Confessing a love for the Carpenters—Karen in particular—is like confessing a love for Sugar Daddy suckers, or Hello Kitty. Yet since I was a lad, when I first saw her black bangs and heard the amazing voice that issued from below, what I felt for the Songbird of Downey, California was something akin to love. Yes, her songs (many written by her brother Richard) were sometimes more than a bit cheesy, but her voice redeemed them all.
And what a voice it was! Rich and mellow, with a thrilling quality in the low range—”the money notes,” Richard called them—her sound has never been equaled in pop music.
Carpenter’s story is sad (there’s not much I don’t know about her). She started off as a drummer in high school, and sang and drummed in her brother’s band, which included a tuba (see her drumming here). Her voice was noticed by Herb Alpert, who recorded The Carpenters on A&M records, and she quickly became a star. That’s the good part.
Carpenter was a romantic, but never found true love (I would have volunteered, for she was only two months younger than I); and she lived through one unhappy marriage. She was also an anorexic (you can see her emaciated state in this video), swallowing laxatives like candy. Her body couldn’t take it, and in 1983 she died of heart failure. She was only 32. Her brother now spends his time endlessly remixing and reissuing their songs.
But let’s remember The Voice. There are many Carpenters songs on YouTube, but most are recordings. Even her stage performances there are often lip-synched, so I’ve chosen some genuinely live ones. They all come from a “Live at the BBC” performance in 1971, when she was just 21 (Richard was 25).
A medley of her two most famous songs, “Close to You” (recorded version here) and “We’ve Only Just Begun” (recorded version here; it was originally a commercial for a bank), both showing her off in the low range. Richard plays piano and sings harmony, and there’s a cute little rap beginning at 3:50):
And my favorite among all Carpenters songs, “For All We Know” (recorded version here). How many weddings used this song! Every strand of my DNA vibrates when she sings the title line: four money notes for sure.
For more low notes, go here.
Karen’s own favorite Carpenters song was the lovely “I Need to Be in Love.” You can see it here, and watch a LOLzy Carpenters video that always makes me want to shout, “Take ME!”
Finally, for something more sophisticated and jazzy, listen to her wonderful rendition of the Rogers and Hart song, “Little Girl Blue.”
A little bird told me that we have some Carpenters fans in the audience, so feel free to note and embed your favorite songs (one embedded video per post, please).