years ago) link

...and rerevive a bit thanks to an unexpected encounter with a cover version I wasn't aware of until now -- "I Won't Last a Day Without You" redone as "Greatest Hits of [heart symbol]" on Star Pimp's 1993 album Seraphim 280Z. Really nice version -- straightforward singing, heavily distorted demi-Sonic Youth grunge arrangement -- and somehow sidesteps the early nineties Carpenters cult attitude a bit (admittedly the retitling and lack of writing credits helps...).

Ned Raggett, Thursday, 13 December 2007 16:54 (fifteen years ago) link

I did not know, until a few minutes ago, that "Hurting Each Other" is a Walker Brothers song.

PJ Miller, Thursday, 13 December 2007 17:55 (fifteen years ago) link

two months pass...

Remodeling problems

Ned Raggett, Sunday, 17 February 2008 00:53 (fifteen years ago) link


I've been meaning to revisit them since Richard Hell and others told all those stories about Bob Quine listening to Carpenters records over and over to figure out what Joe Osborn was doing.

James Redd and the Blecchs, Sunday, 17 February 2008 01:09 (fifteen years ago) link

In 1974, Rolling Stone magazine reported that a stalker had driven up and down the avenue's short cul-de-sac looking for Karen. "I guess the Downey police are good -- that was the end of the story," Konjoyan said.

justice, san gabriel valley style

gershy, Sunday, 17 February 2008 02:53 (fifteen years ago) link

four months pass...

Anyone see the two Carpenters' shows/concerts on BBC4? The one from, I assume, 1970 was great... apart from when they let one of their band sing a song, a totally early 70s kind of thing to do but I really wish they hadn't. The one from 1976 was dire: Richard plays a bit of classical music; Richard and the guys in the band do a Spike Jones version of "Close to You"(!); Karen does wacky percussion solo. Truly appalling!

I always remember my mum never liked them, specifically because she thought there was something a bit weird and creepy about Richard. Hmmmmm.

Tom D., Tuesday, 15 July 2008 12:22 (fourteen years ago) link

Yeah, I saw the first one. It was ace. She looked wrong wrong wrong on a drum kit though.

gnarly sceptre, Tuesday, 15 July 2008 12:24 (fourteen years ago) link

She was a great drummer!

Tom D., Tuesday, 15 July 2008 12:31 (fourteen years ago) link

You have to remember that a seldom-mentioned early influence on Richard Carpenter was Frank Zappa...

Dingbod Kesterson, Tuesday, 15 July 2008 12:33 (fourteen years ago) link

Oh yeah, I knew that. Actually Karen was coming over a bit Ruth Underwood in that 1976 concert.

Tom D., Tuesday, 15 July 2008 12:34 (fourteen years ago) link

four weeks pass...

Basically a perfect band. There is somethings so indescribable about their music.

I know, right?, Wednesday, 13 August 2008 23:29 (fourteen years ago) link

four months pass...

I cried while listening to "let me be the one" for the first time :'(

could you recommend me other 'overlooked' songs by them? thanks.

dan138zig (Durrr Durrr Durrrrrr), Wednesday, 24 December 2008 01:20 (fourteen years ago) link

is "a song for you" overlooked? if so, that.

buzza, Wednesday, 24 December 2008 01:22 (fourteen years ago) link

four months pass...

Goodbye to Love melts your face off in the end, doesn't it?

