Saturday, June 14, 2014

A salute to Karen Carpenter

Last Monday I was ranting about all the needless belting on the Tonys awards.   The current trend of overly emo power ballads is tiresome and no longer packs a real punch.

In contrast...

The '70s gave us the Carpenters.  Their music has been largely disregarded as "pop" and "schmaltz" but Karen Carpenter had an extraordinary voice.  Here are some of her songs with her vocal track singled out.  Just the drums and bass are heard.   But what a rich, pure, soulful voice.  No vocal gymnastics, no ear-splitting final notes.   Just wonderful singing.  Enjoy the artistry of the late Karen Carpenter.


58 comments:

Mike Barer said...

I don't care what critics say about The Carpenters, they were easy to listen to, without the Donny and Marie phoniness.

Rick said...

From the beginning of their career, long before her sad sad end, I thought Karen Carpenter had the most melancholy singing voice I'd ever heard.

I loved her sound. Still do.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

When I die and go to heaven, I won't need 72 virgins. Just Karen and Joanie Sommers...to listen to.

Scooter Schechtman said...

I'd guess the Carpenters would make Millennials uncomfortable, like forcing toddlers to listen to a long piece of classical music. This is an era when melody is extinct and treated like a noxious infection, hence the "earworm".

MikeBo said...

When I first moved to San Francisco in 1966 along my "Radio Gypsy" trail, Crocker Bank was running a commercial with the song "We've Only Just Begun." That was my introduction to Karen Carpenter. When the song was released, I immediately placed it on our play list at KFOG. Sadly, both Crocker Bank and Karen Carpenter are with us no more. But the song is still with us.

Howard Hoffman said...

Karen and Richard had so much going on in their hyperactive minds. She had the signature melancholy sound and perfect pitch, and Richard always tried to find remarkable ways to incongruently frame it in the studio. His decision to make Tony Peluso open up his fuzz guitar with both barrels on "Goodbye To Love" pissed off fans and radio stations, but the song is a classic. And parading over 160 musicians through for "Calling Occupants..." bordered on Brian Wilson-like fastidiousness. They were both a force of nature.

peabody nobis said...

Schmaltzy or not, The Carpenters were a product of their time. Most of the Adult Oriented music of the time was schmaltzy, reducing Sinatra to ridiculous romantic duets with his own daughter, fer Chrissakes!
Being a young teen at the time, The Carpenters weren't at the top of my playlist, but I always appreciated the strength and clarity of Karen's voice. She was a tremendous talent, and it is our loss that she was relegated to some truly awful material at times.
She could have been so much more.

Roger Carroll said...

Karen was one of the best girl singers in the business. Richard's arrangements outstanding..Karin and Richard were my friends. I was one of first to play their records on my KMPC show and around the world on AFRTS

SharoneRosen said...

as a singer and musician, I miss her voice. I miss their contribution to music, schmaltzy or not. Karen Carpenter was one in a million

SharoneRosen said...

as a singer and musician, I miss her voice. I miss their contribution to music, schmaltzy or not. Karen Carpenter was one in a million

Unknown said...

Thanks, Ken. She /they were one of my all time favorites. I continue to listen to them, especially in the car.

Covarr said...

The Carpenters were great, except for their cover of "Jambalaya", which was truly abysmal. I hope I never have to hear that cover again.

Igor said...

Yes, Karen Carpenter had a great voice. And she did a great job with the songs she sang. But I don't know that the songs were worthy of that great voice.

I often felt the same about Lou Rawls. I could have listened to him and his great voice singing the phone book, but the problem was that most of his songs and arrangements offered nothing much more than a phone book.

Dan Rusanowsky said...

One of the best voices ever. I remember listening to Casey Kasem's "American Top 40" as "Top of the World" rose to the top of the charts. I guess it was my personal theme song for the New York Mets' unlikely run to the 1973 World Series.

Dave Williams said...

Subtlety is a nearly lost art in all forms of performance. Singers and comedians in particular keep forcing their craft to expand beyond the point of appreciation. Jack Benny got more laughs from deadpan silence than all the f-bombs shrieked onstage today. And sweet Karen Carpenter exhibits a talent for heart and phrasing that is rarely appreciated or explored.

