I have a confession to make. . . I am a big fan of The Carpenters.and I am no longer ashamed to admit it.
It was never cool to listen to their music but I just love their records. Many dismissed The Carpenters because of their soft, mellow sound and the clean-cut image but their music has continued to endure and, in some ways have become more influential over the years. Sometimes it's nice to hear a simple love song without it being crass.or vulgar. The combination of Richard's skill as an arranger, composer and producer and the deep, rich and soothing voice of Karen made the duo pure pop perfection.
Richard was born in 1946 and Karen in 1950 in New Haven, Connecticut. Both children spent a lot of time listening to music but while Richard mostly stayed indoors playing the piano, Karen was outgoing who loved playing sports.
The family moved to Downey, California in 1963. Richard attended college in Long Beach where he met John Bettis, who Richard would later collaborate with in the future to write some of the classic Carpenters songs like "Top Of The World" and "Goodbye To Love". Karen picked up the drums while in high school and joined the marching band.
By 1965, Karen had improved her drumming skills and Richard refined his piano technique and the two formed a jazz trio with their friend, Wes Jacobs who played bass and tuba. The Richard Carpenter Trio won a Battle Of The Bands contest in 1966 which led to them signing with RCA Records. The trio made a few demo recordings but none where actually released and they were eventually dropped from the label.
In 1968, Wes Jacobs left the band to join the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Richard and Karen continued to work on demo tapes which they sent to several record labels until musician Herb Alpert, co-owner of A&M Records heard them and signed them in 1969.
The Carpenters released their first album, "Offering" later that year which featured several compositions either written or co-written by Richard but they only had a minor hit with a ballad remake of the Beatles song, "Ticket To Ride" which peaked at number fifty-four on the pop charts. "Offering" was later renamed "Ticket To Ride" when the album was repackaged and given a new cover in 1970.
It was their next album, "Close to You" in 1970 which sent them to the top of the charts with the title track. "(They Long To Be) Close To You" which was written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, was number one for four weeks. The next single, "We've Only Just Begun", which Richard first heard on a television commercial, hit number two and has become the group's signature song. The Carpenters continued with a string of hit singles throughout the early seventies which include "Rainy Days And Mondays", "Hurting Each Other" and "Superstar" written by Delaney Bramett and Leon Russell.
Disco was controlling the music airwaves by 1977 and the easy listening sounds of the Carpenters was falling out of favor. The group decided to release an experimental album, "Passage" that year which featured a mix of other musical genres the Carpenters were not known for, like jazz-fusion, calypso and orchestral accompaniment as well a version of "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" from the musical, "Evita". The album was not a huge success and was the group's first that did not sell at least a half a million copies.
In 1979, Richard received treatment to an addiction to Quaaludes and wanted to take some time off from their grueling schedule. Karen, not wanting to take a break, decided to work on a solo album with producer Phil Ramone in an effort to change her image. Richard nor the record label were impressed with the results and the album was shelved (but would eventually be released in 1996). The Carpenters released what would be their final album in 1981, "Made in America" but it also sold poorly.
Karen met real estate developer, Thomas Burris and after a brief romance, married in August of 1980 but the marriage was short-lived and ended by 1981. Karen had been struggling with anorexia for many years and finally sought treatment in 1982 and managed to put back on some weight.
After the holidays in 1983, Karen decided that she was ready to return to the studio but Richard felt that she still did not look well and needed to go back in to treatment. Angered by this, Karen returned to Downey, California to visit her parents in February. Her mother soon called Richard to come home since Karen had become very depressed. By the time Richard had arrived, Karen had been hospitalized. On February 4, Karen suffered cardiac arrest due to complications of anorexia nervosa and died at the age of thirty-two.
The Carpenters had twelve Top Ten singles on the pop charts, a record fifteen number one singles on the Adult Contemporary charts, won three Grammy Awards including for Best New Artist in 1971 and sold over one hundred million records over their fourteen year career.
Enjoy some of my favorite Carpenters songs:
(They Long To Be) Close To You
Rainy Days And Mondays
Hurting Each Other
We've Only Just Begun
And here is a video of them doing their version of "Ticket To Ride" (I love the way she sings, ". . .And he don't care"):