Hi! I’m Scott Keller, self-appointed arbiter of musical tastes and self-confessed vinyl junkie, and I am about to pull back the curtain a bit on my musical history. Over the course of this self-help therapy I call a blog, I have dropped hints of my developing musical tastes over the course of my first 13 years of my life. First off, I am the older of two sons born to educator parents. My dad was a high school history teacher, athletic director, varsity basketball and baseball coach who eventually became an elementary principal at three schools, the last one for 25 years. The man remains one of my best friends, my mentor and my role model, even though our relationship was very strained after he and Mom got a divorce. He warped me for life because I thought all coaches were like going to be like him, but they weren’t. Now, the whole sports thing might make sense because of him, but the music did not. His idea of great music was Barbra Streisand, which is great, but he really didn’t like rock music at all. Mom, on the other hand, was the art teacher, and did she ever love her music. But, her collection, if you could call it that, consisted of show tunes and stuff I’d call lame. But, she never judged my music.
Growing up, the only radio stations I ever heard where two AM stations. The first was WHBU in Anderson, Indiana, which played the softer side of rock music but had great high school basketball coverage. I actually remember being three and listening to Dad’s team playing some large school in Indianapolis on the radio as his school, which had about 100 students, kick the butts of those Indy kids. The other was the very conservative WIBC in Indianapolis, which was known for their stellar news reports, very non-rock music playlist and an out-and-out cynicism toward rock music. All of this makes it difficult to say, but my entry into the music of the Beatles was NOT direct. It came through those cover versions played on those stations, in particular the cover of “Ticket to Ride” by the Carpenters. That’s right, the Carpenters.
Now, when you are in elementary school in the early Seventies, radio hits were everything. Then, by the time you reach your teen years, your tastes change. So, after I discovered Elton John, Alice Cooper and Kiss, I started to think that the Carpenters were wimpy. And, I held onto that view until the Nineties when I was forced to reevaluate my opinion upon the release of that Carpenters cover album recorded by a bunch of alternative artists at the time. And, when I heard Sonic Youth’s powerful version of “Superstar,” I thought wait a second! There was something substantive with the Carpenters. So, I went back and re-listened to all those old LPs. Sure, on the surface, there seems to be a glossy pop sheen to the production of their music, but when you started to listen more deeply, you hear it. And, that “it” is Karen Carpenter’s voice. As I said, on the surface it’s an All-American voice, non-threatening and tamed, very soothing to the average listener. But, then you begin to hear the pain behind those lyrics she is singing, and suddenly her tragic life makes sense. It’s all right there before us, those demons that afflict so many of us, being shown to us, the listeners. “I Won’t Last a Day Without You,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “Goodbye to Love,” hell, even “Ticket to Ride,” foretold us that she was never going to be long for the world.
Then, you begin to hear something else. Christ! I can’t believe this, but Richard Carpenter was not simply riding on the coattails of his sister’s voice. The guy is a musical genius! His orchestration and arrangements were innovative and light years ahead of everyone else at the time. Oh sure, the music is soothing, but it the perfect juxtaposition to Karen’s painful vocals. It’s a total yin and yang, tug and pull type of thing. It actually becomes something as subversive and the Ramones doing “I Wanna Be Sedated” in a manic manner or Boy George singing love songs in his garb and make-up. Once I got all of that, I returned to my fandom.
Now, are they going to ever have a place in my heart like Prince, Tom Petty or R.E.M.? No. But, they do have a frequent place in my musical library. And, this re-evaluation all began with If I Were a Carpenter back when my boys were little and wanted to listen to alternative music.
So, there you have it. My whole love/hate relationship over the years with the Carpenters, and how they were my entry drug into the world of The Beatles. So, today, I present my 25 favorite Carpenters songs. FYI: I prefer the duo’s minor hits as opposed to their #1 hits, generally speaking. I am placing the chart peaks for each song on my list, if there was one.
25. “There’s a Kind of Hush (All Over the World)” (1976) #12
24. “Bless the Beasts and the Children” (1971) #67
23. “Please Mr. Postman” (1975) #1
22. “A Song for You” (1971) —
21. “Solitaire” (1975) #17
20. “I Need to Be in Love” (1976) #25
19. “This Masquerade” (1974) —
18. “Sing” (1973) #3
17. “Ticket to Ride” (1969) #54
16. “For All We Know” (1971) #3
15. “Top of the World” (1973) #1
14. “Merry Christmas Darling” (1970) —
13. “Touch Me When We’re Dancing” (1981) #16
12. “Make Believe It’s Your First Time” (1983) #101
11. “Only Yesterday” (1974) #4
10. “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” (1977) #32. What can be weirder than the Carpenters covering a sci-fi song by a Canadian pop/rock band who had been riding a wave of rumors that said they were a secret reunion of The Beatles? And, I almost did not get the joke!
9. “Rainy Days and Mondays” (1971) #2. Sure, this title became something of a punchline, but it is a cry for help that few only heard.
8. “It’s Going to Take Some Time” (1972) #12. Seriously, did anyone really hear how Karen was singing this song? To quote my dad, “For Chrissakes!”
7. “Yesterday Once More” (1973) #3. Why did the best Carpenters songs not hit the top spot? This song has become more poignant as I have gotten older.
6. “I Won’t Last a Day Without You” (1974) #11. Simply put, Karen at her most vulnerable.
5. “Hurting Each Other” (1972) #2. Only a person who has been in a crappy relationship understands this one. It’s a shame Karen did.
4. “Goodbye to Love” (1972) #7. We’ve all been there, especially as a teen and young adult. It’s as if Karen took on all of our pain while recording her vocals.
3. “We’ve Only Just Begun” (1971) #2. This song was so ubiquitous when I was a kid that I thought it was mandatory for it to be played at every wedding my family attended. And, did you know that the song was originally used in a commercial out in California before the Carpenters recorded it and made it a milestone Seventies love song?
2. “(They Long to Be) Close to You” (1970) #1. More of a sentimental choice than anything else. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
1. “Superstar” (1972) #2. This song kickstarted the whole power ballad fad that last well in the Nineties without many even noticing. This song was perfect BEFORE Sonic Youth covered it and turned it inside out. It is truly one of the great overlooked songs of the rock era!