The Carpenters

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Karen and Richard Carpenter at the White House, August 1, 1972
Background information
Origin Los Angeles, California, United States
Genres Pop, soft rock, adult contemporary, easy listening
Years active 1969–1983
Labels A&M, Universal Music Group
Associated acts The Richard Carpenter Trio
Past members

The Carpenters[1] were an American vocal and instrumental duo consisting of siblings Karen and Richard Carpenter. Producing a distinctively soft musical style, they became among the best-selling music artists of all time. During their 14-year career, the Carpenters recorded 11 albums, 31 singles, five television specials, and a short-lived television series. Their career ended in 1983 by Karen's death from heart failure brought on by complications of anorexia. Extensive news coverage surrounding the circumstances of her death increased public awareness of eating disorders.[2][3]

The duo's brand of melodic pop produced a record-breaking run of hit recordings on the American Top 40 and Adult Contemporary charts, and they became leading sellers in the soft rock, easy listening and adult contemporary genres. The Carpenters had three No. 1 singles and five No. 2 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and fifteen No. 1 hits on the Adult Contemporary chart. In addition, they had twelve top 10 singles. To date, the Carpenters' album and single sales total more than 100 million units.[4]

Musical and lyrical style

Richard Carpenter was the creative force behind the Carpenter sound.[5] An accomplished keyboard player, composer and arranger, music critic Daniel Levitin called Richard Carpenter "one of the most gifted arrangers to emerge in popular music."[6] In a period when contemporary music was dominated by heavy rock, their smooth harmonies were not in step with the trends of the day.[7] The sound the Carpenters were going for was rich and melodic, along the same vein as the harmonies found in their contemporaries The Beach Boys and the The Mamas & the Papas, but with greater fullness and orchestration.[8] Most of Richard's arrangements were classical in style, with frequent use of strings and occasional brass and woodwind instruments as well. Richard's work with Karen was heavily influenced by the music of Les Paul, whose overdubbing of the voice of partner Mary Ford allowed her to be used as both the lead and harmonizing vocals.[7] By use of multi-tracked recordings, Richard was able to use Karen and himself for the harmonies to back Karen's lead. The overdubbed background harmonies were distinctive to the Carpenters, but it was the soulful, engaging sound of Karen's lead voice that made them so recognizable.

Karen did not possess a powerful singing voice, but when miked closely she conveyed a great deal of feeling. Tight miking required perfect pitch, which came easily to her. Richard Coles, a musician and broadcaster, commented: "No singer is so closely micked up so unforgivingly as Karen Carpenter. That is frightening for singers because the closer the microphone the more unforgiving it is in exposing the weaknesses in a singer's voice."[8] Karen's contralto voice was warm and distinctive. Though her vocal range spanned three octaves,[9] Richard arranged their music to take advantage of the rich quality of Karen's lower range. Commented Richard: "Both Karen and I felt the magic was in her 'chest voice'. There is no comparison in terms of richness in sound, so I wasn't about to highlight the upper voice".[10] Many of the Carpenters' songs are in the keys of D ("You", "There's a Kind of Hush (All Over the World)"), E flat ("Only Yesterday"), E ("Hurting Each Other", "Yesterday Once More"), F ("I'll Never Fall in Love Again"), and G ("And When He Smiles", "Reason to Believe", "For All We Know", "You'll Love Me").[11]

Richard is best known for his use of the Wurlitzer electric piano, whose sound he described as "warm" and "beautiful". He also played the grand piano, Hammond organ, synthesizer and even the harpsichord with the band. In the recording studio he often would overdub his acoustic piano parts with a Wurlitzer electric piano to thicken the sound. From the mid-1970s Richard also used Fender Rhodes pianos. While touring he often would have a grand piano as well as both a Rhodes and a Wurlitzer electric piano on stage for different songs.

Karen was an accomplished drummer, and playing drums was her sole role in her initial musical performances with her brother. When it became apparent to Richard that she had a beautiful and distinctive voice, she sang for the group in addition to playing the drums. Karen played the drums on all their pre-1974 songs. According to Richard, she considered herself a "drummer who sang".[12] However Karen's vocals soon became the centerpiece of the group's performances, and at 5'4" in stature performing behind her drum kit made it difficult for her to be seen. It was soon apparent to Richard and their manager that the audience wanted to see more of Karen. Although unwilling, she eventually agreed to sing the ballads standing up front, returning back to her drum kit for the lesser known songs. As the group's popularity increased demand for Karen's vocals overshadowed her drumming. She gradually played the drums less. By the time their album A Kind of Hush was released in 1976 she did not play the drums in the studio sessions at all;[13] she only played during concerts. From spring 1976 onward the tours would include both a drum medley for Karen and a piano solo number for Richard.[14] Karen made a final return to drumming in the studio on the track "When It's Gone (It's Just Gone)" on the album Made in America, albeit in tandem with Nashville session drummer Larrie Londin, and she provided percussion in tandem with Paulinho da Costa on the song "Those Good Old Dreams".


