November 26, 2022

Glamorous Parisian Auto Show

Paris, France in 1952- at least as depicted in the poster. Auto shows are popular the world over, and we've unintentionally run into them in Germany and the outskirts of Newport, Rhode Island as well as an unofficial one in Monte Carlo, Monaco. This particular poster captures the glitz and glamour you'd expect in one of the world's most beautiful cities. Just one more reason to leave the Disney World behind and see the real one.

November 24, 2022

Sometimes Not Often Enough


Today is Thanksgiving. Sometimes- wow, what a record! This simple and very beautiful song by the Carpenters is the nearest thing we have to them singing a song befitting this holiday. Of course, their Christmas Portrait is filled with songs that include sacred ones. Karen's rendition of Silent Night being one of the most striking ones giving honor to the One who makes Christmas what it is truly about.
 
Karen and Richard Carpenter recorded song by Felicia Mancini, daughter of famous songwriter Henry, for the Grammy award winning album Carpenters, known to fans as the Tan Album. 

Sometimes not often enough
We reflect upon the good things
And those thoughts always center 
around those we love
And I think about those people 
who mean so much to me
And for so many years have made me so very happy
And I count the times I have forgotten
 to say "thank you"
And just how much I love them
 
The live version at the top is Karen and Richard at their best. Herb Alpert knew what he was doing by signing them to A&M Records!
 

November 23, 2022

Temporarily Paused

I had planned so much for the days ahead! A nasty cold turned into a nastier sinus infection. This led to a root canal, the true cause of bigger problems. Stay tuned as things resume. And Happy Thanksgiving! We have much to be thankful for!

November 21, 2022

Bob Out, Bob In

Well my phone lit up last night when the news of Bob Chapek being replaced by Robert Iger was announced. Beyond a temporary jump in stock price, what will this bring? From a theme park lover perspective, what we need is a man with the interests and skills and vision of a first decade Michael Eisner. The same hold true for Disney's live action film division. 

I have less hope for Disney animation as they've been churning out good but not great features for years now- both Disney branded and Pixar. Marvel's not much better and Star Wars seems to struggle as well. Creativity is what fuels the company, but that's been lost. 

Elsewhere, Imagineering needs freedom to create and a huge boost in morale. But the old second generation pros are mostly gone, leaving a team that needs much work to excel. Will Walt Disney World begin to be magical again? It better do something with Epic Universe on the way.  Disneyland remains the heart and soul of the parks. Honestly, Shanghai Disneyland was a vanity project that's now biting them where it hurts. Epcot's a mess, and California Adventure is moving backwards.

Next year should prove very interesting.

 

November 19, 2022

Who Will Keep the Flame Burning for Disney's Animal Kingdom?

This beautiful photograph of a Kenyan safari provides an incredible contrast to the blues skies and snow covered landscapes of the world outside my window. These grand vistas are something that cannot be duplicated at Walt Disney World's fourth park, Disney's Animal Kingdom. They certainly have the blessing of size in Florida, but to do this would be impossible.  

As for the park itself, Kilimanjaro Safaris may be overshadowed by Pandora and its Flight of Passage attraction, but the opening day attraction remains the heart of the park. 

What will happen to the park now that creative leader Joe Rohde is gone? Is the park's future bright or under threat? Could there even be anyone left at Imagineering that can carry on and hold the torch? Moana could come and Zootopia could be around the corner, but these may not be the best direction for the park. I'd be encouraged to read some names that you think could pull it off, so do share them.

Regardless, the genesis, evolution, and revelation of Disney's Animal Kingdom continues to fascinate me. One of the blog's most popular series is a True Life Adventure named just that- and it's filled with detailed history of the park's creation and changes, rare concept art, trip reports, and more. Take a look at the past and perhaps the future of the beautiful theme park!


Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven

November 18, 2022

Meeting the Colorado Avalanche Mascot

Just hanging out with the mascot of the National Hockey League's Colorado Avalanche! Bernie's his name, and making kids happy seems to come easy. Both younger fans and adults too. My youngest son took one of his nephews to the game thanks to some tickets gifted to him at the last minute. What a fun night for both of them!

 

November 17, 2022

Poul Webb's Key West Watercolours

Artist Poul Webb did an excellent job capturing the laid back style of the Florida Keys. Although we found it in Colorado and not Florida, we've had this poster print in our home for over 30 years now. On a cold winter day, just seeing it makes me smile a bit and dream of warmer days ahead. 

