Friday, January 2, 2015

The Carpenters, The #7 Artist of the Seventies*

This amazing brother and sister duo featured Richard, with his uncanny ability to arrange (critic Daniel Levitin called him "one of the most gifted arrangers to emerge in popular music), and sister Karen, with her haunting contralto voice and range of three octaves.  Throughout their career, the duo hand-selected some of the top musicians in the business to back them.

Richard and Karen were both born in Connecticut, then moved to Downey, California in 1963.  Richard enrolled at California State College at Long Beach the following year; there he met songwriter John Bettis, with whom he would team up to write songs together.  Karen graduated from Downey High School, and was encouraged to play the drums by Frankie Chavez. 

Richard played the grand piano, electric piano, harpsichord, Hammond organ and synthesizer.  With Karen on drums and Wes Jacobs, who played bass and tuba, they formed the Richard Carpenter Trio.  The group practiced for hours, and signed up for the annual Hollywood Bowl Battle of the Bands in 1966. 

After winning the contest on June 24, the group earned a recording contract with RCA Records.  The group recorded some singles that did not catch on.  Later in the year, Karen went along with Richard, who was to accompany an auditioning trumpet player, to the studio of bassist Joe Osborn.  Asked to sing, Karen so impressed Osborn that he signed her to his label, Magic Lamp Records, and Karen recorded the single "Looking For Love". 

That single did not become a hit either, and the label went out of business.  But Osborn continued to let Karen and Richard use his recording studio.  In 1967, Richard and Karen joined the band Spectrum, which often played at the famous Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles.  Bettis was also a member of Spectrum, and worked with the Carpenters until Karen's death in 1983. 

The group broke up in 1968, and Jacobs left to join the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.  Richard and Karen made their television debut on Your All American College Show later in the year.  The duo recorded a demo tape, and were signed by A&M Records.  Richard worked out an arrangement with owner Herb Alpert where the group had full control over their music and a free rein in the recording studio.

In 1969, the group released the album Offering, and their cover of the Beatles hit "Ticket To Ride" reached the Top 20 on the Adult chart.  The album was later renamed after the single and re-released in 1970.

In 1970, the Carpenters released the album Close To You and  their version of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song "(They Long To Be) Close To You" as a single.  It went to #1 for four weeks on the Popular chart and even stronger among adults (#1 for six weeks) in the United States, and also reached #1 in Canada and Australia and #6 in the U.K. and Ireland.  "Close To You" not only became one of The Top Songs of 1970, but one of The Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era*.

Sales for the album skyrocketed, and Close to You has now gone over two million in sales, a considerable number for 1970.  The album climbed all the way to #2 on the Album chart.  The follow-up single was Richard's adaptation of a song he had seen in a television commercial for Crocker National Bank, "We've Only Just Begun".  The duo hit #2 with it overall in the U.S., but topped the Adult chart for seven weeks, and both singles from the album went Gold.  The song also went to #1 in Canada and #6 in Australia. 

The album was so solid that many non-singles received considerable airplay, such as "Love Is Surrender".

"Maybe It's You" also was in high demand at Carpenters concerts.

Another solid track on the album is "I Kept On Loving You".
And we saved one of our favorites on Close To You--"Crescent Noon", a gem that features Karen's great alto voice.

At the end of the year, the Carpenters released the single "Merry Christmas Darling".  It not only was popular at the time, but repeatedly returned to the Christmas charts in the years to come, becoming one of the top original Christmas songs of the past half-century.

The duo's first year was so phenomenal that they received eight Grammy nominations, unprecedented for a new act.  The Carpenters won Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus for "Close To You" and for Best New Artist.  "Close To You" was also nominated for Record of the Year and Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals, while "We've Only Just Begun" was nominated for Song of the Year and Best Contemporary Song and the album Close to You was nominated for Album of the Year and Best Engineered Recording.

The Carpenters released their self-titled album in 1971, which matched its predecessor with a peak of #2.

