35th Anniversary Edition
“Let’s hope we have some hits.” Those were Herb Alpert’s parting words to Karen and me following our brief first meeting in April of 1969. Moments earlier, Karen and I had been signed by Alpert’s partner, Jerry Moss, to their successful seven year-old label, A&M Records.
There was nothing more that Karen and I wanted than to prove ourselves and “have some hits.” Looking back, it could have been that Herb said “we” instead of “you,” because compared to the phenomenal successes the label had enjoyed from 1965 through 1968, particularly with Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, 1969 was proving to be a rather lackluster sales year at A&M. Our initial album Offering and single “Ticket to Ride,” released that fall, did nothing to change things, although the latter did make the Billboard Hot 100 for several months, crossing into 1970 and peaking at #54. Events took a positive, almost breathtaking turn for all concerned, however, with the release, in May 1970, of our second single, “(They Long To Be) Close To You.” Within weeks it was the number one record in the country, (the first #1 single for A&M since Herb Alpert’s recording of “This Guy’s In Love With You” two years earlier) and was followed by many more hits, both singles and albums, all around the world.
Karen and I turned out to be the number one American born hit-makers of the 1970s and to date, with successes in every decade following our debut, our worldwide sales have topped 100 million units. Not too shabby for a pair of siblings from middle-class suburbia, who at first were more interested in listening to music than performing it.
I was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in October 1946 to Harold and Agnes Carpenter, with Karen following in March 1950. For the most part, we were pretty close, sharing the same tastes in music, and listening to the eclectic collection of records my dad owned, and to newer releases which I would pester my folks to purchase. By age 9, at my parents’ urging, I had learned the basics of piano, and a few years later actually wanted to play, and experiment with my own little tunes.
In 1963, the family moved to Southern California where, a little over a year later, Karen became interested in playing the drums, which she could do quite well almost immediately. To a much lesser extent, and with some urging from me, Karen also tried her hand at singing. I had enrolled in California State University, Long Beach, in the fall of 1964 and with my collegiate pal, Wes Jacobs, on upright bass and tuba, Karen and I, as the Richard Carpenter Trio, won a prestigious amateur competition, the Hollywood Bowl Battle of the Bands, in June 1966. Our performances were strictly instrumental, with both selections being on the light jazz side.
Karen, by now, was becoming more interested in singing. Two months earlier, she and I had met pre-eminent West Coast studio bassist, Joe Osborn. Osborn had recently had his garage transformed into a recording studio, outfitting it with state-of-the-art gear, including a Scully 4-track recorder, 4-track console, Neumann U87 microphones and Altec 604 studio monitors. He and a partner were also the founders of a fledgling record label, Magic Lamp. Already on the roster were Johnny Burnette and Vince Edwards, amongst others, but Osborn was still looking for new acts to sign. As Joe routinely worked in the studios until midnight, Karen and I did not meet him until the wee small hours of an April morning. It was of little concern to us. Karen sang, I provided the accompaniment and on May 9, 1966 Karen signed with Magic Lamp as an artist, and I signed two days later as a writer with the publishing arm, Light Up Music. (Actually, neither one of us actually “signed”; our parents did, as we were both minors, 16 and 19 respectively.) Karen and I recorded a number of tunes in Joe’s studio, but due to lack of promotion and distribution, only one single by each of the label’s artists was pressed and “released” before the venture folded in late 1967.
During this time my choir director at CSULB, Frank Pooler, whose knowledge in, and approach to choral singing had awakened a latent talent I turned out to possess for vocal arranging, introduced me to a Poli-Sci major with an innate ability for writing lyrics, John Bettis. Bettis and I hit it off, started writing together and went on to work as a piano/banjo act at Disneyland in the summer of 1967. Concurrently, he and I formed a vocal/instrumental group, along with Karen and some college friends, called “Spectrum.” Even though there was some interest from a couple of record labels and we did play a night at the Whiskey A Go Go, as well as opening the show for Steppenwolf at a rock venue called the Blue Law, nothing really materialized, and by mid-1968, Spectrum was no more.
