Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Gone Too Soon

I purchased a collection of The Carpenters greatest hits a couple of nights ago, and I've been listening to it on my way back and forth to work.  For those of you who are under 40, you may not have heard enough of their work to realize what a truly amazing voice Karen Carpenter had, before her death at 32 from complications of anorexia nervosa, the eating disorder.

Now, you may find the style of production a bit too lush for modern tastes. Doubtless, the songs The Carpenters did seem hopelessly romantic and innocent in an age both when seem to be gone forever.  (I confess: I was the sort of guy that could be reduced to tears listening to songs of romance--and I still can be.)  But listen to that voice!  And please, someone explain to me what makes her voice stand out so astonishingly!  There are many really excellent female singers--but there's something about that voice that grabs hold of me in a way that no other voice does.

UPDATE: And this song I had never heard until yesterday--and my, the video is more weird than I thought The Carpenters would ever do.


  1. There's a bunch of Capenters memorabilia at the Carpenters Performing Arts Center, California State University Long Beach. It was amusing to see people dressed to the nines in front of the exhibits.

  2. One of my favorite groups to work. I ran spotlight for them a few times at Bally's Las Vegas (MGM at the time).

    Richard was really underrated as a producer.

    They did a 'Spike Jones' thing that was hilarious.

  3. People thought it was odd that I liked them when I was a little kid. I have one album that had an amusing little intermission piece that consisted of an extraordinary choral arrangement of the phrase "We'll be right back, after we go to the bathroom"

    Barely related, there's some videos on Youtube of Carl Sagan set to music after being run through AutoTune. The first one is very evocative.


  4. I recall having heard that Karen described herself as a, "drummer who could sing." Virtuous humility indeed.

    I like the Paul Williams recollection of writing We've Only Just Begun as a Crocker Bank commercial ditty, getting a lead on publishing , rushing to make a complete commercial pop phenomenon out of it.

    Thanks, Clayton.

  5. Golly, Clayton! Who knew you were a music critic?!! You are truly a Renaissance Man! (I enjoy your writing.)

    I was never a big Carpenters fan - didn't care much for the "hopeless romance" and the lush arrangments that you describe. But I totally agree about Karen's voice - that lady had a sweet set of pipes! (The only Carpenters material I have is a "Christmas Portrait" CD, which gets plenty of airtime in December. The Missus has a couple albums, I believe.)

    There are few sounds that can compare with an awesome human voice, whether it be Karen Carpenter, or Ella Fitzgerald... Johnny Hartman... Luciano Pavarotti... Kathleen Battle (a personal favorite). Perhaps the call of the western meadowlark. (You should be familiar, living where you do.) Or a lonely loon, or an elk.

  6. Friends look at me like I am daft when I tell them I love the Carpenter's music and my son seems vaguely embarrassed that his ol' dad can be so musically unsophisticated.

    It is good to know that I'm not the only one who found Karen Carpenter's voice to be astonishing in it's quality. She had special clarity to her voice that few female singers could or can match (the young Toni Tennille was close).

    Ms. Carpenter was the polar opposite of Janis Joplin, who's music I also enjoy. Each seemed to be at the best limits of their own style. So much talent needlessly gone too soon (in both cases).

  7. I have to admit that I always viewed this music to be a guilty pleasure, but I'm glad I'm not the only one who enjoys it.

    I have to admit I was surprised when I was listening to it in my office and my wife walked in and admitted she liked it, too. I always knew she had good taste!

  8. Clayton, the Calling Occupant video was not a Carpenters production except for the frames that actually show them (and often not the surrounding image). Only the original Star Trek series images even existed at the time she died. A Carpenters/Star Trek fan created the video.

  9. I appreciate the Carpenters and Karen Carpenter in particular much more now than I did at the time.

  10. A few years ago my early 20s niece who had always been just a little overweight decided to start dieting. She was trying all sorts of whacko fad diets. And losing way too much weight.

    Knowing that she was a music lover I sent her a CD with one song on it - Karen Carpenter singing Your Baby Doesn't Love You Anymore.

    I told her to sit down in a dark room, put on her good headphones, close her eyes and play the song. Don't listen to the words, just the sound of Karen's voice.

    When the song was over I told her, that voice died at the age of 32 when her heart failed due to complications from anorexia.

    My niece eventually lost the 20 lbs she wanted to, but she did it by eating healthy and exercising.

    She told me last year that every time she looks in a mirror and thinks she needs to lose a little more weight she gets out that CD and listens, and knows that she is just fine the way she is.