❉❉❉❉❉❉❉❉Plaxico❉❉❉❉❉❉❉❉❉ (I know, right?), Monday, 11 May 2009 02:21 (thirteen years ago) link

five months pass...

for some reason i'm really feeling "i won't last a day without you" these days. no particular reason. just a catchy tune. i like the big crescendo at "...and there's no getting over that rainbow."

also been thinking about the line in "rainy days and mondays," "what i've got they used to call the blues..." i can't decide if it's beautifully clumsy or just, you know, accurate. do they really not call it the "blues" anymore?

amateurist, Wednesday, 21 October 2009 17:24 (thirteen years ago) link

You have to remember that a seldom-mentioned early influence on Richard Carpenter was Frank Zappa...

good thing he got over that

amateurist, Wednesday, 21 October 2009 17:29 (thirteen years ago) link

Gold looks reasonable enough.

i picked up a mint copy of Gold on vinyl (with shiny gold embossed cover) for 50p a few weeks ago.

truly magical.

mark e, Wednesday, 21 October 2009 17:59 (thirteen years ago) link

nine months pass...

um, so, I know Jut1n B0nd and dated his current beau for a bit, but we stopped seeing each other right after he said he was going to make me a tape of the most essential Carpenters tracks...

so, i can get an idea from this thread, but i'm wondering: what is their most psychedelic shit? cuz i remember him playing some CRAZY-sounding, haunting psych stuff for me.

pounding beats of worship (the table is the table), Sunday, 8 August 2010 20:33 (twelve years ago) link

Uh, the guitar solo in 'Goodbye To Love?'

Fruitless and Pansy Free (Dr. Joseph A. Ofalt), Sunday, 8 August 2010 21:21 (twelve years ago) link

I've never any heard crazy psychedelic Carpenters, but this one has a jazz/almost Stereolab vibe:

All 10 songs permeate the organs (Dan Peterson), Monday, 9 August 2010 22:27 (twelve years ago) link

one year passes...

My thoughts on one of the Carpenters' best and most underrated albums.

Here he is with the classic "Poème Électronique." Good track (Marcello Carlin), Saturday, 18 February 2012 16:55 (eleven years ago) link

> I've never any heard crazy psychedelic Carpenters, but this one has a jazz/almost Stereolab vibe

Wow that track is rad! Great mixtape fodder.

And check out this Richard Carpenter-penned tune from their early days - Richard on piano, Karen on drums. More than merely a jazz vibe on this one; it's straight-out jazz.

Lee626, Monday, 20 February 2012 01:11 (eleven years ago) link

Nice one Marcello. I don't necessarily agree with you on each point (to me Desperado and Solitaire are, along with Love Me For What I Am, the highlights of the album, but it's tremendous that you wrote that.

everything, Monday, 20 February 2012 05:21 (eleven years ago) link

two months pass...

this is a pretty weird record

the harmonized vocals on I Can Dream Can't I are def too syrupy

Roger Barfing (Shakey Mo Collier), Monday, 14 May 2012 17:31 (ten years ago) link

nine years pass...

The isolated rhythm track from We've Only Just Begun makes no sense. Hal Blaine played a funky beat that is hard to square with the full song.!the-session

(skip ahead to 2:45 into the podcast)

that's not my post, Wednesday, 4 August 2021 14:59 (one year ago) link

That's the beat from the refrain/bridge.

Halfway there but for you, Wednesday, 4 August 2021 15:05 (one year ago) link

three months pass...

So I just read a Karen Carpenter bio over the weekend which was well-done but painful to read. Feel like it should be filed under True Crime.

Sporting with the Fbclid (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 24 November 2021 13:43 (one year ago) link

Phil Ramone and his wife Karen Kamon tried to save her with her solo album which was popular with the East Coast crowd, but when they played it in Cali, the kibosh was put on by Herb Alpert & co., presumably because Richard and family disapproved. There was also some similar meddling in her romantic life. On the rebound from the solo album silencing, she ended up in a disastrous marriage with a Golddigger in Robber Baron's clothing and then kept going downhill from there.

Duck and Sally Can't Dance (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 26 November 2021 20:26 (one year ago) link

She also went to some doctor or "doctor" for her eating disorder but that didn't quite help enough either. Again, the family didn't seem to want to play along. It was some kind of Rosemary's Baby-level stuff of trying to escape but the control was too strong. Hope I am not overdramatizing.

Duck and Sally Can't Dance (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 26 November 2021 20:28 (one year ago) link

Anyway, you be the judge, the proof is left to the reader. Back to the discussion of the music.