Due to its placement in our home, it's next to impossible to get a good shot of it without light sources barging in. The top shot was the best I could do. But I added in the side view, above, so the colors would be more true to life. I've never seen this one on line before, so here it is.

November 14, 2022

Dine or Ditch: Disneyland's Cafe Orleans

In the world of Disney dining, sometimes the reservations you don't get lead to meals you're so glad you did. Such was the case when we could not get reservations at Disneyland's iconic Blue Bayou in New Orleans Square. But let me go back a few steps.

In a fortunate turn of events, my sister and I were out visiting our parents at the same time. (My wife was set to visit her mother during the same time but in a different part of the state. We couldn't both see all our parents, so we split up.) We decided to ask our Mom to join us for a day at Disneyland, knowing it had been three decades plus since her last visit. (Full trip report here.) We did not take the trip lightly as when your mother is 81 years old - even if she is in great shape- you plan to rest when you need to and stop for long casual meals to talk and regroup. All said, we knew at least one sit down meal would be on our agenda. Getting on a handful of "must see" attractions, including Rise of the Resistance,  was a priority, but it was still second to making sure she had a great time.

 A decent menu with a nice selection at a fair price. 

As with any Disney trip to Walt's kingdom, Pirates of the Caribbean was in the top five of our list. This happens to be my Mom's favorite ride, and even after all the newer previously unseen attractions like Rise and Indiana Jones Adventure, it remained at the top of her list. How could it not? It is an epic attraction that showcases the peak of Imagineering's creativity and accomplishment. 
 
Boarding our swamp bateaux, we floated by the magnificent Blue Bayou. Mom commented by name that she remembered they served a great Monte Cristo sandwich there.  Not being an idiot, that was my clue as to where we'd go for lunch.
 
Of course, reservations for that location were long gone. I walked over to Cafe Orleans and much to my delight, I discovered the famed sandwich was on the menu here as well. Within moments, we were all sitting on the beautiful patio overlooking New Orleans Square and the Rivers of America.  

Given this is 2022 and with Disney parks being under the leadership of Bob Chapek, I was actually surprised the offerings were not much more expensive than they were. We decided to order a Monte Cristo to share as well as a Caesar salad. My sister ordered a bowl of Chicken Gumbo soup. We all ordered drinks but threw in a Mint Julep for the three of us to taste. 

Our server was great, relaxed, friendly, and she had just the right balance of checking in on us and letting us sit and relax. Great service is a hallmark at the Disneyland Resort. Cast members there seem to take even greater pride working in the park Walt Disney himself actually created and walked in. This isn't to say that Walt Disney World has lower quality cast members. It just feels different in Anaheim. You have to experience it to understand it.

Safe to say Mom enjoyed her lunch with her favorite and only son (and daughter too!)

I was needlessly worried that we hadn't ordered enough to eat. The portions were quite large. The Parmesan fries were so addicting, perfectly seasoned and cooked. The sandwich was filling and rich- and very tasty. Half of it was more than enough to satisfy our memories and our sweet tooth. Surprisingly, the hearty portion of salad was easily shared among the three of us. The Gumbo was apparently excellent as well, and we certainly all enjoyed the Mint Julep- even without the alcohol.

All this for less than half the price of what we'd have spent at the Blue Bayou.

From arriving at our table until the time we left, it was about an hour. It was time well spent and without the feeling of being rushed by our server. A very, very enjoyable experience! We were left ready to continue our day, refreshed by being off our feet, and happy to sit and talk about the day's events while sitting in the shade during a perfect California day. 

So... is Disneyland's Cafe Orleans a Dine or Ditch?

When you want something more than hamburgers and nachos, there are not a lot of options in Disneyland proper. Cafe Orleans gives you the high quality food, something different than the ordinary, with terrific service, all at about a 30% increase in price over a theme park hamburger. Maybe best of all, you can get into the restaurant without having to maker reservations months in advance. All of this makes it well worth it. Cafe Orleans is a definite Dine.

There's one main reason you'd be tempted to Ditch. If you're needing the iconic experience of dining waterside, under a moonlit bayou night with fireflies and the sounds of Pirates of the Caribbean  off in the distance, you'll only have that at Blue Bayou. But you'll pay big bucks for similar quality food... and as of this post, that famous Monte Cristo sandwich is no longer on the menu there. 