1946–64: Childhood

The Carpenters were both born at Grace-New Haven Hospital (now called Yale-New Haven Hospital) in New Haven, Connecticut, to parents Harold and Agnes.[15] Richard Lynn was born on October 15, 1946, and Karen Anne followed on March 2, 1950.[16] Richard was a quiet child who spent most of his time in the house listening to records and playing the piano.[17] Karen, on the other hand, was friendly and outgoing; she liked to play sports, including softball with the neighborhood kids, but she also spent a lot of time listening to music.[17]

In June 1963, the Carpenter family moved to the Los Angeles suburb of Downey, California.[18][19] In the fall of 1964, Richard enrolled at California State College at Long Beach where he met future songwriting partner John Bettis; Wesley Jacobs, a friend who played the bass and tuba for the Richard Carpenter Trio; and Frank Pooler, with whom Richard would collaborate to create the Christmas standard "Merry Christmas Darling" in 1966.[20]

That same fall, Karen enrolled at Downey High School, where she found she had a knack for playing the drums.[18][21]

Friend and fellow band member Frankie Chavez inspired Karen to play the drums. She would often borrow Chavez's drum kit when he taught her. "She and Frankie … must have worked down the rudiments, the cadences, and the press-rolls for hours", recalls Richard. When Karen finally got a Ludwig drum kit from her parents in late 1964, she was able to play it professionally, in what Richard had described in their documentary, Close to You: Remembering the Carpenters as "exotic time signatures".[22][12]

1965–68: The Richard Carpenter Trio and Spectrum

By 1965, Karen had been practicing the drums for a year, and Richard was refining his piano techniques with Pooler as his teacher. In late 1965 Richard teamed up with classmate and friend Wes Jacobs, who played tuba and stand-up bass. With his sister playing drums, the three formed a jazz trio.[20]

In mid-1966 the Richard Carpenter Trio entered the Hollywood Bowl annual Battle of the Bands. They played an instrumental version of "The Girl from Ipanema" and their own piece titled "Iced Tea". The trio won the Battle of the Bands on June 24, 1966, and were signed up by RCA Records.[18] They recorded songs such as The Beatles' "Every Little Thing" and Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night" for RCA. An RCA committee reviewed their recordings and chose not to produce them, and the Richard Carpenter Trio were released from RCA. In 1991, some twenty-five years later, a couple of these recordings were released as part of a "From The Top" boxed set of Carpenters material.[23]

Later in 1966, Karen tagged along at a late-night session in the garage studio of Los Angeles bassist Joe Osborn, and joined future Carpenters collaborator and lyricist John Bettis at a demo session where Richard was to accompany an auditioning trumpet player.[12][24] Asked to sing, Karen performed for Osborn, who said "Never mind the trumpet player; this chubby little girl can sing."[25]

Osborn signed Karen by herself as a singer to his fledgling label, Magic Lamp Records, and the label put out a single featuring two of Richard's compositions, "Looking for Love" and "I'll Be Yours". The single was not a hit, and the label soon became defunct. However, Osborn let Karen and Richard continue to use his studio to record demo tapes.[26]

In 1967, Richard and Karen teamed up with four other student musicians from Long Beach State to form a band called "Spectrum".[12][27] The group often performed at the Whisky a Go Go.[26][28] Spectrum member John Bettis worked with the Carpenters until Karen's death in 1983, composing many songs with Richard.

In 1968, Spectrum disbanded, and Wes Jacobs of the Richard Carpenter Trio left for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.[29] Richard and Karen received an offer to be on the television program Your All American College Show in mid-1968. Their performance of June 22, 1968 was Richard's and Karen's first television appearance.[4] During this time Richard and Karen continued to refine their craft and produced demo tapes in Joe Osborn 's garage. One of these was heard by A&M Records' Herb Alpert, who was intrigued by Karen's voice. The A&M co-owner signed them to a record contract. Said Richard: "We signed with A&M. In came Herb and he shook our hands and said in so many words 'It was a pleasure to meet you. Let's hope we have some hits.' "[25]

1969–83: Carpenters

Richard and Karen Carpenter signed to A&M Records on April 22, 1969, under the name "Carpenters". Since Karen was technically underage (she was 19 at the time), her parents had to co-sign for her.[18][30] Richard and Karen had decided to sign as "Carpenters", without the definite article. Karen said they had been influenced in the name by the pop music group Bread. In the album notes for their 2004 release, Carpenters Gold: 35th Anniversary Edition, Richard stated:

After much thought, we decided to name the act "Carpenters" (No "The"; we thought it sounded hipper without it, like Buffalo Springfield or Jefferson Airplane.)[1]

Offering (Ticket to Ride)

When Richard and Karen Carpenter signed to A&M Records, they were given free rein in the recording studio to create an album in their distinctive style.[12] Their debut album, entitled Offering, was released in October 1969, and featured a number of songs that Richard had written or co-written during their Spectrum period.[31] A ballad rendition of "Ticket to Ride" was released as a single and became a minor hit for the Carpenters, peaking at No. 54 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the Top 20 of the Adult Contemporary chart.[32] The album itself sold poorly initially. However, after the Carpenters' subsequent breakthrough the album was repackaged and reissued internationally under the name Ticket to Ride and sold moderately.

