October 28, 2008

Milestone Not Tombstone: The Carpenters Singles 1969 - 1973

Somewhere, somehow, word got out years after its release that Richard Carpenter regretted, even hated, the look of this album cover. I certainly couldn't disagree more! The cover has a timeless elegance, much like the music inside.

As I faithfully started tracking their hits, it wasn't very long before I realized Richard and Karen had amassed quite a few- enough for an album of just hits. Naturally the executives at A&M Records were way ahead of me!

The Now & Then collection was an undeniable smash, and the inspired hit Yesterday Once More brought the Carpenters to arguably their pinnacle in worldwide popularity. In an odd twist, at least in this teen's mind, a third single was not released in the United States. In hindsight this must have been preparatory for the duo's first hits compilation.

November 17th, 1973 Billboard magazine ad.

During the second week of November, The Singles 1969-1973 became available to the public. As with earlier albums, I promptly snapped it up on the day of its release, somewhat disappointingly expecting a collection of terrific 45 rpm hits and nothing more.

The packaging of the album brought together a terrific photo of the duo with liner notes praising their efforts, comparing their hits to timeless classics from years gone by. Maybe offputting to the hip crowd of the day but 100% right on the money. With their visit to the White House at the invitation of President Nixon in May of the same year and an appearance on a Bob Hope television special as well, this verbage, however, only further cemented the Carpenters conservative image.

Back to the music. What a pleasant surprise awaited me as I sat on the sofa album in hand and disc on the turntable! The back of the album said "We've Only Just Begun" was the first song, yet I heard "Close to You" instead. Then it hit me. Richard created an overture comprised of pieces of hits to open the collection. Another stroke of his genius. Never one to underestimate their audience or rest on past achievements, Richard always strove for the best possible. Here a simple hits package became something classy and unique because it was given the Carpenters touch. I was hooked and ran to the turntable to restart the album to really listen this time. Wow.

The new version of "Top of the World" was still playful and warm but with a newly found confidence in Karen's vocal that didn't seem present the first time around. Quite a treat. It was selection number three, however, that made me once again take notice.

Maybe a sacrilege to some, but I always thought of Karen and Richard's Ticket to Ride as a passable track, nothing more. My perception changed the moment I heard this new version. The vocal performance is clearly improved, but Richard's new arrangement and production of the song brings it to its fullest potential. Listening to this new take, you could just hear the old music business sages saying "This kid's learned quite a bit in the last couple of years!"

From Superstar to Rainy Days and Mondays to Goodbye to Love on, Side One of the record continued to surprise and delight me. Turning the platter over, I expected more enhancements and flourishes but found nothing- except more great music: Yesterday Once More, For All We Know, Hurting Each Other. The hits did just keep on coming.

(Above, unknown origin 1973-1974 timeframe)

By the time the last song- Close to You- began, I realized in one masterstroke of wisdom, by gathering the hits and presenting a great package, Richard had placed the Carpenters stamp on the American musical landscape for good. No critic, professional or otherwise, could listen to this collection and call them a fluke. Not a one-hit wonder. Not just a trend. This compilation was a multimillion seller all over the world. The Carpenters were timeless musical artists- and they were here to stay. At least that was the plan...

1 comment:

Jim Clarey said...

Wonderful assessment. I enjoy reading about Carpenters when you announce it on the A&M Corner forum. Thank you.