Want more Dine or Ditch?
Check out these other reviews:

Raglan Road at Disney Springs
Sci-Fi Dine In at Disney's Hollywood Studios
Be Our Guest at Magic Kingdom
Garden Grill at Epcot
Toothsome Chocolate  Emporium at Universal Orlando

(Top photo copyright Simply Sinova. All other photographs copyright the Mark Taft.)

November 13, 2022

Sweet on the Inside

Today is a good day for this family photograph. There are so many reasons I love this photo, but there are four of them as the main subjects. As sweet on the inside as on the outside. God is good!

November 11, 2022

Carpenters Revisited: A Fresh Look at Live at the Palladium

If you think you know the whole Live at the Palladium story, I may be surprising you by including one you probably haven't heard. It was one I hadn't heard of until one incredible night of discussing the music of Karen and Richard Carpenter a few years ago.
 
Before you read this latest Fresh Look review, a Carpenters Revisited article about their late 1976 album, I'd recommend you first read my previous two reviews on Horizon and then A Kind of Hush to fully understand the story that surrounds this next release. Or even go all the way back to my review for Offering/Ticket to Ride where I look at them in chronological order and the impact the music has had on my life.
 
These days, it's an unfortunate truth that I rarely have the time to place an album on the turntable or pop a disc in the CD player and really listen to them. Life is just too busy. But the Palladium album follows Hush on my i-tunes as well as in order of release date, so I often listen to these collections back to back. That's a definite plus for this article.
-------
"Live in Concert" albums are tough. A studio recording is designed to capture the best of an artist and their current career direction as well as producing some radio friendly hits to propel sales. Conversely, a live album is designed to capture the energy and memories of a concert. Two very different things- and something especially difficult for Karen and Richard Carpenter who were first and foremost recording artists. 
 
By many professional reviewers and at times their own management and close friends, the duo was not known for their stagecraft. In fact, the Carpenters took quite a bit of criticism for being rather bland even if they were as technically precise as they could be in replicating the sounds of their records. Richard may have wanted them to come across as much like their recordings whenever possible, but by too many accounts, this worked against the duo and their image. That said, they did begin to get better reviews once Karen was up front and center instead of behind a drum kit... and Richard's arrangements of the hits for their shows were as musically compelling as the iconic ones done for their studio recordings. He is definitely a genius.
 
Just a couple of years before the release of this album, they had put out Live in Japan for that country's adoring audience. It was a Japanese only release, and I never thought we'd see another concert album. Not for Japan, and definitely not for the States.
 
After the under-performing A Kind of Hush in the U.S.A. (just barely in the Top 40 album sales but a pretty big hit in the United Kingdom at Number 3), the duo began a European tour, making up for lost time and cancelled concerts due to Karen's hospital stint the previous year. Fans were more than happy to see them in person, particularly to see Karen recovered and sounding terrific.
 
To commemorate their wildly successful tour of the U.K., Karen and Richard would release Live at the Palladium at the end of the year.  Back home, it would remain an import album in the U.S., as did Live in Japan before it. As expected, the second live in concert collection would eventually reach Japan many years later with some extra packaging details. Ever popular, it hit the Top 30 in the sales charts. Gotta love the Japanese.

The two disks- Live in Japan and Live at the Palladium couldn't be more different. Or my response to them.
 
Don't get too excited- this is a cut and paste mock up.
I just wanted to see if I could pull it off 
because I couldn't find a photo of the real one.
 
It was during the same year Hush was released (1976) that I first saw Karen and Richard in Las Vegas. They were playing at the Riviera with comedian David Brenner as their opening act. My sister and I would see two shows in one night, and I would see another show the next evening.  (It was during at the end of the second show, I got to meet Karen and Richard backstage. I'll leave that story for this post. God bless my sister for making this happen.)
 
Opening act comedian David Brenner. 

It was finally time for the first show. I was so excited to finally see Karen and Richard in person I thought the time waiting would never pass. We approached the entrance to the main showroom. After bravely offering a slight "incentive" which with my meager earnings was as much as I could afford (and I was terrified to do so), my sister and I were seated much closer to the stage than I thought we would ever be. Placed just off to the side in the center in the room, it was more than perfect! We were given a great view and in my opinion, we were placed in an optimum location for sound as well.
 
David Brenner was rather dirty- not even close by today's standards- but honestly pretty funny. Yet, I couldn't wait for him to exit the stage so that I'd finally see the musical duo I followed for many years.

It was certainly an eternity of waiting until the room darkened and the announcer stated, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Richard Carpenter!" To the opening drum line leading into Flat Baroque followed by a vocal intro of Only Yesterday, Richard came on stage to an enthusiastic crowd and hearty applause. Taking his place at the piano, he looked confident and happy.
 
A radiant Karen.

Then the moment I was really waiting for: Karen- the one and only Karen Carpenter- walked onto the stage to an absolutely thunderous round of applause. As she coyfully played with the audience during a sensual, slow boil opening to There's a Kind of Hush, her voice and charm were in full command of what was to happen. Like much of the audience, I was mesmerized. Smitten. Overwhelmed. And honestly, very emotional, close to tears with excitement. 
 
I certainly was not alone in this. Hard core fans of the duo knew and understood Richard's incredible significance to their success, but to the more casual concertgoers, there was no doubt Karen was the star. His wide range of talents (and good humor) would be further displayed throughout the evening, but Karen's was the familiar and beloved voice we heard through the radio.
 
Imagine paying this little for this show.

The official fan club newsletter dated April 1976 reveals that after completing Hush, Karen and Richard took off for a Japanese tour. Later they would return home for a series on concerts that included  Fresno, California- notable specifically because Helen Reddy was the opening act. She would release her own Palladium album in 1978. (The only known photo of them together would be at the Grammy awards in 1983.) Next up was Lake Tahoe, and then on to Las Vegas. 
 
 Definitely not a Rock and Roll look!
 
From there, it was on to Canada, the Midwest, and the East Coast before returning them once more to Las Vegas by the end of August. Giving manager Jerry Weintraub the benefit of the doubt, perhaps these dates were booked long before his tenure began, but no doubt it had to feel a bit exhausting as well as exhilarating for Karen and Richard to be back on the road. If these shows were not already booked, then the duo's new manager made a big mistake throwing them back on the road so quickly.

At least the show would be very different than their last outing.

 
With Ken and Mitzi Welch. 
 
With Joe Layton, Stage Producer.

 
In response to the bad press with the Neil Sedaka incident of 1975, and the dreadful comparison in performances between Sedaka and the Carpenters, the duo's 1976 stage show was fully transformed. If the critics considered the latest album to show a lack of ambition, the new Carpenters show was on the exact opposite side of the spectrum- full of energy, variety, and interaction with the audience. This was mainly due to the involvement of Ken and Mitzi Welch, who spent many years writing for The Carol Burnett Show and choreographer / director / producer Joe Layton. He'd won an Emmy award for the "My Name is Barbra" television show for Ms. Streisand and later also directed and produced the first U.S. television special for Olivia Newton-John.  
 

   Billboard review from July 24, 1976.
 
Never again would Richard and Karen be seen as boring, predictable, or unprofessional in concert. Yet, the duo couldn't win. Now, the show would be criticized by some for being too slick and one that didn't offer full length versions of their multiple hit records. Many fans seemed pleased, however. Still, their critics rarely were, and it was always easier for them to focus on what wasn't to their liking rather than the duo's significant strengths. Decades later, it would be this exact concert lineup  that was often enacted by one of the many Carpenters tribute bands. (Check out this one.)

Goofus hit its peak on September 25.
 
In September, by the time Goofus, their 3rd and final single from A Kind of Hush, fell off the U.S. sales charts, the duo were mid-tour and playing to full houses across the States. By the end of October, they were beginning their European tour. Two very special offerings would end the year with a surprise for fans in the U.K. with something very different for fans in the States.
 
 
Classy place for a classy act. This photo is real.

Playing several European countries, Karen and Richard saved the best for last. In the U.K. alone, they performed to 42,000 adoring fans. There, the siblings and their band did something I'd never heard of before or read about until a few years ago. Unless you are an industry insider or known those in the Carpenters entourage, you probably haven't either.

When author Randy L. Schmidt asked me to help review A Kind of Hush for his book Carpenters: An Illustrated Discography, I was blessed to have a round table discussion with Randy and two great men: Patrick Summers, Artistic and Music Director for the Houston Grand Opera and Michael Lansing, Karen's personal assistant and the sound engineer for their U.K. tour of 1976. (How I ended up with these three guys can only be described as a gift from God! I'm just an ordinary fan.)
 