Close to You

Despite the poor showing of the Carpenters' initial album, A&M stayed with them and had them develop songs for a second album. Herb Alpert asked Richard to re-work a Burt Bacharach/Hal David song titled "(They Long to Be) Close to You". The Carpenters' version was released as a 45 RPM record single. It debuted at No. 56, the highest debut of the week ending June 20, 1970.[33] Over the next five weeks it vaulted to No. 1, reaching that perch on July 25, and staying there for the next four weeks.[12] Said Burt Bacharach "The arrangement of "Close to You" that Richard did compared to the arrangement that I did for myself and for Dione and the original record with Richard Chamberlain I'd say is twenty times better, Richard's arrangement than my arrangement. I really missed and he really nailed it. He just got a great feel, a great loop, the dotted eighth and sixteenth feel. It's great."[7]

Their next hit was with a song Richard had seen in a television commercial for Crocker National Bank, "We've Only Just Begun", which was written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols. Three months after "(They Long to Be) Close to You" reached No. 1, the Carpenters' version of "We've Only Just Begun" reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the first of their eventual five No. 2 hits (it wasn't able to get past "I'll Be There" by The Jackson 5 & "I Think I Love You" by The Partridge Family during its four-week stay). The song became the first hit single for Williams and Nichols and is considered by Richard Carpenter to be the group's signature tune.[12]

"Close to You" and "We've Only Just Begun" became RIAA certified Gold singles and were featured on the best-selling album Close to You, which placed No. 175 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list in 2003.[34]

The duo rounded out the year with the holiday release of "Merry Christmas Darling". The single scored high on the holiday charts and would repeatedly return to the holiday charts in subsequent years. In 1978, feeling she could give a more mature treatment to the tune, Karen re-cut the vocal for their Christmas TV special; this remake also became a hit.

Carpenters and A Song for You

A string of hit singles and albums kept the Carpenters on the charts through the early 1970s. Their 1971 hit "For All We Know" was originally recorded in 1970, by Larry Meredith, for a wedding scene in the movie Lovers and Other Strangers.[35] Upon hearing it in the movie theatre, Richard saw potential in it and subsequently recorded it in the autumn of 1970. The track became the Carpenters' third gold single.[36]

The duo's fourth gold single "Rainy Days and Mondays" became Williams' and Nichols' second major single with the Carpenters, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, kept from the top slot by Carole King's "It's Too Late".

"Superstar", written by Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell, became the duo's third No. 2 single on the Billboard Hot 100. Their eponymous third album, Carpenters, was released in 1971. It became one of their best sellers, earning RIAA certification for platinum four times,[37] and rising to No. 2 on Billboard's pop album chart for two weeks, staying on the top 40 chart for 39 weeks.[38] It won a Grammy Award for Carpenters, as well as three other nominations.[39]

A Song for You was the fourth album, released on June 13, 1972. The album contained "Goodbye to Love", a Carpenter/Bettis original with a gritty guitar solo by Tony Peluso which set it apart from most Carpenters songs, became their third 1972 hit single, peaking at No. 7. Peluso would continue to work with Carpenters until their end in 1983.[12][40]

Another Carpenter/Bettis composition, "Top of the World", was originally intended as strictly an album cut, but when Lynn Anderson scored a hit with the song in early 1973, the Carpenters opted to record their own single version. It was released in September 1973 and became the Carpenters' second Billboard No. 1 hit in December 1973.

Now & Then

Their Now & Then album from 1973 was named by mother Agnes Carpenter. It contained the popular Sesame Street song "Sing" and the ambitious "Yesterday Once More", a side-long tribute to oldies radio which incorporated renditions of eight hit songs from previous decades into a faux oldies radio program.[41] The single version of the track became their biggest hit in the United Kingdom, holding the number 2 spot for two weeks;[42] it was kept off the top first by Gary Glitter's "I'm the Leader of the Gang (I Am)" and then by Donny Osmond's version of "Young Love".

In 1974, the Carpenters achieved a sizable international hit with an up-tempo remake of Hank Williams's "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)". While the song was not released as a single in the U.S., it reached the top 30 in Japan, number 12 in the United Kingdom (as part of a double A-side with "Mr. Guder"),[42] and number 3 in the Netherlands.[43] In late 1974, a Christmas single followed, a jazz-influenced rendition of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town".

