The Carpenters: A (Re) Appreciation

Wow, thank you everyone for the kind words! I enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing the piece, and I am truly glad y’all appreciated it.

Let me start this Omnibus reply post with…

I don’t know the date, but it’s the 1977-1980 period judging by the hair and outfits.

I had an authorial decision about what to do with that specific photograph - chronologically, the image comes later in the story, but story-wise, it was the best photograph to highlight the point I was making earlier, and I surely didn’t want to introduce the family dynamics 15 years after they started making an impact… so a decision was made to sacrifice a bit of accuracy to enhance the narrative.

This is what I get for not checking primary sources on such a basic fact. The official ruling was heart failure, the Ipecac was a possibly contributing factor.

Oh well, I am my own author, fact checker, and editor. All mistakes are mine, unless I can reasonably palm them off.

Speaking of which… :grimacing:

To the point above, this was sloppy research on my part - I misread my citation as saying that Richard didn’t sing on any of the songs, and I also didn’t even bother to check out the track list to confirm the songwriting credits, assuming he wrote at least the “Interplanetary Craft” song. But, to your point, yes, he didn’t write any of the songs on this album. Completely blew that one. See above about author/fact-checker/editor.

But he did produce and arrange the album, probably had decision-making authority on song selection, and while it may not have been his “Magnum Opus” (sorry, but I was feeling it!), the album was a reflection of the artistic drift suffered by them in the late 1970s.

(He says, gamely trying to save his argument. :stuck_out_tongue: )

This probably explains the Times piece. Either a bit of promotion for the book, or a newspaper writer trying to jump in on something he sees coming.

Very true - you never had to rewind Karen saying “what was that last?”

Glad we got some Richard stans in here. I feel I may have been a bit too rough on him as to build the ‘Emily Dickinson’ theme, so balance is definitely needed. Thanks!

Cool. If you see fit to send her the link, I would be interested in her reaction. If not, no big deal. :slight_smile:

Well, Karen didn’t want to be the front person for the act, so her calling herself a drummer first was her way of stating this. Barbara always dreamed of being a Broadway/movie star and preferred to market herself that way. So, I don’t know if it is common, but the two women did so for very different psychological reasons - Karen wanting to shrink from the spotlight, Babs wanting every spotlight pointing towards her.

OK, so please, watch this seven minute video. It’s a young African-American woman who loves the Luther Vandross version of this song, has never heard Karen before… and in this reaction video, she completely loses it. Fascinating watching her compare the Luther V version to Karen.

Thanks for bringing this one up again as I wanted to say some more about it.

For starters, I think the 2 things which make this the #1 in my book is:

  1. No double-tracking of Karen’s voice
  2. Minimal harmonies and flourishes, and those that are in the song work.

I also dug up the original movie clip which featured this song. It’s dated, but effective. I don’t think the film version is strong enough to win an Oscar, but like I said, the Carpenters version was hitting the top of the charts during the Academy voting period.

Lastly, the Carpenters would do the occasional “Reprise” on some of Karen’s ballads. The one for For All We Know has a more 1930s-40s period orchestration and is an interesting peek of Karen in an earlier era.

Thank you! If someone does read the Times piece, let me know - I’ll be interested in what it says.

I also took the time to reach out to the author of the Times article with a link here…

He doesn’t have an active Twitter account, so is likely craving any sort of attention… wait. Hi! Welcome to the Dope, Will! :smiley: Ignore that last, please. :stuck_out_tongue:

Yes, this is a big issue with 60s and 70s songs, the overwhelming desire to tinker. To be fair, if Richard wants to give us three different versions of Karen singing Rainy Days and Mondays in three different styles over the course of three differing decades, and I have access to all three, who are we to refuse this gift?

Tombstone material!

Fantastic writeup, @JohnT. Thank you.

Kim Gordon is a big fan of Karen Carpenter, and stated in her book that she enjoys studying her and reading about her life. One of my favorite songs by Sonic Youth is about Karen Carpenter: Tunic (Song For Karen).

Sonic Youth also covered a Carpenters song:

This is from the tribute album If I Were a Carpenter, released in the mid-1990’s, full of covers of Carpenters songs by alternative bands.

Oh wow, I completely forgot about “If I Were a Carpenter”. I remember buying that CD when it was current. I still have it.

That said, I recall that listening to it simply made me want to hear some Carpenters.

On a different note, regarding Karen’s bare midriff in the family photo…I would characterize that as the opposite of common garb for a young woman suffering from anorexia nervosa. In my experience they typically wear bulky sweaters or sweatshirts in an effort to hide their bodies from others.


How good a drummer was Karen? I remember a joke from probably the mid-80s where some rock person had died and gone to hell. The devil told him that his punishment was to play in a band for eternity, which he of course thought was cool, until he was told Karen was the drummer.

I’m guessing that was mostly a combination of misogyny and hard rockers hating on soft rock. I’ve read that she was excellent (one person called her the “best female drummer ever”) - but I have no ability to rate such things.

She was competent enough to play the drum part from ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’, but removed herself at times from session work because she knew the session drummer could get the job done faster, with fewer takes. (Time=money)

To people who say she was their favorite drummer, I can’t speak to everyone and their taste, but…given that representation matters… each of us have probably listened to a hundred drummers better than Karen.

But few, if any, approached her vocals.

No argument there. Probably wouldn’t have been fair if she also had legendary drum skills.

You may have missed this in the 5000 words I wrote, but I mentioned on the song “(They Long to Be) Close to You” that the session work was done by Hal Blaine. So even on Karen’s own songs she was working with drummers far better than she would ever be.

Blaine also took over drums in the studio for another drummer who’s vocal skills were more impressive than his drumming: Dennis Wilson.

Btw, I remember that joke as well…

I am not qualified to evaluate anyone’s drumming skills, but there are YouTube videos out there of Karen playing.

This link has several, and there’s this mashup:

I’m in no way qualified to rate her drumming, but it seemed impressive. I did note that a lot of the time there was another person drumming at the same time, so not sure how much of the sound was her (they would need a full-time drummer for when she was singing, of course).

As a bass player, rest assured that I would be very happy to find I was playing with her on drums.

ETA: I wouldn’t complain about Richard on keys, either.

My Best Friend married an older lady who looks remarkably like Karen, and hasn’t seemed to age in the 30+ years I’ve know her.

What was once friendship has become morbid curiosity. He’s dead, and she just looks younger and younger. Is she a vampire? She does have a beautiful voice, but never heard her sing. Or seen her stand in front of a mirror…

Maybe she IS Karen. She faked her death. Found the secret of eternal life.

Death becomes her.

It took me a google search to figure out what you were referring to, but now I have yet another reason to be vaguely creeped out by The Tubes. Thankya! :clown_face:

There are many first time reaction videos on you-tube to Karen’s singing and most of them are the same, in five seconds it’s WOW.

(As for the song, why Randy Mantooth? Did people once consider him sexy? All I see is that PIA John Gage, a doofus with a too-high self opinion.)

If we are talking about Randolph Mantooth the actor, he was considered pretty hot by the girls back in the day: