The Carpenters were an American vocal and instrumental duo consisting of siblings Karen and Richard Carpenter. Producing a distinctively soft musical style, they became one of the best-selling music artists of all time. During their 14-year career, The Carpenters recorded 11 albums, 31 singles, five television specials, and a short-lived television series. Their career ended in 1983 by Karen's death from heart failure brought on by complications of anorexia. Extensive news coverage surrounding the circumstances of her death increased public awareness of eating disorders.
The duo's brand of melodic pop produced a record-breaking run of hit recordings on the American Top 40 and Adult Contemporary charts, and they became leading sellers in the soft rock, easy listening and adult contemporary genres. The Carpenters had three No. 1 singles and five No. 2 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and fifteen No. 1 hits on the Adult Contemporary chart. In addition, they had twelve top 10 singles. To date, The Carpenters' album and single sales total more than 100 million units.
Musical and lyrical style
Richard Carpenter was the creative force behind the Carpenters sound. An accomplished keyboard player, composer and arranger, Richard Carpenter was called by music critic Daniel Levitin "one of the most gifted arrangers to emerge in popular music." In a period when contemporary music was dominated by heavy rock, their smooth harmonies were not in step with the trends of the day.
The sound the Carpenters were going for was rich and melodic, along the same vein as the harmonies found in their contemporaries The Beach Boys and the The Mamas & the Papas, but with greater fullness and orchestration. Most of Richard's arrangements were classical in style, with frequent use of strings and occasional brass and woodwind instruments as well. Richard's work with Karen was heavily influenced by the music of Les Paul, whose overdubbing of the voice of partner Mary Ford allowed her to be used as both the lead and harmonizing vocals. By use of multi-tracked recordings, Richard was able to use Karen and himself for the harmonies to back Karen's lead. The overdubbed background harmonies were distinctive to the Carpenters, but it was the soulful, engaging sound of Karen's lead voice that made them so recognizable.
Karen did not possess a powerful singing voice, but close miking brought out many nuances in her performances. Richard Coles, a musician and broadcaster, commented: «No singer is so closely miked up so unforgivingly as Karen Carpenter. That is frightening for singers because the closer the microphone the more unforgiving it is in exposing the weaknesses in a singer's voice».
Karen's lower register was warm and distinctive.[peacock term] Richard arranged their music to take advantage of the qualities of said lower register, even if Karen's full vocal range spanned over three octaves. Many of the Carpenters' songs are in the keys of D («You», «There's a Kind of Hush (All Over the World)»), E flat («Only Yesterday»), E («Hurting Each Other», «Yesterday Once More»), F («I'll Never Fall in Love Again»), and G («And When He Smiles», «Reason to Believe», «For All We Know», «You'll Love Me»).
Richard is best known for his use of the Wurlitzer electric piano, whose sound he described as «warm» and «beautiful». He also played the grand piano, Hammond organ, synthesizer and even the harpsichord with the band. In the recording studio, he often would overdub his acoustic piano parts with a Wurlitzer electric piano to thicken the sound. From the mid-1970s, Richard also used Fender Rhodes pianos. While touring, he often would have a grand piano as well as both a Rhodes and a Wurlitzer electric piano on stage for different songs.
Karen was an accomplished drummer and initially only played drums, but soon began to sing for the group in addition to playing the drums. Before 1974, Karen played the drums for all their songs. According to Richard, she considered herself a «drummer who sang». However, while Karen's vocals soon became the centerpiece of the group's performances, at 5'4" tall, performing behind her drum kit made it difficult for audiences to see her. It was soon apparent to Richard and their manager that the audience wanted to see more of Karen.
Although unwilling, she eventually agreed to sing the ballads standing up front, returning to her drums for the lesser known songs. As the group's popularity increased, demand for Karen's vocals overshadowed her drumming. Gradually, she played the drums less. By the time their album A Kind of Hush was released in 1976, she had not played the drums for the studio sessions at all, though she continued to play some during concerts. From spring 1976 onward, the tours would include a drum medley for Karen to play, and a piano solo number was included for Richard. Karen made a final return to studio drumming for the track «When It's Gone (It's Just Gone)» on the album Made in America, albeit in tandem with Nashville session drummer Larrie Londin. She also provided percussion in tandem with Paulinho da Costa on the song «Those Good Old Dreams».