As a roadie, Michael saw quite a bit! I'm going to try my best to retell a story that highlights not only the incredible response to the duo's tour but also Karen and Richard's stunning appreciation and graciousness. Here goes...
 
 So pretty in person!
 
The Carpenters were set to play a week of shows at the famous, well loved, London Palladium which was also the host venue for the monarchy's annual Royal Variety Performance
 
In addition to a charity benefit show done at the suggestion of Karen, where concert goers brought a toy in exchange for a ticket, the duo also offered a free late night performance for the city's taxi drivers. Wishing to show their appreciation for the hard work these folks who would be carting fans, media, and music critics to their shows, Karen and Richard performed their full show totally free of charge.  And they requested no media coverage for doing so. Can you imagine? In this day, every word or move by a star is used as media coverage to promote "the brand". Not with Karen and Richard. This was certainly one of the many reasons the Carpenters are so well loved in the U.K. years after turning out hit after hit. 

 The ad for the album. 

Months later back in the U.S., you can only imagine my surprise and absolute delight when I walked into my local record joint, Licorice Pizza, and discovered Live at the PalladiumThe import hit the States much, much faster than the Japanese concert album ever did, and it was only a few months after the U.K. release that I found it in the bins.

The flimsy light cardboard cover did not do the disc justice. Not one bit. The colorized photo of Richard and Karen gave it the feel of a rushed release, which in actuality it truly was. It was eye-catching, however, and certainly had a fresh look compared to how their albums were marketed previously. 

Turning the package over, I noticed it didn't include everything I heard them perform in Las Vegas. Missing from action were I Need to Be in Love, the Grease medley, the Spike Jones inspired Close to You, and their Don't Be Afraid/Sing audience participation number.  (Nor would it include Good Vibrations / Comin' Through the Rye duet which they performed in London.) Still, the most important selections of the concert was there. I couldn't wait to hear it and in a sense relive that first night! 

The Grease medley- not on the album but a blast in person!

 This photo by Andre Csillag.
 
For a hardcore fan, the initial listen to any new Carpenters album is a treat. However when the disc contains the music of a concert you actually heard in person, it's a whole new experience. Using today's vernacular, I'll shamelessly admit that this album gave me "the feels" from the first few minutes. It still does, 45 plus years later.
 
 
 
   
Performing There's A Kind of Hush  and I Need to Be in Love in Amsterdam.
I'd never seen these before.

The intro begins as I described above with Flat Baroque, a taste of Only Yesterday and then There's A Kind of Hush.  For some people, it would seem strange that one of the Carpenters lesser hits would kick things off, but in the U.K., the studio album containing the song was a solid success. In the land where Herman's Hermits first made the song famous back in 1967, it made perfect sense for Karen and Richard to highlight it for their British fans. Less refined than the studio version with a brand new arrangement, Karen's relaxed and playful rendition only hinted at what was to come.

Jambalaya's next up, one I did not hear in concert. I never understood the European and Japanese audiences love for this song. Nonetheless, it's here, but to my ears it feels a bit out of place, just as it did when it first appeared on their Now & Then album. Was the very unfortunate exclusion of Karen's heartbreaking I Need to Be in Love an effort to get fans to buy the latest studio collection? Maybe the execution or recording of the iconic song was less than perfect? I do not know, but the emotional centerpiece of A Kind of Hush certainly is missed here.
 
 
The next few selections on the live album showcase both Karen and Richard as musicians: Richard's story song Piano Picker (with brand new lyrics) is followed by Karen's drum solo on a medley of Strike Up the Band / S'Wonderful / Fascinatin' Rhythm.  
 
With headphones on and eyes closed, I can almost see her animated and very, very happy as she pounds away, moving from drum set to drum set. Toward the conclusion of her performance, the orchestra is revealed bringing a whole new dynamic to the show. Karen brings down the house with her spirited performance before leaving the stage, introducing Richard for a time of "serious music".

A rather nasty review from a UK Record Mirror writer.
December 18, 1976.
Thanks to Rick-An Ordinary Fool at the A&M Corner for this review.
 
Stating in a Rolling Stone interview in 1974 ("Up From Downey") that he wanted to perform Richard Addinsell's popular Warsaw Concerto with the Boston Pops, here it is captured in all its glory but instead with Dick Palombi and his orchestra. Richard's performance is serious in tone, befitting the piece and equally strong. In person, a giant mirror was lowered and tilted so the audience could see his masterful hands at work on the ivories. While the piece is quite effective in length, giving Karen adequate time to change clothes, it's really too long a piece to be fully appreciated. Both in person and on the album, the listener gets anxious for what's next.  
 