Very nice post, Ken. Thank you.

Gordon said...

I remember the a Sweet Dick Whittington at KGIL regularly made fun of her and the Carpenter "Wah-wahs".

And I remember the stunned shock in his voice when he reported that she'd died.

Over the years I've grown to really like the Carpenters. There are many of their songs on my playlist, especially "Let Me Be the One."

Anonymous said...

For singers like Karen Carpenter song selection is key. For her it was about 50/50. I think her best besides Superstar was Only Yesterday.
Whitney Houston needed a songwriter like her aunt, Dionne Warwick. She would have done well with some of those Bacharach songs.
Meanwhile, Linda Ronstadt, the most underrated of the 70's-80's, picked some great stuff in lots of genres. As versatile as they come.

Anonymous said...

Karen Carpenter is in my group of Famous and Successful People Who Deserve Even More Credit. It's a group that includes Chuck Berry and Roger Miller. Ignore her brother's saccharin production work and just listen to that sweet, smooth voice.

Loosehead said...

And her playing those drums too. Goodness I had a crush on her.

Globescoper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Globescoper said...

Many criticized The Carpenters; however they had 15 Top 30 songs on the 1050 CHUM Chart in Canada. Many well like groups never achieved this degree of success.

Globescoper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Karen Carpenter in my opinion was a musical artist with a perfect voice. Her range was remarkable and never off key. She had one of most beautiful voices I have ever heard. Accompanied by her brother and a small band they were very easy to listen to and their concerts were amazing. The last time we saw them was in Vegas, an extremely enjoyable show. The next day we went to a nearby Denny's and saw Karen and Richard eating. No "posse" no bodyguards, no agent, no press relation, just Karen & Richard. We stop at their table and told them we were from Downey too and had a great time at the show. No stiff shoulder, no go away, they thanked us and continued to talk to us for about 30 minutes. You can't find "ANYONE" today that rooted and dedicated to their art and fans.

Jeffrey Mark said...

My high school years with the Carpenters on the radio. I was in drivers'ed when "Superstar" was a hit. We listened to the radio while learning to drive the streets and freeways of San Jose. Superstar was on everyday. I'll always link the song with driving for the first time like no other song out back then.

Anonymous said...

Whitney and Mariah could never come close to the vocal prowess Karen had naturally, she never needed to show off by over singing everything and with excess vocal runs and riffs. She can sing the lyric, Whitney and Mariah, not so much. I can just imagine here in the production hands of a Rick Rubin for instance, or an album of modern standards, damn she would kill it.

thomas tucker said...

Another singer with a beautiful, pure voice who reminded me a lot of Karen Carpenter at that time was Anne Murray.

VP81955 said...

I admit I wasn't much of a Carpenters fan in the early '70s; perhaps to my ears at the time, they sounded the personification of what Tricia Nixon would have been as a pop star. In retrospect, that was a bit too harsh.

I think the first record of theirs I really liked was "Goodbye To Love," which is a sensational performance even without the fuzztone guitar at the close (some MOR stations faded it out as soon as the guitar came in). I like to think Richard and Karen were having fun with their critics (such as me, though in June 1972, I was nearing 17 and not writing about music). "You want 'heavy'? We'll give you heavy!"

My other favorites of theirs include "We've Only Just Begun," "Superstar" and "Only Yesterday"; with the right material, Karen Carpenter's voice was sublime. And she is missed.

Lorimartian said...

Thank you, Ken. For a long time, people haven't appreciated the richness of a lower vocal register, the richness that Karen Carpenter possessed in spades. Sopranos and tenors get all the attention. It's sad that we'll never know what she might have contributed had she lived. Heartbreaking.

I, too, am a Lou Rawls fan (never heard enough of him) and a diehard Linda Ronstadt fan. Her rendition of John David Souther's great song "Prisoner in Disguise" is tender and haunting. She was a tremendous talent. And I'll just add another underrated favorite of mine, Hoyt Axton, whom I saw twice in concert. Fantastic...really miss him.