Close to You
Despite the poor showing of the Carpenters' initial album, A&M stayed with them and had them develop songs for a second album. Herb Alpert asked Richard to re-work a Burt Bacharach/Hal David song titled «(They Long to Be) Close to You». The Carpenters' version was released as a 45 RPM record single. It debuted at No. 56, the highest debut of the week ending June 20, 1970. Over the next five weeks, it vaulted to No. 1, reaching that perch on July 25 and staying there for the next four weeks. Burt Bacharach said:
The arrangement of 'Close to You' that Richard did compared to the arrangement that I did for myself and for Dionne (Warwick) and the original record with Richard Chamberlain I'd say is twenty times better, Richard's arrangement than my arrangement. I really missed and he really nailed it. He just got a great feel, a great loop, the dotted eighth and sixteenth feel. It's great.
Their next hit was with a song Richard had seen in a television commercial for Crocker National Bank, «We've Only Just Begun», written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols. Three months after «(They Long to Be) Close to You» reached No. 1, the Carpenters' version of «We've Only Just Begun» reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the first of their eventual five No. 2 hits (it was unable to get past «I'll Be There» by The Jackson 5 and «I Think I Love You» by The Partridge Family during its four-week stay). The song became the first hit single for Williams and Nichols and is considered by Richard Carpenter to be the group's signature tune.
«Close to You» and «We've Only Just Begun» became RIAA certified Gold singles and were featured on the best-selling album Close to You, which placed No. 175 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list in 2003.The duo rounded out the year with the holiday release of «Merry Christmas, Darling». The single scored high on the holiday charts and would repeatedly return to the holiday charts in subsequent years. In 1978, feeling she could give a more mature treatment to the tune, Karen re-cut the vocal for their Christmas TV special; this remake also became a hit.
The Carpenters' popularity often confounded critics. With their output focused on ballads and mid-tempo pop, the duo's music was often dismissed by critics as being bland and saccharine. The recording industry, however, bestowed awards on the duo, who won three Grammy Awards during their career (Best New Artist, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo, Group, or Chorus, for "(They Long to Be) Close to You" in 1970; and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group for their eponymous LP Carpenters in 1971). In 1974, the Carpenters were voted Favorite Pop/Rock Band, Duo, or Group at the first annual American Music Awards.
Richard would often state in interviews that many critics usually judged them to "drink milk, eat apple pie and take showers."
I don't even like milk. Not that we're totally opposite from that, we're not. But there is an in-between – I don't drink… a lot. I do have wine with dinner. I voted to make marijuana legal...
In Coleman's The Carpenters: The Untold Story, Richard stressed repeatedly how much he disliked the A&M executives for making their image "squeaky-clean", and the critics for criticizing them for their image rather than their music.
I got upset when this whole "squeaky clean" thing was tagged on to us. I never thought about standing for anything! They [the critics] took "Close to You" and said: "Aha, you see that number one? THAT's for the people who believe in apple pie! THAT's for people who believe in the American flag! THAT's for the average middle-American person and his station wagon! The Carpenters stand for that, and I'm taking them to my bosom!" And boom, we got tagged with that label.
In a documentary about the Carpenters, musician and songwriter Paul Williams stated the duo was often labeled as being "too vanilla". Williams supported them by saying, "Yes, but what an exquisite flavor vanilla is."
Karen Carpenter has been called one of the best female vocalists of all time by influential media as diverse as Rolling Stone Magazine and National Public Radio, and Paul McCartney called her the best female vocalist ever, saying that she was "the best female voice in the world: melodic, tuneful and distinctive." A critical re-evaluation of Carpenters occurred during the 1990s and 2000s with the making of several documentaries produced in the United States, Japan, and Great Britain, like Close to You: Remembering the Carpenters (United States), The Sayonara (Japan), and Only Yesterday: The Carpenters Story (Great Britain). It has been said that Karen's signature vocals helped spur more contralto singers into pop music such as Anne Murray, Rita Coolidge, and Melissa Manchester. Despite contentions that their sound was "too soft" to fall under the definition of rock and roll, major campaigns and petitions exist toward inducting Carpenters in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 1990, the alternative rock band Sonic Youth recorded «Tunic (Song for Karen)», which depicted Karen saying goodbye to relatives as she got to play the drums again and meet her new "friends", Dennis Wilson, Elvis Presley and Janis Joplin. A tribute album, If I Were a Carpenter, by contemporary artists such as Sonic Youth, Bettie Serveert, Shonen Knife, Grant Lee Buffalo, Matthew Sweet, and The Cranberries, appeared in 1994 and provided an alternative rock interpretation of Carpenters hits.
