Karen & Richard Carpenter

Picture of Young Richard & Karen
Little Richard and his sister Karen

Karen (born on Mar 2, 1950), the younger sister of Richard, together with her brother formed the famous vocal and instrumental duo. She was a drummer, a associate producer and the lead singer of the group.

"Karen was just as talented as her brother Richard, however, her interest for music was dormant until she was introduced into her school band by her brother that she "fell in love" with the drums. Karen was playing so well that she still considered herself primarily a drummer who sang, but Richard sensed there was a lot more potential in her vocals."

Richard (born on Oct 15, 1946), is a talented pianist, arranger, composer, singer, and producer. He arranged, played piano, and sang backup vocals along with his sister Karen, who drummed and sang lead vocals.

"Richard began studying classical piano at the age of nine and continued while attending Yale. The Carpenter family moved to Downey, CA, in 1963, and Richard continued his studies at the University of Southern California and California State College at Long Beach."
The Wonder Years ....

Richard Carpenter learned to play piano at age 11 while growing up in New Haven, Connecticut, while his younger sister Karen took up the drums. By the time he was 17, Richard was performing with an instrumental trio in various clubs. After the Carpenter family moved to California, Karen was signed to a recording contract with a small local label, Magic Lamp, in 1965. She recorded the single "I'll Be Yours" for the label, with her brother on piano, Wes Jacobs on bass and tuba, and Joe Osborn as session bassist. After this record and a subsequent single went nowhere, the Carpenters formed a jazz instrumental group with Jacobs called the Richard Carpenter Trio. The group's talent earned them a victory in a "Battle of the Bands" competition at the Hollywood Bowl in 1966, with first prize a recording contract with RCA Records. However, the two RCA albums they cut never made it to record stores; at the time, the group's sound was considered "too soft."
RC & KC at the piano
Jacobs left the group to study music after the connection with RCA was severed, and the Carpenters formed a new band called Spectrum with four students from California State University. Featuring John Bettis on bass and Danny Woodhams as guitarist, the group was short-lived and broke up after a few gigs at Disneyland and Los Angeles clubs such as the Troubadour and the Whisky A-Go-Go. At this point the Carpenters began focusing on vocal harmonies and over dubbing effects, and Richard continued developing what would become his formidable skills as an arranger.

The Golden Years ....

Showcasing Karen's pleasing contralto in both a solo setting and combined with Richard's baritone, they recorded a series of demo tapes in bassist Osborn's garage and began hawking them to record companies. One of the tapes made its way to Herb Albert, the trumpet player and founder of A&M Records. Albert signed the Carpenters to a contract, and by 1969 the group had recorded Offering, their debut album. A cover of the Beatles' "Ticket to Ride" on the album reached Number 54 on the U.S. charts.

Richard and Karen
Picture of Richard & Karen from the Ticket to ride Album
Their unparalleled combination eventually worked out when their tape caught the attention of Herb Alpert (A&M Record), who had to go through hundreds of tapes every week which landed on his desk of hopeful artist. And Karen's voice undoubtedly struck a emotional chord in him.
Recorded by Dionne Warwick some seven years earlier, "(They Long to Be) Close to You," by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, was transformed in the studio by the Carpenters in 1970. The duo's version became one of pop music's seminal demonstrations of boy/girl harmony and the "easy listening" sound. It featured an understated piano arrangement by Richard, as well as first-rate production by Jack Daugherty. Listener approval for "Close to You" was overwhelming, and the song soared to Number One. It was soon followed by the hit "We've Only Just Begun," which, according to the Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, "highlighted Karen's crystal-clear diction, overladen with intricate harmonies and a faultless production." Thus began the Carpenters' incredible hit parade, which landed 20 of their songs in the Top 40 during the next 11 years.

From 1970 to 1972 alone, the Carpenters generated six Top Five hits- -"Close to You," "We've Only Just Begun," "For All We Know," "Rainy Days and Mondays," "Superstar," and "Hurting Each Other." Along with Richard's arranging and musical direction, much of this success was due to the high quality of material the Carpenters were getting from songwriters such as Bacharach, Paul Williams, and Roger Nichols. They also employed the services of top sidemen like virtuoso guitarist Tony Peluso. Richard also wrote some hits for the group in partnership with former Spectrum bassist Bettis. As a result of this output, the group's compilation album, The Singles 1969-73, became one of the best-selling albums of all time and was on the LP charts for an amazing 115 weeks.

One success after another kept the Carpenters working relentlessly in the early 1970s, both in the studio and on the concert circuit. Their fame also won them their own brief television series, Make Your Own Kind of Music, in 1971. The show featured trumpet player Al Hirt and Mark Lindsay, former lead singer with Paul Revere and the Raiders. The Carpenters were also asked to perform at the White House in 1974 during a state dinner. While Richard continued to play the piano on their recordings, Karen's drum work became restricted to their stage act.


The Later Years ....

Inevitably, the performance grind began to take its toll: in 1975 a major tour of Europe was canceled as Karen was reported to be suffering from nervous and physical exhaustion. Reports of her weight having dropped to 90 pounds raised suspicions about crash diets; it was later revealed that she was afflicted with anorexia nervosa. In 1993 Richard Carpenter told Entertainment Weekly, "I still have no idea why this disorder struck Karen."

In her review of 1991's From the Top, a retrospective CD package of Carpenter songs, Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote in the New Yorker that the collection "documents one of the most undistinguished successful music careers ever." The Carpenters would be remembered "not really as musicians but as cultural icons," she added. Despite this sort of criticism, standards such as "Close to You" and "We've Only Just Begun" have etched a permanent place for the Carpenters in the pop music pantheon. Many critics have changed their originally negative views of the group to more favorable ones over the years. As was pointed out in The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, "Although often critically berated for blandness and [their] wholesome, clean-cut image, the Carpenters were praised by musicians and industry insiders for musicianship, excellent choice of sidemen ... and professionalism."

That opinion was confirmed in 1994 with the release of an all-star tribute album, If I Were a Carpenter. Leading alternative rock acts including Sonic Youth, Cracker, and the Cranberries recorded the homage to the pop duo whose 1970s hits had influenced so many of the artists of the 1990s. Jeff McDonald of Redd Kross summed up the collective sentiment of the participants: "I'd always been a huge fan of the Carpenters, and an admirer of their songs. The quality of their songs was so wonderful, they were lyrically very sophisticated, not this teenybop fare. ... Most bands just want to write perfect pop songs. And these are perfect pop songs."




Created - 30 May 1997