The Singles: 1969–1973

The Carpenters did not record a new album in 1974. The group had been touring extensively and the principals were exhausted. In Richard's words, "there was simply no time to make one. Nor was I in the mood."[44] During this period, the pair released just one Hot 100 single, a Paul Williams/Roger Nichols composition called "I Won't Last a Day Without You". Taken from their 1972 LP A Song for You, the Carpenters finally decided to release their original two years after its original LP release and some months after Maureen McGovern's 1973 cover.[45] In March 1974, the single version became the fifth and final selection from that album project to chart in the Top 20, reaching No. 11 on the Hot 100 on May 25, 1974. Since "Top of the World" was at No. 11 and falling in 1974's first week and "Please Mr. Postman" was at No. 11 and rising in 1974's last week, the Carpenters failed all three times, by one position each time, that year to reach the top 10.

In place of the new album for 1974, their first greatest hits package was released, featuring new remixes of their prior hit singles, some with a newly recorded lead, and including newly recorded bridges and transition material so that each side of the album would play through with no breaks, something that Richard would come to regret.[46] This compilation was entitled The Singles: 1969–1973, and topped the charts in the U.S. for one week, on January 5, 1974. It also topped the United Kingdom chart for 17 weeks (non-consecutive) and became one of the best-selling albums of the decade, ultimately selling more than 7 million copies in the U.S. alone.[37]


In 1975, the Carpenters gained another hit with a remake of the Marvelettes' chart-topping Motown classic from 1961, "Please Mr. Postman". Released in late 1974, the song soared to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1975, becoming the duo's third and final No. 1 pop single.[47] It also earned Karen and Richard their record-setting twelfth million-selling gold single in America.[37]

The Carpenter/Bettis composition "Only Yesterday" followed "Please Mr. Postman" as the duo's last Hot 100 top 10 hit, reaching No. 4.[48]

Both singles appeared on their 1975 LP Horizon, which also included covers of The Eagles' "Desperado" and Neil Sedaka's "Solitaire", which became a moderate hit for the duo that year. Horizon was certified platinum, but owing to the disc's late release (after the second single was already dropping off the charts), it was their first album to fall short of multi-platinum status.

The Carpenters were among the first American recording acts to produce music videos to promote their records.[citation needed] In early 1975, they filmed a performance of "Please Mr. Postman" at Disneyland as well as "Only Yesterday" at the Huntington Gardens.

A Kind of Hush and Passage

Their subsequent album A Kind of Hush, released on June 11, 1976, achieved gold status,[37] but again owing to its late release, became the first Carpenters' album not to become a platinum certified record since Ticket to Ride seven years earlier. Their singles releases in 1976 were successful, but at this time, contemporary hit radio was moving forward with changing musical styles, which ultimately caused the careers of most "soft" groups like the Carpenters suffer.[citation needed] The duo's biggest pop single that year was a cover of Herman's Hermits' "There's a Kind of Hush (All Over the World)", which peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. "I Need to Be in Love" (Karen's favorite song by the Carpenters)[49] charted at No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, it followed "There's a Kind of Hush" to the top spot on the Adult Contemporary charts and became the duo's 14th No. 1 Adult Contemporary hit, far and away more than any other act in the history of the chart.

The Carpenters' Very First Television Special aired on December 8, 1976, and went to No. 6 on the Nielsens.[12] Another television special, The Carpenters at Christmas, aired on December 9, 1977.

The disco craze was in full swing by 1977, and adult-appeal "easy listening" artists like the Carpenters were getting less airplay. Their experimental album, Passage, released in 1977, marked an attempt to broaden their appeal by venturing into other musical genres. The album featured an unlikely mix of jazz fusion ("B'wana She No Home"), calypso ("Man Smart, Woman Smarter"), and orchestrated balladry ("I Just Fall in Love Again", "Two Sides"), and included the hits, "All You Get from Love Is a Love Song", "Sweet, Sweet Smile", and "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft". "Calling Occupants" was supported with the TV special Space Encounters, which aired May 17, 1978. Although the single release of "Calling Occupants" became a significant Top 10 hit in the United Kingdom and reached No. 1 in Ireland, it only peaked at number 32 on the U.S. pop charts, and for the first time a Carpenters album did not reach the gold threshold of 500,000 copies shipped in the United States.[50] In early 1978, they scored a surprise Top 10 country hit with the up-tempo, fiddle-sweetened "Sweet, Sweet Smile", written by country-pop singer Juice Newton and her longtime musical partner Otha Young.