Duck and Sally Can't Dance (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 26 November 2021 20:41 (one year ago) link

I have this slight frustration in wishing some of the choruses sounded a little bigger. Sometimes it almost sounds like in addition to the backing vocals there is something going with Karen's lead, like maybe they double-tracked her voice but her intonation was so good that it didn't really make a difference, think I read George Martin complaining about this problem with one of the Brothers Gibb in All You Need Is Ears.

Duck and Sally Can't Dance (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 26 November 2021 20:44 (one year ago) link

one year passes...

Reading up on Hal Blaine and came across this interview on Karen Carpenter:

Some excerpts:

JW: Her parents must have been quite domineering.
HB: Her mother hated that I was there. Karen played the drums, and her mother didn’t like that I was playing on the session and not her. Her mother said, “I’ve seen many drummers on TV, and Karen can play just as good as they can.”

JW: What did you say?
HB: I said, “Of course she can. But she doesn’t have the studio experience. Playing in the studio is completely different.”

JW: How so?
HB: As a drummer, you’re sitting in a room at your kit in a tight space, and the mikes are highly sensitive. Most 61JIM7Y+N6L._SL500_AA300_drummers are used to knocking the hell out of their set. But in the studio, at least back then, before the digital recording age, you didn’t do that. With all those mikes, you can’t be wailing away or you’ll hit one of the stands. You also have to develop a 510Xlbi7PoL._SL500_AA300_technique of playing in your own little zone of space. You have to play gentle. If a song calls for something a little heavier, you turn the sticks around so you’re using the thicker end. It’s like the difference between driving a little car and a semi-truck. There are different rules for maneuvering.

JW: So what did you tell her mother?
HB: I said, “Karen is a fine drummer, but there’s some things you have to know about playing in a studio, and you can only learn those things by spending years there and listening back to hear what’s right and what’s not working.”

JW: Did Karen ever play on those recording sessions?
HB: No. I played on all those dates. Karen liked to hang around a lot at A&M because I was always there recording for Herb. She loved the drums, which helped her a great deal as a singer in terms of her time and tempo.

JW: Why were her parents so insistent on her playing the drums?
HB: Probably because I kept insisting she was the natural voice for the group, not the drummer. Karen had an extraordinary voice, the kind you wanted to hear over and over again. To me, that translated into hits.

JW: Why did her parents oppose that?
HB: I don’t know. Her mother kept saying, “But Richard is the star, Karen is just the drummer.” I think part of that stuff pushed Karen over the edge eventually. The poor thing was playing her buns off on the drums, trying to do the right thing, and her parents were letting her have it.


JW: As the years went on, could the studio musicians tell that Karen Carpenter had an eating disorder and was having health issues?
HB: Not at first. Everyone who came to Hollywood back then and became a star thinned down. It was the style out here and probably still is in many ways. The rule of thumb, sadly, was if you’re going to be on film or TV, you had to be 15 pounds underweight to look normal. It’s crazy, I know, but that’s how it was.

JW: No one could tell there was an issue?
HB: There were times when I’d give her a hug at the studio and I could feel her rib cage. She was like a little bird that Karen_carpenter2had fallen out of a tree. For me, the saddest thing of all came in the later years. Karen had finally met a guy she liked, and he just took her money. He broke her heart completely. It was so damn sad. Her face was so hollow.

JW: When you think back, what do you think of Karen?
HB: How sad her life was. Years after she died in 1983, Richard called me to update some of the older tracks, for remastering. We were in the studio for about six hours, and I cried all the way listening back and playing over the parts. What a shame.

birdistheword, Monday, 13 March 2023 21:23 (two weeks ago) link


The Triumphant Return of Bernard & Stubbs (Raymond Cummings), Monday, 13 March 2023 21:28 (two weeks ago) link


Think Fast, Mr. Mojo Risin’ (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 13 March 2023 23:23 (two weeks ago) link

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