|Who is it?||Soundtrack, Actor|
|Origin||Downey, California, United States|
|Genres||Pop soft rock|
|Associated acts||The Richard Carpenter Trio|
|Past members||Karen Carpenter Richard Carpenter|
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.
The Carpenter siblings were both born at Grace–New Haven Hospital (now called Yale–New Haven Hospital) in New Haven, Connecticut, to Harold Bertram (November 8, 1908 – October 15, 1988) and Agnes Reuwer (née Tatum, March 5, 1915 – November 10, 1996). Harold was born in Wuzhou, China, moving to Britain in 1917, and the US in 1921, while Agnes was born and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. They married on April 9, 1935; their first child, Richard Lynn, was born on October 15, 1946, while Karen Anne followed on March 2, 1950. Richard was a quiet child who spent most of his time at home listening to Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Red Nichols and Spike Jones, and playing the piano. Karen was friendly and outgoing; she liked to play Sports, including softball with the neighborhood kids, but still spent a lot of time listening to music. She enjoyed dancing and began ballet and tap classes aged four. Karen and Richard were close, and shared a Common interest in music. In particular, they became fans of Les Paul and Mary Ford, whose music featured multiple overdubbed voices and instruments. Richard began piano lessons aged eight, but quickly grew frustrated with the formal direction of the lessons and quit after a year. He had begun to teach himself how to play by ear by 11, and resumed studying with a different Teacher. He took a greater interest in playing this time, and would frequently practice at home. By age 14, he was interested in performing professionally, and started lessons at Yale School of Music.
In June 1963, the Carpenter family moved to the Los Angeles suburb of Downey. hoping that it would mean better musical opportunities for Richard. He was asked to be the organist for weddings and services at the local Methodist church; instead of playing traditional hymns, he would sometimes rearrange contemporary Beatles songs in a "church" style. In fall 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.
That same fall, Karen enrolled at Downey High School, where she found she had a knack for playing the drums. She had initially tried playing the glockenspiel, but had been inspired by her friend Frankie Chavez, who had been drumming since he was three. She became enthusiastic about the drums, and began to learn complex pieces, such as Dave Brubeck's "Take Five". Chavez persuaded her parents to buy a Ludwig drum kit in late 1964, and she began lessons with local jazz players, including how to read concert music. She quickly replaced the entry-level kit with a large Ludwig set that was a similar set-up to Brubeck's Drummer, Joe Morello. Richard and Karen gave their first public performance together in 1965, as part of the pit band for a local production of Guys and Dolls.
By 1965, Karen had been practicing the drums for a year, and Richard was refining his piano techniques under Pooler's tuition. Late that year, Richard teamed up with Jacobs, who played tuba and stand-up bass. With Karen drumming, the three formed the jazz-oriented Richard Carpenter Trio. Richard led the band and wrote all the arrangements, and they began to rehearse daily. He bought a tape recorder, and began to make recordings of the group. Originally, neither Karen nor Richard sang; Richard's friend Dan Friberg occasionally filled in on trumpet, along with guest vocalist Margaret Shanor.
In mid-1966, the Richard Carpenter Trio entered the Hollywood Bowl annual Battle of the Bands competition. They played an instrumental version of "The Girl from Ipanema" and their own piece, "Iced Tea". They won the competition on June 24 and were signed up by RCA Records. They recorded songs such as the Beatles' "Every Little Thing" and Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night". A committee reviewed their recordings and chose not to produce them, so the trio were released from RCA.
In 1967, Jacobs left to study classical music and join the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and the Richard Carpenter Trio disbanded. Richard and Bettis then were hired as Musicians at a refreshment shop at Disneyland's Main Street, U.S.A.. They were expected to play turn of the 20th century songs in keeping with the shop's theme. The shop's patrons had other ideas; many requested the Musicians to play current popular music. When the pair tried pleasing their customers and honoring the requests, they were fired by a Disneyland supervisor named Mr. Guder for being "too radical". Bettis and Richard were unhappy about their dismissal and wrote the song "Mr. Guder" about their former superior.