The Singles: 1974–1978

In place of a new album for 1978, a second compilation, The Singles: 1974–1978, was released in the UK. In the United States, their first Christmas album, Christmas Portrait, became a seasonal favorite, returning Karen and Richard to platinum status. It was shortly followed by The Carpenters: A Christmas Portrait, a television special which aired December 19, 1978.

During the sessions, several non-Christmas songs were also recorded such as "Where Do I Go from Here", "Slow Dance", and "Honolulu City Lights", most of which were not released until after Karen's death.

Brief hiatus

Richard sought treatment for his addiction to Quaaludes at a Topeka, Kansas, facility for six weeks starting in January 1979. He then decided to take the rest of the year off for relaxation and rehabilitation. Karen, at this point neither wanting to take a break from singing nor seek help for her anorexia, decided to pursue a solo album project with renowned producer Phil Ramone in New York. The choice of Ramone and more adult-oriented and disco/dance-tempo material represented an effort to retool her image. The album was finished by Spring 1980, but Richard and A&M executives voted to reject it which reportedly devastated Karen. The album was finally released 13 years after Karen's death, in 1996.

Made in America and Karen's final days

Karen proceeded with plans to record a new album with her brother, who had now recovered from his addiction and was ready to continue their career. The Carpenters produced their final television special in 1980, called Music, Music, Music!, with guest stars Ella Fitzgerald, Suzanne Somers, and John Davidson. However, ABC was not happy with the special as it was music from start to finish, unlike the previous specials which included sketch-based comedy. ABC felt it was too much like a PBS program.[12]

On June 16, 1981, the Carpenters released what would become their final LP as a duo, Made in America. The album sold around 200,000 copies and spawned a final top 20 pop single, "Touch Me When We're Dancing", which reached No. 16 on the Hot 100. It also became their fifteenth and final number one Adult Contemporary hit. The album also produced three other singles, including "(Want You) Back In My Life Again", "Those Good Old Dreams", and a remake of the Motown hit "Beechwood 4-5789". The singles fared well on the adult contemporary charts. "Beechwood 4-5789", the last single by the Carpenters to be released in Karen's lifetime, was released on her 32nd birthday.

Promotion for the album included a whistle-stop tour of America, Brazil and Europe, preceded by a disastrous live appearance for a Japanese Telethon event, filmed outdoors on the lot of A&M in August 1981. During their segment (the last of the show), the playback audio cut out midway through their performance of "Touch Me When We're Dancing". The ensuing scenes, along with Karen's reaction, left it obvious to viewers that the whole band had been miming. Three further singles from the album failed to ignite the charts.

Karen sought therapy for her eating disorder with noted psychotherapist Steven Levenkron in New York City. In September 1982, she called her therapist to say her heart was beating 'funny' and she felt dizzy and confused. Admitting herself into hospital later that month, Karen was hooked up to an intravenous drip; she ended up gaining 30 pounds (14 kg) in eight weeks. In November 1982, Karen left the hospital and despite pleas from family and friends, she announced that she was returning home to California and that she was cured.

Karen's death

On February 3, 1983, Karen visited her parents. The following morning, February 4, her mother found her lying unresponsive on the floor of a walk-in closet. After they spent 20 minutes in a waiting room, a doctor entered to tell Richard and his parents that Karen was dead. The autopsy stated that Karen's death was caused by emetine cardiotoxicity resulting from anorexia nervosa. Under the anatomical summary, the first item was heart failure, with anorexia as second. The third finding was cachexia, which is extremely low weight and weakness and general body decline associated with chronic disease. Emetine cardiotoxicity implied that Karen abused ipecac syrup, although for a long time after her death there was no evidence to suggest that Karen abused it.[51]

At her funeral, more than a thousand mourners turned up, among them her friends Dorothy Hamill, Olivia Newton-John, Petula Clark, Dionne Warwick and Herb Alpert.[citation needed]

On October 12, 1983, the Carpenters received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a few yards from the Dolby Theatre. Richard, Harold and Agnes Carpenter attended the inauguration, as did many fans.[52]

Karen's death brought media attention to anorexia nervosa and also to bulimia.

1983–present: Post-Carpenters

Following Karen's death, Richard Carpenter has continued to produce recordings of the duo's music, including several albums of previously unreleased material and numerous compilation albums. Voice of the Heart, an album that included some finished tracks left off of Made in America and earlier LPs, was released in late 1983.[53] It peaked at No. 46 and was certified Gold. Two singles were released. "Make Believe It's Your First Time", a second version of a song Karen had recorded for her solo album (and a song which had been a minor hit in 1979 for Bobby Vinton), reached No. 7 Adult Contemporary but only reached No. 101 on the pop side. "Your Baby Doesn't Love You Anymore" got to No. 12 Adult Contemporary.

For the second Christmas season following Karen's death, Richard constructed a "new" Carpenters' Christmas album entitled An Old-Fashioned Christmas, using outtake material from the duo's first Christmas album Christmas Portrait and recording new material around it.

