February 4, 2016

The Legacy of Karen Carpenter

"When I was young, I'd listen to the radio, waiting for my favorite songs."


The opening lines from the Carpenters' hit "Yesterday Once More" seem to ring of days gone by. In fact, it was 33 years ago the world lost the greatest female voice of the seventies and of her generation. On that day, Karen Carpenter passed away, but the very memorable music she crafted with her gifted brother Richard continues to reach new fans every decade since.

Unfortunately, her death from anorexia nervosa overshadowed her art in the earliest years, but the public has moved on to finally first recognizing her as the amazing artist she was- a once in a lifetime vocalist. With brother Richard as arranger, songwriter, producer, and musical partner, the Carpenters were a recording act for all time. 

"Close to You", "We've Only Just Begun", "Rainy Days and Mondays", "Superstar", "Goodbye to Love", "A Song For You", "Top of the World", "Only Yesterday", "Please Mr. Postman", and of course, Karen's favorite "I Need to Be in Love". Playful or serious, these incredible recordings defined music in their time and are still played today. Even as the duo's popularity waned, the least of their best selling albums contained instant classics. Enough hits to fill two full discs of music without a trace of filler. 

Karen's voice was instantly recognizable, the mark of a great artist.  Pure tones without having to scream to make an impact. No studio tricks in order to make you listen. Just talent. Intimate, engaging, richly deep, and sensual. All those wonderful multi-tracked vocals of the brother and sister displayed Richard's genius in arranging the songs and producing Karen's voice.  

Do you ever wonder why you don't hear covers of Carpenters songs on The Voice or American Idol? Easy. Although Karen made it all sound simple, in reality, the songs were very difficult to perform, and only the finest vocalists would attempt them. Yet, Karen's voice along Richard's production combined to make their versions definitive. Even Christmas songs became theirs. When no one else was recording these favorites, they set the new standard for holiday music with their 1978 release of "Christmas Portrait". 

Photo from her long delayed solo album.

Karen's influence is still heard today. Every time I hear Adele sing "Someone Like You", I hear Karen and her first take- the one released as a single- on the Leon Russell classic "Superstar". Vocalists as varied as Rumer, Madonna, Gloria Estefan, k.d. lang, Shania Twain, and Christina Aguilera have named Karen an influence. Even British singer Harriet, a lovely woman with a voice eerily similar, wisely avoids doing covers of Carpenters songs.




As part of a duo or a solo artist, there's only one Karen Carpenter. The woman could sing, and she could sing anything. Try out one of these lesser known, non-single, favorites from their/her catalogue-

Album Title: Song

Ticket to Ride/Offering:  All of My Life
Close to You: Baby It's You
Carpenters (aka Tan album): Hideaway
A Song For You: Road Ode
Now and Then: Our Day Will Come
Horizon: Desperado
A Kind of Hush: Boat to Sail
Passage: B'wana She No Home
Made in America: Strength of a Woman
Voice of the Heart: Ordinary Fool
Lovelines: Kiss Me The Way You Did Last Night
As Time Goes By: Karen's medley with Ella Fitzgerald
Karen Carpenter: Still Crazy After All These Years


For those of you new to the duo or to Karen, what wonderful discoveries await you! For those of you already familiar with their work, it will be a trip down memory lane. Want more Karen and Richard? To date, there's over 80 more posts on this blog, including album reviews, very rare photos, and much more.
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Follow this link if you want to read about Karen's last hours and the documentary that was made about it. 
If you want to read my original reviews of each Carpenters album (and here solo album) starting at the beginning, go here. Or if you want to see how I've changed my perspective on each album after years, start with Ticket to Ride Revisited.

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