By 1968, Spectrum had disbanded, finding it difficult to get gigs as their music was not considered "danceable" by rock and roll standards. Having enjoyed their multi-layer sound experiments at Osborn's studio, Richard and Karen decided to formally become a duo, calling themselves Carpenters. Later in the year, the duo received an offer to be on the television program Your All American College Show. Their performance on the program, playing a cover of "Dancing in the Street", was their first television appearance, with new Bassist Bill Sissoyev. The program had a weekly winner with all weekly winners competing in semi-finals and finals at the end of 12 weeks. The finals featuring "The Dick Carpenter Trio" aired on August 31, 1968. Karen also auditioned as a vocalist in Kenny Rogers and The First Edition, but was unsuccessful. By this time, Sulzer had become the group's manager, while the duo continued to record demos with Osborn, one of which was sent to A&M Records via a friend of Sulzer's. At the same time, the duo were asked to audition for a Ford Motor Company advertising campaign, which included $50,000 each and a brand new Ford automobile. The group accepted the offer, but quickly withdrew it after receiving a formal offer from A&M. Label owner Herb Alpert was intrigued by Karen's voice, later saying "It touched me ... I felt like it was time". On meeting the duo, Alpert said "Let's hope we can have some hits!"
Despite the poor showing of Offering, A&M retained the Carpenters and decided they should record a hit single instead. In December 1969, they met Burt Bacharach, who was impressed by their work and invited the duo to open for him at a charity concert, which should include them performing a medley of Bacharach / Hal David songs. Herb Alpert asked Richard to re-work a Bacharach/David song "(They Long to Be) Close to You", which had first been recorded in 1963 by Richard Chamberlain, and Dionne Warwick the following year. Richard Carpenter decided the song would work as a standalone piece, and wrote an arrangement from scratch without being influenced by any earlier recordings. The duo struggled on an early recording attempt, and for the second session, Alpert suggested that seasoned session player Hal Blaine play drums instead of Karen. Larry Knechtel was tried out as a session Pianist, but was replaced by Richard for the final take. The Carpenters' version was released as a single in March 1970. It entered the charts at No. 56, the highest debut of the week ending June 20. It reached No. 1 on July 25 and stayed there for the next four weeks.
The Carpenters' popularity confounded critics. With their output focused on ballads and mid-tempo pop, the duo's music was often dismissed 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; and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group for Carpenters in 1971). In 1974, the Carpenters were voted Favorite Pop/Rock Band, Duo, or Group at the first annual American Music Awards.
In 1971, the A&M graphics department hired Craig Braun and Associates to design the album cover for their third album. "I recognized it to be a great logo as soon as I saw it", says Richard. The logo was used on every Carpenters album thereafter; Richard said it was done "to keep things consistent". The logo did not appear on the front cover of Passage but a small version appeared on the back cover.
"Goodbye to Love" was featured on the Carpenter's fourth album, A Song for You released on June 13, 1972. The title track, a cover of a song on Leon Russell's debut album, was considered as a single, but rejected owing to its length. The album also included a Carole King song, "It's Going To Take Some Time" and another Nichols / Williams original, "I Won't Last A Day Without You". Another Carpenter / Bettis composition, "Top of the World", was originally intended as just an album cut, but after 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 and became the Carpenters' second Billboard No. 1 hit, in December.
During this period, the pair released just one single, "I Won't Last a Day Without You" from A Song for You. The Carpenters finally decided to release their original two years after its original album release and some months after Maureen McGovern's 1973 cover. In March 1974, the single version became the fifth and final selection from the album to chart in the Top 20, reaching No. 11 on the Hot 100 in May.