Richard Carpenter married his first cousin, Mary Rudolph, on May 19, 1984.[54] Kristi Lynn (which was the name Karen had chosen for a daughter if she ever had one) [Little Girl Blue] was born on August 17, 1987, Traci Tatum on July 25, 1989, Mindi Karen (named after her late aunt) on July 7, 1992, followed by Colin Paul and Taylor Mary.[55]

Richard, Mary, and their four daughters and one son live in Thousand Oaks, California, where the couple are supporters of the arts.[55] In 2004, Carpenter and his wife pledged a $3 million gift to the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza Foundation in memory of Karen Carpenter. More recently, Richard has actively supported the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at his alma mater, California State University, Long Beach. He continues to make concert appearances, including fund raising efforts for the Carpenter Center.

In 2007 and 2009, the current owners of the former Carpenter family home on Newville Avenue in Downey, obtained permits from the city to tear down the existing buildings on the site to make room for newer and larger structures, in spite of ongoing protests from fans. In February 2008, a group of fans got their protest campaign covered in the Los Angeles Times. At that time an adjacent house that had once served as the band's headquarters and recording studio had already been demolished and the main house was on the verge of being demolished as well. The original house was immortalized on the Now & Then album cover and was the place where Karen Carpenter died: in the words of Carpenters' fan Jon Konjoyan, "this was our version of Graceland."[56]

In 1971, the A&M graphics department hired Craig Braun and Associates to design the album cover for their third album, entitled Carpenters.[57] "I recognized it to be a great logo as soon as I saw it", says Richard.[57] In addition, the logo was used on every Carpenters' album since the third one as said by Richard, "to keep things consistent, though, every Carpenters' album from the logo's inception shows the logo."[58] The logo did not appear on the front cover of their album Passage but a small version appeared on the back cover.

Promotion and touring

Although the Carpenters had a rough start in 1969 with the lukewarm reviews of their first album, Offering, they tried to promote themselves by being Burt Bacharach's opening performance.[59] In a live concert in 1974 at The Riviera Hotel, Las Vegas, Karen Carpenter explained:

One night, we were doing a benefit dinner after the premiere of "Hello, Dolly!", and Burt Bacharach walked up to us, and he asked us if we would like to open the show for him at another dinner that he was going to be doing later on in the year. And he asked us to do something that turned out to be very, very special for us.[60]

Then, Richard took over, and said:

He wanted us to put together a medley of his songs; any tunes of his that we wanted to do, and it took a couple of months. We arrived at 8 tunes.[60]

The medley eventually was abridged and released on their eponymous album Carpenters in 1971. The song was shortened from almost 13 minutes to only 5 minutes.[60]

The band maintained a demanding schedule of concert tours and television appearances. Among their numerous television credits were appearances on such popular series as The Ed Sullivan Show,[61] The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,[62] The Carol Burnett Show in 1971 and 1972, The Mike Douglas Show in 1971,[63] and The Johnny Cash Show, also in 1971, where they played their hits "For All We Know" and "Rainy Days and Mondays".[64] The duo appeared in a television special on the BBC in 1971 where they performed songs "live". They were also the featured performers in a summer replacement series, Make Your Own Kind of Music, which aired on NBC every Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. in the United States. Both Karen and Richard would later state in a 1980 radio interview that they were often taken advantage of in their dealings with television during the early seventies and wanted more control in the production of future projects.[65]

In May 1973, the Carpenters accepted an invitation to perform at the White House for President Richard Nixon and visiting West German chancellor Willy Brandt.[12]

The Carpenters played numerous concerts from 1971 to 1975:[66]

Year Number of concerts Number of TV appearances
1971 145 concerts[44] 10 TV appearances (as well as Make Your Own Kind of Music)
1972 174 concerts[44] 6 TV appearances
1973 174 concerts[44] 3 TV appearances
1974 203 concerts[44] 3 TV appearances
1975 118 concerts + 46 postponed shows[44] 1 TV appearance

By the mid-1970s, extensive touring and lengthy recording sessions had begun to take their toll on the duo and contributed to their professional and personal difficulties during the latter half of the decade. Karen dieted obsessively and developed the disorder anorexia nervosa, which first manifested itself in 1975 when she collapsed during a show in Las Vegas. Exhausted, Karen was forced to cancel concert tours in the Philippines, UK and Japan. Richard has said that he regrets the six- and seven-day work schedules of that period, adding that had he known then what he knows now, he wouldn't have agreed to it. Karen looked noticeably thin—although not sickly—in the music video produced for the "Only Yesterday" single. Richard developed an addiction to Quaaludes, which began to affect his performance in the late 1970s and led to the end of the duo's live concert appearances in 1978.

