The phrase, “They’re so straight they’re weird.” may have been coined to describe Carpenters – yes that’s Carpenters, not The Carpenters, they dropped the ‘The’ because Richard Carpenter thought that it would be cooler ” like Buffalo Springfield of Jefferson Airplane”. He thought in terms of what might be cool? Really?
Welcome then to the horror of Soft Rock but wait a minute, how could such a squeaky clean image and boundless talent end in such misfortune?Somewhere in the middle of their massive success, Richard Carpenter became addicted to quaaludes, Karen Carpenter’s tragic death in 1983, dying of a heart attack, having literally starved herself to death, shocked the world – the first real high profile victim of anorexia nervosa. She was just 32 years old.
But her voice, what an incredible voice she had. Like no one else, it wasn’t from Jazz or the entertainment world or any typical breeding ground for amazing singers, she just sang like that. She opened her mouth and that’s what it sounded like (contralto, the low female vocal range) – and that spectacular vibrato! This along with her brother’s complex arrangements made them international stars with hit after hit after hit. You know them all, they are stuck in your brain, even the ones you hate like Top Of The World, Jambalaya and Please Mr Postman. But then there’s Klaatu’s, Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft, Paul Williams’, Rainy Days And Mondays, Richard Carpenter and John Bettis’, Goodbye To Love and it’s out there fuzz guitar solo, Bacharach and David’s, Close To You, Roger Nicholls and Paul Williams’, We’ve Only Just Begun and I Won’t Last A Day Without You and of course Leon Russell’s, A Song For You, This Masquerade and the ‘groupie song’ written by Russell and Bonnie Bramlett, the gorgeous, Superstar.
In this BBC recording there are many strange things happening (especially in the clothing department). The first song Help, is apparently lip-synched as is the Bacharach/David medley but the rest is Live. There’s always daft comments on You Tube – here they are given a hard time for part lip-synching. If you were a musician you would know that playing live for the TV cameras in a studio is hard and lip-synching is one of those things that you do occasionally on television. What you wouldn’t know is that for you to agree to lip-synch one song with all the studio trickery and tapes and production behind you and then immediately go live for the next song could possibly be one of the trickiest and most skilful things you could do as a musician. Karen Carpenter and this band execute the task flawlessly, it’s not the Live performance that gave them away for the lip-synching, it’s the other way around.
Karen Carpenter not only sang but she played the drums and sang. She didn’t just play 4/4 beats either, tricky arrangements didn’t upset her vocal skills at all. After the lip-synched Help and Love Is Surrender she stands up to sing Superstar. In the studio she sang it in one take and this exemplifies her wonderful voice at it’s very best – singing a song that allegedly Richard Carpenter changed the lyric for as it was too risqué for them .
The original line:
“And I can hardly wait, to sleep with you again”
“And I can hardly wait, to be with you again”
Whatever the truth, it’s a wonderful song that proves that you can sing ‘Baby’ in a lyric as many times as you like and it will still be great. Before they play this song Richard talks about their ‘two’ albums when in fact they had released three albums at this time. The first, Offering released in 1969, didn’t sell that well (by the standards of the day) so they simply pretended it didn’t exist, although the record company later repackaged it and re-released it as Ticket To Ride to cash in on the massive success of the band. Richard also ruins his own potential coolness by referring to the band as The Carpenters, oh well I guess he wasn’t as cool as we thought.
And When He Smiles sees Karen back on drums and then back up front for the Paul Williams classic, Rainy Days And Mondays, then a song I don’t know and then the lip-synched Bacharach/David medley. Academy Award winning song from the 1970 film Lovers and Other Strangers, For All We Know is next, a massive hit for the band.
One wonders about the fashions whenever looking back at seventies videos. How could she be wearing these colours, these dresses (Ha Ha)) and somewhere here she changes into something a little easier on the eye, as this is not the whole concert with some songs cut for TV schedules. Through it all her voice is as magnificent as her tragedy.
A short song, Sometimes into Close To You, a Bacharach /David classic with oboe instead of trumpet – they might have hired a trumpet player for just that part but at that time they didn’t realise how iconic that trumpet would become. They end with We’ve Only Just Begun and a heartfelt thank you from Karen Carpenter. The most incredible thing about this sonic masterpiece is that when this was filmed Karen Carpenter was only 21 years old.
- “Help!” (pre-recorded)
- “Love Is Surrender”
- “And When He Smiles”
- “Rainy Days and Mondays”
- “Bacharach/David Medley” (pre-recorded)
- “For All We Know“
- “(They Long to Be) Close to You“
- “We’ve Only Just Begun“