Several of their songs have achieved the status of popular standards. «Superstar» has been covered by numerous artists, with popular recordings from Luther Vandross and Ruben Studdard to Bette Midler, Shonen Knife, Sonic Youth and Colleen Hewett.
Both «We've Only Just Begun» and «(They Long to Be) Close to You» have been honored with Grammy Hall of Fame awards for recordings of lasting quality or historical significance.
Modern entertainers such as Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, Shania Twain, Jann Arden, Anastacia, The Corrs, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Chrissie Hynde, Gloria Estefan, Lorrie Morgan, LeAnn Rimes, Michelle Wright, k.d. lang, Kelly Jones of Stereophonics, Christina Perri, Beyoncé, Johnny Borrell of Razorlight, Jo O'Meara from S Club, Carnie Wilson from Wilson Phillips, Mandy Moore, Michael Jackson, and Madonna have listed Karen Carpenter as a huge influence on their careers.
Main article: The Carpenters discography
See also: List of songs recorded by The Carpenters
The Carpenters released 30 singles during their career. Of the thirty, ten were certified Gold by the RIAA, and twenty-two peaked in the top 10 on the Adult Contemporary chart. In addition, The Carpenters also had ten albums from 1969–1983. Five of the albums contained two or more top 20 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 (Close to You, Carpenters, A Song for You, Now & Then, and Horizon).
Ticket to Ride (1969)
Close to You (1970)
A Song for You (1972)
Now & Then (1973)
A Kind of Hush (1976)
Christmas Portrait (1978)
Made in America (1981)
Voice of the Heart (1983)
An Old-Fashioned Christmas (1984)
Lovelines (1989)As Time Goes By (2001)
Carpenters - Close To You 
Close to You is the second studio album by American duo The Carpenters, released on August 19, 1970. In 2003, the album was ranked number 175 on Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The album contains the hit singles «(They Long to Be) Close to You» and «We've Only Just Begun». «(They Long to Be) Close to You» was the duo's song that gained the Carpenters an international reputation for a decade. The album topped the Canadian Albums Chart and peaked at No 2 on the US Billboard albums chart. It was also successful in the United Kingdom, entering the top 50 of the official chart for 76 weeks during the first half of the 1970s.
«(They Long to Be) Close to You» was the first Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition Carpenters covered. The song was recorded time and time again during the sixties, but didn't do well at all until the Carpenters version. It became Richard and Karen Carpenter's first RIAA-certified Gold single, as well as their first Billboard Hot 100 single that reached the Top 10. It stayed at number 1 for 4 weeks, and became Carpenters' iconic song.
«We've Only Just Begun» started out as a commercial for Crocker Citizen's Bank in 1970, composed by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols. The commercial showed a couple getting married and starting their life together. In August 1970, it became the Carpenters' second RIAA-certified Gold single. Richard regards this as the duo's signature song.
Originally written by Ralph Carmichael for the early contemporary Christian musical Tell It Like It Is, «Love Is Surrender» was a song Richard and Karen heard during their teen years. Several of the overtly Christian lyrics were changed for this version, notably from «Without Him, love is not to be found» to «Without love you are not to be found» and «You must surrender to His will» to «You must surrender if you care». The arrangement is based on one recorded by Carmichael on his album, I Looked for Love. The original Carmichael recording was mid-tempo, but Richard recorded it up-tempo with extra percussion. The Carpenters' recording is one of only two tracks on the album on which Richard Carpenter performs lead vocals.
«Maybe It's You» is a song written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis for their previous band, Spectrum. It's a very low-key song, with an oboe solo by Doug Strawn.
«Reason to Believe» is a song composed by Tim Hardin in the 1960s. Rod Stewart made a hit with it in 1971. Karen claimed in a live concert that the reason why they love the song is because it was one of the first songs they performed together as a group.
«Help!» is a song written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney in early 1965. Carpenters produced three Beatles covers («Ticket to Ride», «Help», and «Can't Buy Me Love», the last from Your Navy Presents).