Richard got the idea for the duo's next single after hearing the song "For All We Know" from the movie Lovers and Other Strangers.  He put his magic touch on it, and "For All We Know" became the group's third Gold single.  It reached #3 in the U.S. (#1 for three weeks on the Adult chart), #7 in Canada, and #10 in Australia.

The Carpenters has now gone Quadruple Platinum.  "Rainy Days And Mondays" was kept out of the top spot only by Carole King's "It's Too Late" in the U.S., and hit #7 in Canada.  The single sold over one million copies, and landed at #1 for four weeks on the Easy Listening chart.

Every talk and variety show on the planet wanted to book the Carpenters, who appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Carol Burnett Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and The Johnny Cash Show, among others.  The duo appeared in a television special on the BBC, and they hosted the summer replacement series, Make Your Own Kind of Music, on NBC.

"Superstar" also went to #1 on the Adult chart, the group's fifth consecutive #1.  It peaked at #2 overall in the United States and #3 in Canada, and also sold over one million units.  The song was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals.

The album The Carpenters captured the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, and it was also nominated for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group and Best Engineered Recording.

The group released the best album of their career, A Song for You, in 1972.  "Bless The Beasts And The Children" peaked at #26 on the Adult chart, a highly underrated spot for one of The Most Important Songs of the Rock Era*.  Many radio stations discovered they had missed the boat when the song joined "Superstar" in being nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals.

The Carpenters released "Hurting Each Other" as the next single with better results.  The song returned them to #1 on the Adult chart and #2 overall in the U.S. (although most stations had it #1), #2 in Canada, and #4 in Australia.  "Hurting Each Other" became the duo's sixth single in a three-year period to sell over one million copies.

The Carole King song "It's Going To Take Some Time" vaulted to #2 for four weeks on the Adult chart, and peaked at an underrated #12 overall in the U.S. and #13 in Canada.

Richard and Bettis wrote "Goodbye To Love", which featured a great guitar solo from Tony Peluso.  It reached #4 in Canada and #7 in the U.S. (#2 Adult).

A Song for You peaked at #4 on the Album chart and has now sold over three million copies in the United States alone.  The title cut is another outstanding song on the album.

We want to feature another album track that helped the album receive so much attention and airplay--"Road Ode".

In 1973, the group released the album Now & Then, the Carpenters' third album to reach #2.  "Sing" went to #1 on the Adult chart and #3 overall in the United States and #4 in Canada, and sold over one million copies.  It was nominated at the Grammy Awards for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Vocal and Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals.

The single "Yesterday Once More" became one of the group's biggest international hits, giving the Carpenters their eighth #1 Adult song, and peaking at #2 overall in the United States, #1 in Canada, #2 in the U.K., #5 in Japan and the Netherlands, #8 in Ireland, and #9 in Australia.  It also went Gold.
But A Song for You was still selling like hotcakes, with fans clamoring to hear more from the great album.  So the Carpenters took the unique step of going back and releasing more singles from it after the new album Now & Then was well underway.  "Top Of The World" was originally intended to be an album track, but when Lynn Anderson released it, the Carpenters decided to release their version as well.

"Top Of The World" spun up to #1 in the U.S. and Canada, #3 in Ireland, and #5 in the U.K., and became the group's ninth Gold single.

The duo released another song originally included on their 1972 album A Song for You--"I Won't Last A Day Without You", and it was an underrated #7 in Canada and #11 in the United States.  The song did go to #1 on the Adult chart, incredibly the Carpenters' ninth Adult #1, and their 12th song to reach at least #2.

Now & Then went Double Platinum, the duo's fourth consecutive album to sell at least two million copies.  In 1973, the Carpenters performed at the White House for U.S. President Richard Nixon and West German chancellor Willy Brandt.

The Carpenters followed with the release of their compilation The Singles:  1969-1973.  The album went to #1 in the United States, and topped the U.K. chart for 17 weeks to become one of the best-selling albums of the decade.  The Singles 1969-1973 has now sold over seven million albums in the U.S. alone.  

