Despite all their chart successes, however, the Carpenters were no run-of-the-mill hit-parade artists. They actually heralded the start of a whole new era in popular music, and their legacy is still very much in evidence today.
Previously, adult record buyers had been served by sophisticated night-club singers like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett and by arranger/conductors like Ray Conniff and Percy Faith. But among the new generation of young adults were some who had different tastes. Although they had been brought up during the rock and pop explosion of the 60s, they too wanted more ‘adult’ music. But they weren’t prepared to settle for what their parents had been offered. These were from among the ‘baby boomers’, whose sheer numbers gave them considerable commercial clout. They wanted music of their own – and what they wanted was a more contemporary kind of ‘pop’. The Carpenters were among the first to provide it – both in their recordings and in live performances.
By 1971, the Carpenters were performing all over the world. In London, they packed the Royal Albert Hall during their first European tour. In America, there were sell-out appearances at such prestigious venues as the Hollywood Bowl, and in Japan they performed the first of what would be many sell-out concerts.
The first half of 1972 saw two more American chart successes with songs arranged by Richard but written by others. Hurting Each Other had originally been recorded by Ruby and the Romantics and It’s Going To Take Some Time had been written by Carole King and Toni Stern. Both songs took the Carpenters into the American Top 20, reaching No.2 and No.12 respectively.
It was to be some months before their next British hit single, however, with that honor reserved for Goodbye To Love, written by Richard and Bettis. With the help of a splendid Richard Carpenter arrangement, Karen’s faultless reading and Tony Peluso’s towering guitar solo, it first climbed rapidly up the American charts, reaching No.7 at its peak. Goodbye To Love was then released on a double-sided single in Britain, together with I Won’t Last A Day Without You, another Paul Williams and Roger Nichols song. The single reached No.9 on the British chart.
The preceding four singles were all culled from the duo’s fourth album, “A Song For You”, considered by many, including Karen and Richard, to be their finest. Included as well were Top Of The World and Bless The Beasts And Children, from the Stanley Kramer film of almost the same name, “Bless The Beasts And The Children”. This track, one of Karen’s and Richard’s best, was released in the U.S. on the flip of Superstar, and got quite a bit of play in its own right. All told, “A Song For You” contained an impressive six hits, as well as standout tracks such as Flat Baroque, Piano Picker, and the title song.
Yet the group still remained more popular in America than with British audiences. In early 1973 there was to be another American hit, the million-selling Sing, before renewed British success with another Carpenter-Bettis composition.
Yesterday Once More finally gave the Carpenters’ British career the boost it needed. In mid-1973, the song raced up the British charts, peaking at No.2 – the same position that it reached in America, and higher than that reached by all of the Carpenters’ previous British singles. It would also provide them with yet another million-seller and prove to be a phenomenal success in Japan.
The song looked at the craze for musical nostalgia that was prevalent in America at the time. It had been taken from the Carpenters’ equally successful album, ‘Now And Then’, which incorporated a highly unusual idea. The whole of one side was made up of eight classic 60s pop songs presented as a ‘radio show’ skillfully arranged and produced by Richard, with Tony Peluso guesting as a disc jockey.
Another Carpenter-Bettis composition, Top Of The World, shot right to the top of the American charts – and to No.5 in Britain – to give them their third million-seller of 1973.
There was a hugely successful album as well – a splendid compilation of ‘The Singles 1969-1973’. Nine of the 12 tracks had already sold over a million copies when released as singles. Yet the album still topped both the American and British album charts, eventually selling over two million in the UK and clocking up over 12 million sales in America.
On May 1, 1973, there was an accolade of a different kind. President Richard Nixon invited the brother and sister to perform at the White House, at a dinner in honor of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt.
There was a change of direction for one 1974 release, with a version of Hank Williams’ country favorite Jambalaya featured in ‘Now And Then’. Backed with Mr. Guder, which appeared on their 1970 ‘Close To You’ album, it gave the Carpenters a double-sided British hit, reaching No.12 in March 1974. Jambalaya also became a gold record in Japan and in the Netherlands proved itself to be Karen and Richard’s biggest hit. As John Fogerty and the Blue Ridge Rangers were enjoying some success with the song in 1973, the same time as “Now & Then’s” release, and Yesterday Once More was just following Sing, Richard did not even think about releasing Jambalaya in America. Based on their record’s success in other countries, “Maybe,” Richard now states, “I should have!”
The next year began well, too, with another change of pace and another enormously successful single. Please Mr. Postman had been an American chart topper for R&B group the Marvelettes in 1961, and well known in Britain, too, thanks to the Beatles. The Carpenters again took it to the top spot in America, easily selling another million on the way. The recording reached No.2 in the UK charts, and ultimately became their largest selling single worldwide, a fact with which Richard has mixed feelings.
Only Yesterday (by Carpenter and Bettis again) was another success on both sides of the Atlantic and there was yet another million-seller album, ‘Horizon’. In addition to the singles successes, Please Mr. Postman and Only Yesterday, the album included Love Me For What I Am, I Can Dream, Can’t I and Desperado. This time they proved even more popular in Britain than in the US with ‘Horizon’ making its debut at the top of the album chart, and staying among the best sellers for nearly six months in all.
Last Updated June 4, 2008
May 2004 © Richard Carpenter