The Carpenters

The Carpenters

The upbeat pop songs and wholesome image of The Carpenters was in direct contrast to the many cutting edge and controversial musical acts in the 70s. Nevertheless, they managed to become one of the most enduring and popular artists in music history, churning out a steady stream of hit singles that have become classics, and making Karen Carpenter one of the most iconic voices in pop music.

Karen and her brother Richard were both involved in church and school musical activities as children. He was a keyboardist and she was a drummer, and they played in many of their own bands, performing styles from pop to jazz. They also experimented with vocal harmonies, using Karen’s angelic voice. In 1969 they landed a recording contract and called themselves Carpenters (no “the”, officially).

“Close To You” was their first hit was in 1970, a ballad featuring a lush arrangement from Richard and a warm, intimate vocal from Karen. It went to #1 on the pop charts and stayed there for four weeks. Their follow-up single, “We’ve Only Just Begun,” went to #2 and would later become the unofficial sountrack to countless wedding ceremonies.

In 1971, three more hits rose up the charts – “For All We Know,” “Rainy Days And Mondays” and “Superstar.” They all featured the Carpenters signature sound of full orchestral arrangements, lush harmonies, and Karen’s warm, gentle vocal. Also in 1971, they hosted their own eight-episode television variety show on NBC during the summer.

The Carpenters had become world famous by 1972. They toured throughout the US, Europe, and Japan with hits like “Hurting Each Other” and “It’s Going To Take Some Time.” One of their most innovative songs was recorded during this time – “Goodbye To Love.” Its use of a fuzz-style guitar solo in the midst of the rich, orchestrated tune blurred the line between rock and pop. It reached #7 on the charts, and became a major influence for the power ballads that would become popular during the end of the decade.

More hits came in 1973. “Sing” was a pop tune with children singing the chorus, and “Yesterday Once More” was nostalgic ballad. This cut was off their Now and Then album, a collection of tunes that had influenced Karen and Richard as children. The following year they won Favorite Pop/Rock Band at the first annual American Music Awards. Also in 1974, they had another hit with “I Won’t Last A Day Without You.”

Released in 1975, Horizon was their most critically-acclaimed album. It contained the hit singles “Only Yesterday,” “Solitaire” and the Motown cover “Please Mr. Postman.” The following year, they released the song “There’s A Kind of Hush,” a cover of the Herman’s Hermits classic, and produced a television special that featured an appearance by John Denver. The Carpenters continued to release hit-bearing albums, including their holiday favorite, A Christmas Portrait.

The Carpenters last album, Made In America, was released in 1981, and featured the hit single “Touch Me When We’re Dancing.” Sadly, their career was cut short by Karen’s untimely death from a heart condition brought about from her long battle with anorexia nervosa. While her passing threw the music world into mourning, the coverage of her disease brought eating disorders to light and helped make the world aware of this terrible condition. In 1983, the Carpenters last recording sessions were released on an album called Voice Of The Heart.

Richard Carpenter has continued to make music as an artist, producer, and songwriter. The music he and his sister created continues to influence artists today, as seen on the tribute album, If I Were A Carpenter, a collection of Carpenters songs covered by artists as diverse as Sheryl Crow and Sonic Youth.

The Carpenters faced their share of criticism over the years, from music fans that preferred more of an edge and considered the duo a little too sappy for their tastes. But the sting was softened by a legacy that boasts twelve top-10 singles and over 100 million albums sold, making them one of the best-selling music artists of all time. And, were it not for the tragic loss of a woman blessed with the voice of an angel, they might still be churning out hits to this day.

If you were a fan of The Carpenters back in the day (and we know there are millions of you out there), we hope you’ll take a moment to share your memories of this beloved songwriting duo from yesteryear in our comments section below.

2 Responses to “The Carpenters”

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  1. Gina says:

    You know, it’s funny, but we were listening to a Carpenters CD today, and I had no idea Carpenters was going to be the subject tonight on Retroland!
    I remember listening to an LP of Carpenters Greatest Hits every Friday afternoon when I was in Junior High. I would daydream to the music.

  2. Souvien says:

    Gahd…such a loss. The mind reels at the thought of how much depth and texture Karen’s perfect alto voice would have today…like Sinatra in his sixties…

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