In 1975, the Carpenters released the album Horizon, which contained a remake of "Please Mr. Postman" by the Marvelettes.  The song went to #1 on both the Adult and Popular charts in the United States and Canada, #2 in the U.K. and Ireland, and #4 in New Zealand, and sold over one million singles.

Horizon sold over one million copies, the duo's fifth straight Platinum release.  The Carpenter/Bettis song "Only Yesterday" made it 11 #1 songs on the Adult chart and #2 overall in the U.S., #4 in Canada, #5 in Ireland, and #7 in the U.K.

The single "Solitaire" went to #6 in New Zealand and #17 in the United States.

Later in the year, the Carpenters released their jazz-influenced single "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town". 

In 1976, the group released the album A Kind of Hush, which went Gold. The title song reached #5 in New Zealand, #7 in Ireland, and #12 in the United States, but among adults--you guessed it--a fifth straight #1 song.

The follow-up single, "I Need To Be In Love", gave the Carpenters a sixth consecutive #1 on the Adult chart, making them the only act in history to put together two streaks of at least five #1 songs.

In 1976, The Carpenters' Very First Television Special aired, and was ranked as the #6 program on television that night.  Another special, The Carpenters at Christmas, aired in 1977.
The duo ventured into other genres for the album Passage in 1977.  The album contained jazz fusion, calypso, and orchestrated ballads.  The first single, "All You Get From Love Is A Love Song" landed at #4 on the Adult chart. 

The single "Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft" used over 160 singers and musicians.  The Carpenters supported it with their television special Space Encounters.  It flew to #1 in Ireland, #9 in the U.K. and Canada, and gave the Carpenters (Richard specifically) yet another Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals.

Later in the year, the Carpenters released the album Christmas Portrait, now considered to be a staple of Christmas music.  The duo hosted another television special, The Carpenters:  A Christmas Portrait, in December.  In addition to "Merry Christmas Darling" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town", the album contained four other songs that have become Christmas favorites.  Arranging songs in a unique, magical way was what Richard did best--this is the duo's version of the popular "(There's No Place Like) Home For The Holidays".

The duo recorded their version of "Sleigh Ride", one that is now considered amongst the best of the song.

Another Christmas standard on the album is the duo's remake of the Nat King Cole classic "The Christmas Song".

Christmas Portrait is now approaching two million in sales.  Karen delivered another outstanding vocal performance on "I'll Be Home For Christmas".

To his credit, Richard sought treatment for his addiction to Quaaludes for six weeks in 1979.  Rather than taking a break with her brother, or seeking help for her anorexia, Karen recorded a solo album with producer Phil Ramone.  But the album was rejected by A&M, which devastated Karen.  It was finally released in 1996.

The Carpenters continued to record, releasing their final studio album in 1981.  Karen finally sought therapy for her eating disorder, and after admitting herself into a New York hospital in September, she gained 30 pounds in eight weeks.  Despite pleas from family and friends, Karen announced that she was cured and was returning to California.

On February 3, Karen visited her parents.  The following morning, her mother found her unresponsive on the floor.  Richard and her parents rushed Karen to the hospital, but she died of emetine cardiotoxicity resulting from anorexia.  Millions of fans around the world mourned the loss of one of the most amazing voices the world has ever heard.        

Later in the year, the Carpenters received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Following Karen's death, Richard continued to produce recordings of the duo's music, including several albums of previously unreleased material.  Richard and his wife gave a $3 million gift to the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza Foundation in memory of Karen.  He also helped with the Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center at his alma mater California State University, Long Beach.

The Carpenters classics "Close To You" and "We've Only Just Begun' were both inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

The Carpenters scored 25 hits in the decade, which ranks sixth.  They were about as consistent as anyone in the Rock Era with 12 huge Top 10 songs and three #1's.  They racked up 24 hits on the Adult chart, and an incredible 21 of those 24 reached the Top 10, and 14 of the 24 went to #1.  Only Elton John (16) has more #1 songs on the Adult chart than the Carpenters.  The Carpenters sold over 13.5 million albums in the U.S. alone.

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