Public image

The Carpenters' popularity often confounded critics. With their output focused on ballads and mid-tempo pop, the duo's music was often dismissed by critics as being bland and saccharine. The recording industry, however, bestowed awards on the duo, who won three Grammy Awards during their career (Best New Artist, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo, Group, or Chorus, for "(They Long to Be) Close to You" in 1970;[67] and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group for the LP Carpenters in 1971[39]). In 1974, the Carpenters were voted Favorite Pop/Rock Band, Duo, or Group at the first annual American Music Awards.[68]

Richard would often state in interviews, that many critics usually judged them to "drink milk, eat apple pie and take showers."

I don't even like milk. Not that we're totally opposite from that, we're not. But there is an in-between – I don't drink … a lot. I do have wine with dinner. I voted to make marijuana legal....[69]

In Coleman's The Carpenters: The Untold Story, Richard stressed repeatedly how much he disliked the A&M executives for making their image "squeaky-clean", and the critics for criticizing them for their image rather than their music.[70]

I got upset when this whole "squeaky clean" thing was tagged on to us. I never thought about standing for anything! They [the critics] took "Close to You" and said: "Aha, you see that number one? THAT's for the people who believe in apple pie! THAT's for people who believe in the American flag! THAT's for the average middle-American person and his station wagon! The Carpenters stand for that, and I'm taking them to my bosom!" And boom, we got tagged with that label.[70]

In a documentary about the Carpenters, musician and songwriter Paul Williams stated the duo was often labeled as being "too vanilla". Williams supported them by saying, "Yes, but what an exquisite flavor vanilla is."


Karen Carpenter has been called one of the best female vocalists of the 20th Century by a number of influential publications as diverse as Rolling Stone Magazine [71] and National Public Radio,[72][73] and Sir Paul McCartney called her the best female vocalist ever, saying that she was "the best female voice in the world: melodic, tuneful and distinctive." [72] A critical re-evaluation of Carpenters occurred during the 1990s and 2000s with the making of several documentaries produced in the United States, Japan, and Great Britain, like Close to You: Remembering the Carpenters (United States), The Sayonara (Japan), and Only Yesterday: The Carpenters Story (Great Britain). It has been said that Karen's signature vocals helped spur more contralto singers into pop music such as Anne Murray, Rita Coolidge, and Melissa Manchester. Despite contentions that their sound was "too soft" to fall under the definition of rock and roll, major campaigns and petitions exist toward inducting Carpenters in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[74]

In 1990, the alternative rock band Sonic Youth recorded "Tunic (Song for Karen)", which depicted Karen saying goodbye to relatives as she got to play the drums again and meet her new "friends", Dennis Wilson, Elvis Presley and Janis Joplin.[75] A tribute album, If I Were a Carpenter, by contemporary artists such as Sonic Youth, Bettie Serveert, Shonen Knife, Grant Lee Buffalo, Matthew Sweet, and The Cranberries, appeared in 1994 and provided an alternative rock interpretation of Carpenters hits.[76]

Several of their songs have achieved the status of popular standards. "Superstar" has been covered by numerous artists, with popular recordings from Luther Vandross and Ruben Studdard to Bette Midler, Shonen Knife, and Sonic Youth.

Both "We've Only Just Begun" and "(They Long to Be) Close to You" have been honored with Grammy Hall of Fame awards for recordings of lasting quality or historical significance.[77]

Modern entertainers such as Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, Shania Twain, Jann Arden, Anastacia, The Corrs, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Chrissie Hynde, Gloria Estefan, LeAnn Rimes, Michelle Wright, k.d. lang, Kelly Jones of Stereophonics, Christina Perri, Beyoncé, Johnny Borrell of Razorlight, Jo O'Meara from S Club, Carnie Wilson from Wilson Phillips, Mandy Moore, Michael Jackson, and Madonna have listed Karen Carpenter as a huge influence on their careers.[78][79]


Carpenters released 30 singles during their career. Of the thirty, ten were RIAA certified Gold[37] and twenty-two peaked in the top 10 on the Adult Contemporary chart. In addition, the Carpenters also had ten albums from 1969–1983. Five of the albums contained two or more top 20 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 (Close to You, Carpenters, A Song for You, Now & Then, and Horizon).