Despite numerous concert appearances, the Carpenters have never released a live album in the US. Two such albums, Live in Japan (1974) and Live at the Palladium (1976) have been released in Japan and reissued on CD there. Richard has said he is not particularly interested in live albums.
Richard Carpenter was the creative force behind the Carpenters' sound. An accomplished keyboard player, Composer and arranger, music critic Daniel Levitin called him "one of the most gifted arrangers to emerge in popular music." The duo's smooth harmonies were not in step with contemporary music, which was dominated by heavy rock. Instead, the Carpenters strove for a rich and melodic sound, along the same vein as the Beach Boys and the Mamas & the Papas, but with greater fullness and orchestration including frequent use of small string and horn sections and introspective lyrics centred around relationships. Richard also admired the musicianship and arranging skills of Frank Zappa, and the two briefly met backstage at the Billboard Forum in 1975. He has credited Judd Conlon as a key influence on his vocal arranging.
As the group's popularity increased, demand for Karen's vocals at the expense of her drumming overshadowed her abilities and gradually, she played the drums less; for A Kind of Hush, she played no drums at the sessions at all, although she continued to sporadically drum in concert. From spring 1976 onward, the tours would include a drum medley for Karen to play, and a piano solo number was included for Richard. Karen made a final return to studio drumming for the track "When It's Gone (It's Just Gone)" on Made in America, albeit in tandem with Nashville session Drummer Larrie Londin, and she also provided percussion in tandem with Paulinho da Costa on "Those Good Old Dreams". Karen used Ludwig Drums, Zildjian cymbals, a Rogers foot pedal and hi-hat stand, 11A drumsticks and Remo drumheads.
By 1978, Richard had become addicted to Quaaludes, which he had been taking on prescription in increasing doses since the 1971 tours. On September 4, during an engagement at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, he decided to quit touring, and the concerts there were curtailed. On December 3, the Carpenters were scheduled to play at the Pacific Terrace Theatre, Long Beach Convention Center, which turned out to be the last live concert that Karen and Richard played together. Richard refused to fly to the UK for an appearance on ITV's Bruce Forsyth's Big Night, realizing he had a serious Problem, so Karen performed without him and denied rumors that the duo were to split.
Richard began treatment for his addiction at a facility in Topeka, Kansas, for six weeks in January 1979. He decided to take the rest of the year off to relax and rehabilitate. Richard was now sure that Karen was battling with anorexia nervosa, but she denied it, saying she simply had colitis. Karen did not want to take a break from singing nor seek professional medical help for her own condition, so she decided to pursue a solo album project with 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. Heatwave keyboardist and Songwriter Rod Temperton (and Future Michael Jackson collaborator) was asked by Ramone to help with songwriting and arranging, and Billy Joel's backup band were used for the album. She decided not to record Temperton's "Off the Wall" and "Rock with You", which later became hits for Jackson. The album was finished by early 1980, but drew a negative reception from A&M. Her mother, Agnes did not like Karen working without Richard, while Richard felt that Karen was not well enough to have worked on the album. The total cost of recording was $500,000 of which $400,000 came from the Carpenters' own funds. The album was not released and although the press announced it was canceled at Karen's request, its rejection devastated her, who felt she had just wasted months of work. It was finally issued in 1996, 13 years after Karen's death.
Following the cancellation of her solo album and her marriage to Tom Burris on August 31, 1980, Karen decided to record a new album with Richard, 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 and John Davidson. Karen's outfit for the show was designed by Bill Belew, who was nominated for an Emmy Award for best costume designer. He had also designed her wedding dress.
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 the hit, "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, on her 32nd birthday. The album concluded with "Because We Are in Love (The Wedding Song)", referring to Karen's marriage. Promotion for the album included a whistle-stop tour of America, Brazil and Europe, including an appearance on America's Top Ten. At all of these events, the band mimed to the studio recordings.
