Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Carpenters • Yesterday Once More

Richard & Karen Carpenter

Well, I have finally reached the end of my series of posts focusing on the brother/sister duo known to many as the Carpenters. You can find the first installment here, and the second here. Richard and Karen Carpenter came out of Downey, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. I really remember them so very well, and their music was most certainly a part of my life. I heard their first albums from my sister's collection, and soon I was buying my own. The creamy richness of Karen's voice was a perfect match with the full-bodied goodness of Richard's orchestrations and production. Together, they could make dreams come true when they sing, or give you a place to share Karen's melancholia on rainy days...

Richard & Karen Carpenter

In 1973, the duo released a new album, Now & Then. I remember it well, for I bought it for my collection. While Barbra might have been the first I bought, I think Carpenters might have been number two. And it was this album. I might have been 13 years old, but I was wanting music, and this fit the bill. I was in love with the first single, and the beauty of Karen's voice on it. I look back on it now, and know I didn't see it all there, but the aching reflection, the desire to step away from her now, to look back to then, well, spoke volumes of Karen's issues. It was written by Richard and his buddy, John Bettis. But check out the tenderness in the song that reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, Yesterday Once More.

That wasn't their only hit in 1973. The next single made it to the top, all the way to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. In fact, I don't think there was a place on this planet you could go to escape the enormity of Top Of The World. The song was also written by Richard and college friend, John Bettis. Oddly, the single was off the 1972 album A Song For You, but made a statement in 1973. Here they are playing the song live at a command performance at the White House.

Off the strength of those two singles, Now & Then went double-Platinum in sales. In 1974, they released the single Please Mr. Postman, a remake of the old Tamla favorite, recorded by The Marvelettes, and later covered by Richard's heroes, The Beatles. They had their own spin on it, more like Paul McCartney meets Jan & Dean. There was a late 1950s, early 1960s surf music feel. Check out the next #1 song on the Billboard Pop charts for the duo.

There was just so much velvety richness in Karen's vocal on the 1975 hit, Only Yesterday. The strong song was written by Richard and Bettis, and it appeared on the 1975 Platinum album, Horizon. There is a joyous feel to the song, and the strong Pop is mized with a strong electric guitar and the calypso beat defined with castanets. Only Yesterday made it to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Although it barely made it into the Top 40, I have always had a real soft-spot for the 1977 single, Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft (The Recognized Anthem of World Contact Day). It has an odd sci-fi feel, some kind of homage to Klaatu, the alien from the classic The Day The Earth Stood Still. The song was written by and originally performed by the band named Klaatu. It was off the Carpenters 1977 album, Passage, the second album in a row to go Gold, but not Platinum, in sales.

The album also included On the Balcony of the Casa Rosada/Don't Cry for Me Argentina, from the Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice musical, Evita, which just started previews on Broadway with Ricky Martin playing Ché. Later, we would learn that while she was making this great music, Karen and Richard were suffering on their own. Richard had to deal with a dependence on Quaaludes, and Karen with her long battle with eating disorders. Karen was rumored to be down to 83 lbs, and was suffering from Anorexia Nervosa.

Karen Carpenter Karen Carpenter

In 1982, she sought treatment for the disease, and was starting to have some success. Karen had gained back 30 lbs, and was sorting her life out, including seeking a divorce. She was working on a solo project with producer Phil Ramone, and talking with Richard about some group projects. It was stunning news that on February 4, 1983, just shy of her 33rd birthday, Karen passed away in the home of her parents, a direct effect of the disease which destroyed her health. Not only was her loss mourned, it also brought much needed attention of the world on eating disorders. For more about Richard and Karen Carpenter, visit the official website here. You can find the music of the Carpenters anywhere fine music is sold. You can purchase Carpenters Gold, a 35th anniversary collection of their greatest hits, on iTunes and Amazon.


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