«Baby It's You» is a song composed by Burt Bacharach, Barney Williams, and Mack David. It was sung by Richard and Karen in 1970, and performed on their TV show, Make Your Own Kind of Music.
«I'll Never Fall in Love Again» is the third consecutive Burt Bacharach composition on the album. It was included on their medley the following year, on the album Carpenters. According to Tom Riddle of Your Navy Presents, there was a 29 vocal harmony on the song. Originally part of the score for Bacharach and David's 1968 musical Promises, Promises, the song had provided a top-ten hit for Dionne Warwick in January 1970.
Originally performed by Karen and Richard in the California State University, Long Beach choir in 1969, "Crescent Noon" is a song composed by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis.
«Mr. Guder» was dedicated to Richard Carpenter and John Bettis's boss at Disneyland, Vic Guder. It was a bit of a last tease to the man who fired the duo. They were hired to play old-time music on piano and banjo at the park's «Coke Corner» on Main Street, U.S.A., but they persisted in playing contemporary tunes that the patrons requested. The lyrics say:
You're everything a robot lives for:
Walk in at nine, and roll out the door at five.
You reflect the company image;
You maintain their rules to live by.
Shine your shoes, let's keep a neat haircut,
Now that you're wearing a coat and tie.
Many of their later recordings that were composed in the late 1960s were written during their Disneyland career.
«I Kept on Loving You», a song written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols, features Richard on lead vocal and despite being uncredited in the album's liner notes, a guitarist is playing on the song, possibly either Gary Sims or a Los Angeles-based session guitarist.
«Another Song» was another Carpenter/Bettis creation that was very different from the typical Carpenters song and is essentially a suite in three movements: a pop section (0:00–1:45), a medieval-influenced section (1:45–2:28), and a jazz section (2:28–4:22). The song opens with a short prelude based on the harmony and melodic contour of the accompanied recitative "And, lo! the angel of the Lord came upon them" from Part I of George Frideric Handel's oratorio Messiah (1742).
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. We've Only Just Begun Roger Nichols, Paul Williams 3:04
2. Love Is Surrender Ralph Carmichael 1:59
3. Maybe It's You John Bettis, Richard Carpenter 3:09
4. Reason to Believe Tim Hardin 3:02
5. Help John Lennon, Paul McCartney 3:02
6. (They Long to Be) Close to You Burt Bacharach, Hal David 4:34
No. Title Writer(s) Length
7. Baby It's You Bacharach, Mack David, Barney Williams 2:50
8. I'll Never Fall in Love Again Bacharach, H. David 2:56
9. Crescent Noon Bettis, Carpenter 4:09
10. Mr. Guder Bettis, Carpenter 3:17
11. I Kept On Loving You Nichols, P. Williams 2:13
12. Another Song Bettis, Carpenter 4:22
Karen Carpenter – vocals, drums
Hal Blaine – drums
Richard Carpenter – vocals, keyboards, arrangements and orchestration
Joe Osborn – bass
Danny Woodhams – bass
Jim Horn – woodwinds
Bob Messenger – woodwinds
Doug Strawn – woodwinds
Jack Daugherty – producer
Ray Gerhardt – engineer
Dick Bogert – engineer
Tom Wilkes – art direction
Kessel/Brehm Photography – photography
Released: August 19, 1970
Recorded: 1969 – May 15, 1970
Genre: Pop, easy listening
Producer: Jack Daugherty
Carpenters - Close To You  (Full Album)
1. We've Only Just Begun [Roger Nichols, Paul Williams] (3:04) 00:00
2. Love Is Surrender [Ralph Carmichael] (1:59) 03:05
3. Maybe It's You [John Bettis, Richard Carpenter] (3:09) 05:04
4. Reason to Believe [Tim Hardin] (3:02) 08:11
5. Help John Lennon, [Paul McCartney] (3:02) 11:17
6. (They Long to Be) Close to You [Burt Bacharach, Hal David] (4:34) 14:22
7. Baby It's You [Bacharach, Mack David, Barney Williams] (2:50) 18:58
8. I'll Never Fall in Love Again [Bacharach, H. David] (2:56) 21:52
9. Crescent Noon [Bettis, Carpenter] (4:09) 24:53
10. Mr. Guder [Bettis, Carpenter] (3:17) 29:06
11. I Kept On Loving You [Nichols, P. Williams] (2:13) 32:21
12. Another Song [Bettis, Carpenter] (4:22) 34:39