Following Karen's death, Richard has continued to produce recordings of the duo's music, including several albums of previously unreleased material and numerous compilations. The posthumous Voice of the Heart was released in late 1983 and included some tracks left off Made in America and earlier albums. 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 "Your Baby Doesn't Love You Anymore".
Richard married his (adopted) first cousin, Mary Rudolph, on May 19, 1984. Together, they have four daughters and one son, and live in Thousand Oaks, California, where the couple are supporters of the arts. In 2004, Richard and his wife pledged a $3 million gift to the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza Foundation in memory of Karen. Richard has actively supported the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at his alma mater, Long Beach State. He continues to make concert appearances, including fund raising efforts for the Carpenter Center.
Shortly after Karen's death, a film archivist discovered some rare footage of an early Carpenters' television appearance. The archivist contacted Richard Carpenter and the two began viewing more footage which he had found. When the British division of A&M Records learned of the discoveries, they suggested the footage be turned into a video for home viewing. The finished piece, entitled "Yesterday Once More" is 55 minutes long and combines vintage and recent film clips. A&M Video and Richard intended "to create a video that played like an album"; all music was remixed from the masters and each selection was put into correct synchronization. The video was released in the spring of 1985.
Japanese singer Akiko Kobayashi has been influenced by Karen Carpenter, and she asked Richard to produce her 1988 album, City of Angels. In 1990, the alternative rock band Sonic Youth recorded "Tunic (Song for Karen)" in recognition of her musical talents. 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, was released in 1994 and provided an alternative rock interpretation of Carpenters hits. Richard Carpenter played keyboards for the Matthew Sweet cut "Let Me Be the One". Modern entertainers such as Madonna, Sheryl Crow and Shania Twain have listed Karen Carpenter as an influence on their careers.
For the second Christmas season following Karen's death, Richard constructed a new Carpenters' Christmas album entitled An Old-Fashioned Christmas, using outtakes from Christmas Portrait and recording new material around it. Richard released his first solo album, Time, in 1987, sharing vocals between himself, Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield. The track "When Time Was All He Had" was a tribute to Karen. The same year, Todd Haynes released the short film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, which featured Barbie dolls playing the main cast. Richard objected to music being used in the film without his consent, and served an injunction in 1990 that prevented it from being shown. On January 1, 1989, the television special The Karen Carpenter Story premiered on CBS, topping the ratings for that week. It included the previously unreleased "You're the One" and "Where Do I Go from Here" in its Soundtrack, which were released on the album Lovelines later that year.
A critical re-evaluation of the Carpenters occurred during the 1990s and 2000s with the making of several documentaries such as Close to You: Remembering The Carpenters (US), The Sayonara (Japan), and Only Yesterday: The Carpenters Story (UK). Despite contentions that their sound was "too soft" to fall under the definition of rock and roll, major campaigns and petitions exist toward inducting the Carpenters into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"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. The album also included "Mr. Guder", the song inspired by Disneyland supervisor Victor Guder, who had dismissed the young songwriters for playing popular music when they worked at the park.
In 2007 and 2009, the current owners of the former Carpenter family home on Newville Avenue, Downey, obtained city permits to tear down the existing buildings to make room for newer and larger structures, despite protests from fans. In February 2008, the campaign was 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 too. The original house was featured on the cover of Now & Then and was where Karen had died. In the words of one fan, "this was our version of Graceland."
After "Goodbye to Love" had been released, attitudes towards the duo changed slightly. Ken Barnes, writing in Phonograph said "It's certainly less than revolutionary to admit you like the Carpenters these days – in 'rock' circles, if you recall, it formerly bordered on heresy. Everybody must be won over by now." Since then, the group's "saccharine" image has softened and Musicians have cited the Carpenters as a key influence. In 1995, Rolling Stone's Sue Cummings wrote that the 1990s acceptance of the duo's work was "a renewed ironic appreciation", adding that listeners "had loved the veneer, then hated it, then found it even more compelling, on a second look, for the complexity in the places where the darkness cracked through".