These two instrumental pieces make for great concert memories, but I have to wonder what would have replaced them if Karen and Richard has chosen to sing something from their vast catalogue. On the plus side, these are pieces I heard for myself and remember quite well, so I'm pleased to have them.

Karen always gave Richard respect and props on stage and off.

When Karen finally returns from her wardrobe change, the duo sits at the piano to perform a rather baroque take on Cole Porter's famous song From This Moment On. Although this is not one of my favorites on the disc, I cannot deny what it displays. With just Richard's piano and Karen's vocal, there is nothing for them to hide behind. No stacked vocals, no strings, guitar or saxophone, oboe, or harp.
 
Their precision on the tune is absolutely stunning. Richard's playing is sharp, crisp, and clear. Karen is equally impressive. The last note  particularly reminds me of what an outstanding vocalist she is. Her clarity and purity of tone is simply incredible. There is no other singer that comes even close. Not in her generation or those that have come since. Superlatives are just not enough. This selection also highlights an additional and obvious fact: All the duo truly needed to make great records was her voice and his piano. An "unplugged" disc would have been a great addition to their catalogue in the later years of their career.
 
 One hit after another.
 
As a live album, the disc hits its obvious high peak when Karen and Richard move into their medley of well known hits. Just the choruses make up a majority of the collection, but what a line up! From Close to You to For All We Know, they move on to perform Top of the World, Ticket to Ride, Only Yesterday and I Won't Last a Day Without You. The latter Paul Williams / Roger Nichols tune sounds particularly good live, and I'm still surprised as this was not one of my favorites at the time either as an album cut or a revised 1974 hit single.
 
Karen didn't want to be a star, but there was no denying that's who she was.
 
There's an ever so brief pause in the music to give the audience a chance to respond. Then Karen and Richard and their band continue with an intimate Hurting Each Other, followed by the powerhouse combination of Superstar, Rainy Days and Mondays and the majestic Carpenter/Bettis single Goodbye to Love.  We've heard this trio of songs sequenced on record together before, but in listening to it live, the impact is just mesmerizing.
 
Karen seems to balance the audience acknowledgment of each song without sacrificing the quality of her performance. Her natural warmth, vulnerability, and intimacy shine while alternating with the raw power and exacting control of her instrument. Chilling contrasts indeed.
 
In both segments of the medley, Richard hits his stride as an arranger, effortlessly it seems sequencing one smash after another in perfect harmony. Whether we like them or not, it is hard to deny that he is just brilliant at creating these. Like a loving father with his children, the strengths of each song are highlighted and never once do they distract from the ones that come before or after.

With their band mates, their friends.
 
When we fans (and more honest critics) stop to think of what Karen and Richard had accomplished in only a few years of popularity, it is pretty incredible. For good reason, their body of works remains viable even after so many decades, beloved by generation after generation. Beyond the Beatles, Elton John, and perhaps the Beach Boys, what other pop act from their generation has this kind of following?
 
Another photo by Andre Csillag.

After introducing the band and orchestra, Karen and Richard come to the front and face the audience, and toward the end while singing their signature song, We've Only Just Begun, they face each other. The sheer impact of this simple gesture is profound. Particularly hearing it in hindsight because of the tragedy coming less than a decade later, I still get choked up. In many ways, this performance feels like the duo's swan song. Substantial recording and more television was still to come, but it would all be very different than what came before.
 
With much applause, both the album and the show ends, always leaving me wanting more. And yes, it always leaves me thinking about what could and should have been.

Dec 18, 1976 Billboard Palladium show review.
 
Live at the Palladium captures Karen and Richard at the top of their game. They gave it their all, and I can feel it as I listen. Although it is well scripted, this is not fully a by the book performance. 
 
Something tells me that after Karen's health scare in 1975, she and Richard began to sincerely appreciate their fans as well as their band and each other. Maybe it is a blend of thankfulness and humility. There's an emotional connection I feel from them again as I listen to this disc- something that I sensed was missing from the earlier Live in Japan, where the songs are full length but their performance feels almost strained at times as the duo tries to duplicate the perfection of their studio accomplishments. 
 