Anonymous said...

Karen had a horrific lisp. Always annoyed me. Barry Manilow has a lisp too. It's so strange these people had booming voices, and the lisp of a four year old.

Are there any readers here who are singing teachers? Is it just impossible to get rid of a lisp?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Said:

"Meanwhile, Linda Ronstadt, the most underrated of the 70's-80's, picked some great stuff in lots of genres."

Ronstadt's time was during the seventies, and during her reign, she dominated. She was on heavy rotation on most popular stations. She was not underrated. Everyone loved her, despite the fact that she was dating public nuisance Jerry Brown.

Mike Barer said...

Linda Ronstadt was inducted this year into the Rock Hall of Fame. There can be a case for the Carpenters being inducted as well.

Kosmo13 said...

How to do a song right: "Reason To Believe" by the Carpenters

How to do a song wrong: "Reason To Believe" by Rod Stewart

Glenn said...

Karen's voice will always shine beyond the criticism. Best example to me was "Just fall in love again" from the passage 1977 album. And for the record, not finding a place for Calling Occupants song somewhere in The X files series was a missed opportunity. But then, that saucer has sailed. Thanks Ken for sharing the acapella clips.

gottacook said...

"Linda Ronstadt was inducted this year into the Rock Hall of Fame. There can be a case for the Carpenters being inducted as well."

Although I think Richard Carpenter was (is?) a great arranger, it seems to me that hardly any of the Carpenters' output could be called "rock," beyond the aforementioned fuzztone guitar solo on "Goodbye to Love." The Billboard Book of Number-One Hits (from 1955 through "We Are the World" in 1985) introduces the term "the rock era," which is useful given that many national hits during this period were in non-"rock" styles, but I don't imagine that a Rock-Era Hall of Fame is what you'd want. Perhaps it's time for an Easy Listening Hall of Fame?

(The 8-track tapes of the albums Carpenters and A Song for You were on heavy rotation in my parents' cars some 40 years ago, but so were such things as the Hair Broadway cast album.)

Pat Reeder said...

Ken, as you know, my wife Laura Ainsworth is a singer with a deep appreciation of restraint and pitch control and a hatred of "American Idol" style ululating and oversinging. Karen Carpenter was one of her favorites, and it happens that I'd stumbled over these tracks myself, so she's already been playing them for days. They're right up her alley because she loved Karen's voice but always thought it got buried in overproduction. These tracks remind me of Laura's version of "Skylark" on her first album, which she recorded live in the studio with jazz guitarist Chris Derose, just bare vocal and one instrument, with no post-production sweetening or Autotuning. Someone should take Karen's tracks and release them with small group backing, the way some of Elvis' vocals from his later overproduced days have been isolated and given new backing tracks. You can finally hear the great performances buried under all that glop.

I wish we had more real singers today instead of nude models who release records that have been electronically cuisinarted until they all sound like the same sex robot.

Chach said...

There is a singer today named Rumer, a British singer, who is wonderfully, eerily similar to Karen Carpenter with that same lovely tone and easy phrasing. I strongly recommend giving her a listen. Check out the Alfie bonus cut on her first album.

Pat Reeder said...

PS - Here are a bunch more of these tracks, including "Goodbye to Love" and "Yesterday Once More":

http://dangerousminds.net/comments/karen_carpenters_voice_listen_to_her_isolated_vocal

Mark said...

Second the emotion on Rumer. Sounds just like the great Karen Carpenter. Check out her version of Goodbye Girl (yes, the David Gates movie soundtrack song). Uncanny.

Barry Traylor said...

There are some (or possibly most) of her songs that can still send a chill of delight down my back. She left us much too soon.

Anonymous said...

Re My comments on Linda Ronstadt. You're right. She wasn't underrated then. She is underrated now. When it takes her three or four decades to get into the Rock Hall of Fame where some of those clearly inferior to her already reside, that's underrated.

Mr. Hollywood said...

Karen Carpenter ... beautiful voice! At the top of my favorite female vocalists. One singer not mentioend here who must be ... Ella Fitzgerald. Just stunning.

