Go ahead! I dare you to ask me for my “man card” friends. Yes, when we became teenagers we also became too cool for the Carpenters’ brand of music. Or, at least so I thought. Then, in the Nineties, a bunch of alternative groups came together, recorded versions of their favorite Carpenters’ songs and the compilation was released as If I Was a Carpenter. It was at that moment that I re-evaluated those great songs. Sure, the Carpenters had songwriters who wrote most of their songs for them, but brother Richard arranged them musically to perfectly cuddle his sister Karen’s smooth voice that belied an undercurrent of pain.
As we know now, Karen was entrapped in a cloud of darkness that was manifested in the disease of anorexia. Still, during her life, Karen Carpenter was the female voice of a period of time from 1969 through 1974. C’mon! I dare you to tell me that “Superstar” is not one of the great pop songs of all-time. Yes, they did The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride” no favors, and I will never forgive them for taking Klaatu’s “Calling All Occupants (Of Interplanetary Craft)”. But, you take away those two, and you have a hit song resume that other artists would die for.
During those salads days, the Carpenters had three number one hits in the US (“(They Long to Be) Close to You”, “Top of the World”, “Please Mr. Postman”), four number two hits and two that hit number 3. Then couple those with their one, number one hit album, Singles 1969-1974, with their three other albums that peaked at number 2, and you have a great career, even one that might be worthy of consideration for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Shoot, if the RRHOF can inducted ABBA, then tell why the Carpenters are not being considered.
During their heyday, critics blasted the duo for their emphasis on what was called “bland” ballads and mid-tempo pop songs and their “squeaky clean” image. But, now, I can find a depth in Karen’s vocals that I never noticed as a youngster. Seriously, how could anyone without a touch of darkness find the melancholy within the lyrics of “We’ve Only Just Begun”. And, now we all know that Karen did have problems, making retroactively obvious why she was able to find the infinite sadness in the lyrics of “Rainy Days and Mondays” or “Goodbye to Love”.
So, now when you hear a Carpenters’ song, don’t blow it off like that scene in Tommy Boy Chris Farley and David Spade are singing “Superstar”, but really take the time to listen to those vocals along with how the music is arranged to insulate Karen with some musical protection. The Carpenters made great music and deserve to be recognized for it. And, no, I am NOT off my rocker! I truly believe this. Go get their greatest hits and enjoy that moment in time when we really didn’t realize the Carpenters were really humans like us.