Perhaps it is my short discussion with Karen after the performance that makes me read into it all. Maybe I just wanted to believe this because I was so moved by the evening's concert and the unbelievable blessing of meeting Richard and Karen backstage. Time, nostalgia, emotions all in play. Even in writing this, I'm transformed back to years past.

Oh, that voice. Just as wonderful as on record.

Richard and Karen released the Palladium album to commemorate the sold out tour on December 10. Their BBC television network special also featured the group performing the same show. Closer listening actually reveals this disc comes from a different concert than what played on BBC television. Still, with this type of publicity, the live in concert album reached #28 on the U.K. charts, making the Carpenters gift to fans a very popular Christmas present in British households.

 
In the U.S., Americans did not get the Palladium album. (Neither did Japan initially.) In it's place, Stateside fans got a gift of a different kind: The Carpenters Very First Television Special.  
 
Back in March of 1976, Billboard magazine discussed Barry Manilow being signed to ABC for a television special. Others artists already under contract to do the same were Captain & Tennille, Diana Ross, Olivia Newton-John, and John Denver. Although long term this may not have been good for their career, Karen and Richard were in some very good company.

Victor Borge, Karen, Richard, and John Denver.
 
Naturally, their shrewd manager Jerry Weintraub got his other big client John Denver to appear on the Carpenters show and duet with each sibling, his medley with Karen of Good Vibrations/Comin' Thru the Rye being the highlight. Karen's friend Olivia Newton-John shows up to give Richard a kiss after he wins an auto race against the great Al Unser.  Unfortunately, there's no musical number with Olivia. If there were, we'd all be cherishing that at this point in time.
 
In a poor move from a strategic standpoint, gifted pianist Victor Borge appears with Richard for a brief segment. He appeals to a much older audience, and the duo instantly loses any credibility with the younger crowd- the one currently buying albums- and radio programmers. This unfortunate pairing solidly shoved Richard back in the very limiting box much of America kept him in.  Career manager Weintraub clearly forgot the end game. His job was strengthening his client's superstar status while concurrently increasing sales. In this regard, Jerry failed them miserably.
 
This would not be a wise thing to do today.

I was glued to the television set. Karen was as charming as ever, and Richard seemed like he did know how to have some fun.  All said, the disaster of the Borge decision aside, the first television special was mostly a pretty good piece of image marketing. 
 
Parts from the Palladium album do make it onto the show- the drum medley and a revised hits finale. In an interesting move, the Spike Jones version of Close to You that was wisely cut from the album shows up on the television special. In a country obsessed with ranking everything, the U.S. presentation is a big hit, earning great numbers in the Neilsen ratings for the week, landing at number 6.
 
During the Hits medley. A rarely seen outtake...
 
... and with just a touch of color correction.
 
The television special has zero impact on their album sales, however. A Kind of Hush does not reappear on the Billboard charts nor is a fourth single released.


By many accounts, the year was a decent one for Karen and Richard. Karen's health seemed to recover, and the Sedaka incident was now mostly behind them. Their international tour brought them to even greater heights, and the first of several television shows was a hit. 

Even though their album sales were not nearly as strong as in the past, Karen and Richard had established a solid market for them to continue making and selling albums and performing in front of an audience whenever they wished to do so. 

Usually I only consider studio albums when asked to rank my favorites by the duo. If included, Live at the Palladium would easily make my Top Ten. Why? Much like A Kind of Hush, it's almost impossible for me to separate this disc from the events in my life surrounding it, the bundle of emotions from seeing Karen and Richard perform live for the first time, and meeting them afterwards.  It was definitely the highlight of my year.

After a stellar and unforgettable summer, I ended 1976 completing my first, my only, my last, semester at community college. I began to drift as I couldn't decide what route to take with my life. But I knew it was time to make a break with the past and move on into adulthood in a new way.

I had no idea change was on the horizon for the Carpenters in a big way.  As I would discover in the coming year, brand new management and television specials were only the beginning.

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On the Insights blog, there are also numerous stand alone posts about Karen and Richard Carpenter highlighting different aspects of their career, recordings, and life. There's many unique photos to be found here as well. I've also written extensively about their music, album by album, and how each affected their career and my life. Since there are stories about my life mixed in, you'll also get a glimpse of what it meant to grow up in Southern California during the 70s.

Below is the list of my "Revisited /Fresh Look" reviews and those that came a decade earlier.