Gary Theroux said...

As someone who has avidly studied nearly 140 years of recorded music (back to Edison's "Mary Had A Little Lamb" in 1877) I have come to the conclusion (amid very stiff competition) that Karen Carpenter was the finest female singer ever on record. (I know that would make her blush, but it's true.) Beyond the music, though, Karen was an extraordinarily delightful, charfming, humorous and down-to-earth woman who I am glad to say I got to spend some unforgettable time with and assemble a career-spanning CD box set honoring.

Robin Raven said...

You post the most interesting things to me. I just love Karen. The Carpenters music is incredible.

Pat Reeder said...

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a travesty. This is an organization that's inducted Chic, the Beastie Boys, Grandmaster Flash and the Red Hot Chili Peppers while snubbing Jethro Tull, the Guess Who, the MC5, Chicago, the Moody Blues and the list goes on and on. They haven't even inducted Deep Purple, when I bet that the first thing 100% of today's rock guitarists pounded out when they first picked up an instrument was the riff from "Smoke on the Water." There are entire websites devoted to chronicling the HOF's stupidity and injustice (for example, http://www.notinhalloffame.com/rock-and-roll ) I sometimes think it only exists as an excuse for Jann Wenner to make himself still seem cool.

While I love Karen Carpenter, I don't think she belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But I bet they put her in there before they do Deep Purple.

Anonymous said...

Mark said...
"Second the emotion on Rumer. Sounds just like the great Karen Carpenter. Check out her version of Goodbye Girl (yes, the David Gates movie soundtrack song). Uncanny."

Holy cow she sure does sound like Karen!

Karen's brother must have literally shit his pants when he heard her for the first time.

I wonder if he's produced anything for her? I can't believe he would't approach her. If she wanted him to, he'd do it in a heartbeat.

bill said...

Personally, I would rather have needles shoved in my ears than listen to the Carpenters.

But I love you reading you any way Ken.

Anonymous said...

Contrast recent reports that Britney Spears is lip syncing all of her Las Vegas shows (shocking) with this live clip of Karen singing and playing drums of "Mr. Guder" (not a GREAT song, I admit, but really shows off her excellent drumming).

Anonymous said...

Forgot to add the link to the track:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhBrwCKHIFE

CamrioKid said...

Karen Carpenter's vocals on "Ticket to Ride" and "Superstar" should be at the top of the list for today's reality show singers as examples of how to deliver lyrics and melody. She was one of a kind and sorely missed.

pete medina said...

Great Stuff.

pete medina said...

Worked at a radio station in Washington Indiana, where a DJ would track the Carpenters Greatist Hits album, I mean just put the needle on and let it spin.

Marc said...

I'm sorry, but while I'll admit that Karen Carpenter had a very nice, I could never take the Carpenters' records. Mind-numbing,.easy-listening drivel.

Roger Owen Green said...

I've been doing a family musical group, alphabetically, and of course, C is for Carpenters.

Fred Tollison said...

In late 1969 I was just back in Charleston from patrol on my first submarine. While driving home listening to A.M. radio, I heard "Ticket to Ride" by the Carpenters. My first thought was 'Wow, what a voice!' To this day, "Ticket to Ride" is to me the signature Carpenters song and one that has remained under appreciated over the years.

Anonymous said...

Karen Carpenter and her brother were schlocky and schmaltzy. Actually change the channel when I hear them. Give me Ronstadt any day, any tune, any type of music. Linda's voice - especially live was so stunningly beautiful blessed with tenderness and power and she was a turn on. To each their own.

welcometosherwood said...

Agree completely on Karen's great voice. Also, and even more so, with your call on the spate of power divas. Just sing the damn song and don't try and overwhelm us with your voice. Yuck!

Patrick said...

Saw Linda Rondstadt in concert a few years ago. First half was all standards, drawn from the three albums she did with Nelson Riddle back in the '80s. The second half was her pop hits. Excellent show.

Karen Carpenter -- meh. She was okay.

Marilyn D'Auria said...

I've never noticed it.