Karen and I really didn’t miss a beat, however; the charts for Spectrum were mine and between the two of us, Karen and I could overdub all of the vocal parts, and trade the leads. After much thought, we decided to name the act “Carpenters” (No “the”; we thought it sounded hipper without it-like Buffalo Springfield or Jefferson Airplane.) Joe had not lost faith in us and in the early morning hours or on weekends, he would get behind the console and let us record; even playing bass, gratis, on a number of tracks. A demo tape from these sessions ultimately found its way to Herb Alpert’s desk in early 1969.
As mentioned previously, our success was not long in coming and was massive in scope. Everything career-wise that Karen and I had dreamt of came true: worldwide concert tours, gold records (10 gold singles, 11 gold albums in the United States alone), award nominations and awards, guest-shots on the most popular variety shows, stints in Vegas, Tahoe and much, much more. From 1969 to 1981, we delivered, and A&M released, 10 albums – not including compilations or live albums – and from 1976 to 1980, we hosted five prime-time television specials for ABC.
As I look back on it now, I feel this may have all been too much, too soon. Karen and I were pretty young, quite naïve and not too well-equipped to properly handle all of the responsibilities that presented themselves. Karen was all of 20 when things hit and, being the star of the show, received the lion’s share of the attention, for good or ill. This may, or may not, explain why Karen, who was always sensitive about her weight, developed the eating disorder, anorexia nervosa. Symptoms started appearing in 1974 and she struggled with it for the next nine years. Karen passed away from complications due to the disorder on February 4, 1983, at the age of 32. Since her passing, interest in our music has not diminished. I have overseen the production of four albums of previously unreleased recordings, as well as numerous compilations for various countries. This is bittersweet work, but I feel I owe it to Karen and her legacy, as well as ours as a duo.
Thirty-five years. In January 2004, A&M Records will have released this two-CD compilation, Carpenters Gold, to commemorate the thirty-five years that will have elapsed since Karen and I were signed to the label. Of course, I am gratified to know that after all these years our music remains so popular worldwide and that A&M has requested this new release. What is saddening and sobering, however, is the realization that we lost Karen twenty years ago, and just how quickly the years can pass; the most recent of Karen’s vocals in this set having been recorded in 1980.
The set features forty – count ‘em forty – selections, including most of our singles, popular album cuts, and a few rarities. To be candid, some of these recordings have worn better with me than others, but the collection certainly represents accurately what has been described through the years as the “Carpenters’ Sound”: Karen’s inimitable, incomparable vocals, our multi-tracked harmonies and my arrangements.
One can only imagine the music that could have been made had Karen lived; I really feel that we were just coming into our own as artists.
At least we have these recordings, as well as many others, as a legacy for the duo, and, all in all, I am proud of that.
1) Superstar 3:46
2) Rainy Days And Mondays 3:35
3) Top Of The World 3:02
4) Maybe It’s You 3:03
5) Let Me Be The One 2:25
6) Reason To Believe 3:04
7) Jambalaya (On The Bayou) 3:39
8) Leave Yesterday Behind 3:32
10) Bless The Beasts And Children 3:15
11) It’s Going To Take Some Time 2:57
12) Rainbow Connection 4:36
13) Only Yesterday 3:47
14) Sweet, Sweet Smile 3:02
16) California Dreamin’ 2:30
17) Solitaire 4:41
18) We’ve Only Just Begun 3:04
19) This Masquerade 4:53
(The Recognized Anthem of World Contact Day) 7:09
1) Yesterday Once More 3:58
2) Please Mr. Postman 2:47
3) Hurting Each Other 2:47
4) I Need To Be In Love 3:49
5) Merry Christmas, Darling 3:05
8) Sing 3:18
10) Ticket To Ride 4:09
11) Goodbye To Love 3:55
12) I Just Fall In Love Again 4:03
13) I Believe You 3:55
14) Tryin’ To Get The Feelin’ Again 4:22
15) For All We Know 2:32
16) Touch Me When We’re Dancing 3:20
17) I Won’t Last A Day Without You 3:54
18) Mr. Guder 3:21
19) A Song For You 4:37
20) Karen’s Theme 2:41
Click on the Song title in the Track List above
Compilation Produced by Richard Carpenter
Mastered by Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering
Assembled by Stewart Whitmore at Stephen Marcussen Mastering LLC
Project Director: Mike Ragogna
Project Coordination: Adam Abrams, Barry Korkin and Lee Lodyga
Art Direction: Vartan
Design: Artministry, Inc.
Last Updated June 4, 2008
May 2004 © Richard Carpenter