Posthumous releases

Grammy Awards and nominations

Throughout the 1970s, Richard and Karen were nominated numerous times for Grammy Awards. Richard Carpenter was also nominated for a Grammy Award for their instrumental song, "Flat Baroque".[80] They won three Grammy Awards, and had two songs inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.[77]

Year Type of Award Won/Nominated Title
1970 Best New Artist
Best Contemporary Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus
Record of the Year
Album of the Year
Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals
Song of the Year
Best Contemporary Song
Best Engineered Recording
"(They Long to Be) Close to You"
Close to You
Close to You
"(They Long to Be) Close to You"
"We've Only Just Begun"
"We've Only Just Begun"
Close to You
1971 Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group
Album of the Year
Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals
Best Album of Original Score, Written for a Motion Picture
Best Engineered Recording
"Bless the Beasts and Children"
1972 Best Instrumental Arrangement Nominated "Flat Baroque"[80]
1973 Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Vocal
Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals
1974 Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals Nominated "We've Only Just Begun"
1977 Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals Nominated "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft"

Notes and references

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  2. Costin, Carolyn (1998). The Eating Disorder Sourcebook. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill Professional (published 1999). ISBN 1-56565-853-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Zerbe, Kathryn J. (1995). The Body Betrayed: A Deeper Understanding of Women, Eating Disorders, and Treatment. Carlsbad, California: Gürze Books, LLC. ISBN 0-936077-23-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 Schmidt, Randy (October 24, 2010). "Karen Carpenter's tragic story". The Guardian. Retrieved December 11, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Close to You: The Story of The Carpenters (Documentary). BBC. 2002.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Levitin, Daniel (May 1995). "Arranging Master Class: Richard Carpenter". Electronic Musician. Retrieved December 27, 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 The Carpenters: Only Yesterday (Documentary). BBC. 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 Living Famously: Karen Carpenter (Documentary). BBC. 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Junior, Sydney (1 March 2013). "Carpenters Decade – 1979". Retrieved 21 September 2015. Singer, drummer, with a vocal range from D below Middle C to G above High C<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  12. 12.00 12.01 12.02 12.03 12.04 12.05 12.06 12.07 12.08 12.09 12.10 Surratt, Paul and JoAnn Young (Executive Producers) (March 31, 1998). Close to You: Remembering the Carpenters (Videotape, DVD). MPI Home Video. ISBN 0-7886-0017-6. UPC 030306727820.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  14. Live at the Palladium (The Carpenters album)[unreliable source?]
  15. Schmidt, Randy L., Forward by Dionne Warwick (2010). Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, Inc. ISBN 978-1-55652-976-4. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Page viewable here.
  16. Carpenter, Richard. "Carpenters Biography", the Carpenters official website, 2005. accessed September 8, 2008.
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  19. Coleman 1994, p. 47.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Coleman 1994, p. 53.
  21. Coleman 1994, p. 51.
  22. Coleman 1994, p. 52.
  23. Coleman 1994, p. 59.
  24. Coleman 1994, p. 58.
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  27. Coleman 1994, p. 63.
  28. Coleman 1994, p. 54.
  29. [1][dead link]
  30. Coleman 1994, p. 76.
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  32. Coleman 1994, p. 81.
  33. Coleman 1994, p. 85.
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  35. Cy Howard (Director), David Susskind (Producer) (August 12, 1970). Lovers and Other Strangers (DVD). Buena Vista Pictures. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  36. Coleman 1994, p. 100.
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  38. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Albums, by Joel Whitburn, 3rd edition (1995)
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  40. Coleman 1994, p. 127.
  41. Coleman 1994, p. 135.
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  • Carpenter, Richard (1986). Carpenters: Ticket to Ride (1969) Album Notes. A&M 4205
  • Carpenter, Richard (2005). "Carpenters Biography 2005". The Carpenters official website. pp. 1–10. Retrieved November 30, 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Coleman, Ray (1994). The Carpenters: The Untold Story. New York, New York: Harpercollins. ISBN 978-0-06-018345-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Costin, Carolyn (1998). The Eating Disorder Sourcebook. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill Professional (published 1999). ISBN 1-56565-853-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Edwards, Ralph (Executive Producer) (February 14, 1971). This Is Your Life (Television production, DVD). Los Angeles, California: Ralph Edwards Productions.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Levitin, Daniel (May 1995). "Arranging Master Class: Richard Carpenter". Electronic Musician. Retrieved December 27, 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Richliano, James (2002). Angels We Have Heard: The Christmas Song Stories. Chatham, New York: Star Of Bethlehem Books. ISBN 0-9718810-0-6
  • Surratt, Paul and JoAnn Young (Executive Producers) (March 31, 1998). Close to You: Remembering the Carpenters (Videotape, DVD). MPI Home Video. ISBN 0-7886-0017-6. UPC 030306727820.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Schmidt, Randy (2010). Little Girl Blue: The Life Of Karen Carpenter
  • Stockdale, Tom (2000). Karen Carpenter. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 0-7910-5225-7
  • Wallace, Evelyn (1973). The Carpenters' Official Fan Club Newsletters, Issue No. 26. June 1973.
  • Zerbe, Kathryn J. (1995). The Body Betrayed: A Deeper Understanding of Women, Eating Disorders, and Treatment. Carlsbad, California: Gürze Books, LLC. ISBN 0-936077-23-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Unknown (1976). Superstars of the 70s. London, England: Octopus Books Limited. ISBN 0-7064-0447-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links