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They charmed the universe

The atmosphere in our resident medical officers’ quarters would be extremely serious in a term when someone or the other was appearing for an examination. When I was a resident in the iconic G S Medical College and K E M Hospital, I was lucky I got to stay on the much coveted top floor of the New RMO Quarters which was considered to be something of an achievement in itself. In the meritocratic world of GSMC, all things were pretty much decided on merit and getting to the top floor itself meant you had better academic performance amongst your batchmates and peers. It was here that I stepped in with the batch one year my senior prepping for their exams. MD (Medicine) exams in Mumbai University were pretty brutal those days and only those who really deserved to get through, did. There was an exam result 2 years before that where 7 out of 105 students passed. Surely the other 98 weren’t exactly intellectually challenged. But getting through the MD (Medicine) at the first attempt was a badge of honour that you had to sweat blood to earn. Into this supercharged atmosphere we walked in and met a guy who had started prepping in right earnest: Shriram Iyer.

Shriram Iyer was an articulate guy who we followed into Cardiology for our superspecialization (as was the term in Mumbai, they call it subspecialty in the US) Amongst a bunch of other things, I will always be obliged to Shriram Iyer for introducing me to the brother- sister band that I grew to love so much. I still remember the very first song I ever heard from the Carpenters was “Yesterday Once More” . When Kiran Misra ji, my gracious host on AIR Delhi FM Gold and I agreed we would do the 31st of my fortnightly programs on music on the band, I was over the moon.

The Carpenters, were the phenomenally successful pop group of the 1970s, grew up in New Haven, attended public schools there during the 1950s and 1960s, and achieved as much fame and worldly success as anyone could hope to. They were the #1 American recording artists of the 1970s, with total sales of more than 100 million records and seven consecutive gold records, a feat rarely matched!

Karen and Richard Carpenter were unpretentious, suburban kids at a time when being so was unfashionable. Richard and Karen experienced the birth of rock & roll and “all-hit radio” in the mid to late ’50s and also Beatlemania that shaped their aspirations.

Richard cites their greatest influences as “the 3 B’s – the Beatles, Beach Boys and Burt Bacharach.”

Their father, Harold, worked for a printing company and collected records in diverse musical genres. Otherwise, Richard’s precocious mastery of piano, which he began playing at age 9, was not foreshadowed by parental influence. By age 13 he was taking lessons with a Yale music instructor who dubbed him a prodigy. Richard started his first band at Wilbur Cross High School. In 1963, still a teenager seeking to improve his prospects for breaking into show business, he moved to a suburb outside of Los Angeles.

Richard had few outside interests beyond music. Karen, who spun records with him was a gregarious person who loved baseball, delivered the New Haven Register, and played with the neighbourhood kids at a nearby park. With no voice lessons and no significant role models, somewhere between the ages of 16 and 19 (when she and Richard cut their first album), Karen Carpenter the singer emerged fully formed. Amazingly she had never been trained to be a singer, a completely natural talent, unbelievably good!

Richard described how early on, he always believed Karen had a special gift. “She had this one-in-a-billion voice,” he said. “I had a background voice that blended with our harmonies, but she was a lead singer. I was the one who could pick songs that were good for us.

Karen was a pitch-perfect contralto whose low range and amazing tonal depth is instantly recognizable. Bandmates recall spotless, unerring performances in which day after day she hit notes like radar. Moreover, her emotional connection to their songs was uncanny and, in some cases assumed a biographical dimension. Her heart failure induced by anorexia nervosa and death at the age of 32 put a human face on an illness that until then barely had a name and was rarely discussed.

Between 1969 and 1981 The Carpenters produced 10 albums of original material. The first, Ticket to Ride, although superb, produced no hits, and there was pressure at A & M Records to drop them. Their mentor (and A & M co-founder) Herb Alpert insisted they be given a second shot.

Close To You was released in 1970 and is a cultural document, embodying a time when America was reaching through the smoke and horror of current events for an antidote that was aggressively calming. Seeming to address a troubled nation’s need for respite, it sprinted to #1 in six weeks, dominated airplay all summer, and wound up #2 for the year, behind Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Their third album, Carpenters, released on May 1971, produced a string of hits including For All We Know, Rainy Days & Mondays, and the Bacharach-David Medley, one of the greatest virtuoso performances in pop music. A year later they released Song for You, one of the great pop records ever made, with six A-side singles, which gave birth to a genre known as the power ballad, and Top of the World, a huge crossover to country music. No Beatles album produced this many hits!

Having rocketed to the top in 1970s with one of the strongest debuts in pop history, during 1971, ’72, and ’73, The Carpenters were on the road incessantly and expected to generate new hits during the breaks. They performed 550 concerts in three years, almost a formula for burnout. Although Karen and Richard and their band produced six more albums or original material through 1981, tour pressures, and health issues, limited their commercial success.

While the Carpenters rose to fame only after leaving Connecticut for sunny Los Angeles, Connecticut never quite left them.

Much is made of Bruce Springsteen’s New Jersey roots. Surely Connecticut can make the same claim on a duo of the 1970s’ biggest hit-makers!

Every sha-la-la-la, every wo-o-wo-o still shines, the Carpenters’ sang in “Yesterday Once More,” their hit 1973 tribute to the songs of the past as if they could predict the future.

It was in New Haven, Connecticut that Richard Carpenter found the seeds of the duo’s sound in his father’s records and a toy jukebox had some unexpected profound influences, including another duo, Les Paul and Mary Ford, whose early experimenting with vocal overdubs and layered harmonies electrified him.
Richard was maybe all of 5 or 6, and had no idea how all this was done but at the time all he knew was it was different and it caught his imagination.

The Carpenters were great creators of fully formed albums, with an incredible run of records between 1970’s “Close to You” and 1973’s “Now & Then”

They had so many hit singles, and usually right in a row, that they tended to be dismissed by their detractors as a singles band but the fact remains that they sold millions of albums, more than a hundred million to be precise.

Richard Carpenter’s ear for finding hits, often in unlikely places, was as essential as his ear for making them. He found the song “Superstar,” when he heard Bette Midler sing it on “The Tonight Show.” He came across “We’ve Only Just Begun” in a bank commercial before they made it a hit. When he heard them, he knew just what to do with them.

“If the song hit me, whether it was one of mine or say one that I’d heard, like ‘We’ve Only Just Begun,’ or ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’ or ‘Superstar,’ if the song had it, my arrangement just took place immediately,” Richard said.

And he knew a song was not of any use if it didn’t match Karen’s stunning alto voice.
“I could give you a list of songs that I heard on the radio that I went right out and bought and yet knew would not work for Karen,” he said. The sibling duo was one of the best-selling recording acts of the 1970s.

Ten of their singles sold a million copies or more and the voice of lead singer, Karen Carpenter, was a staple on the radio airwaves throughout the decade. Karen’s voice inspired legions of singers, ranging from k.d. lang to Madonna, who included a tribute to her with the song “Rain”. However, Karen’s brother, Richard, a piano player and composer, said that Karen really thought of herself as a drummer who just happened to sing.
The Carpenters broke into recording when they were signed to A&M Records and by 1970, on the strength of the title track “Close to You” and the single “We’ve Only Just Begun,” the Carpenters became a music sensation. The album earned eight Grammy nominations, with wins for Best New Artist and Best Contemporary Vocal Performance. They followed that up with a Grammy award in 1971 for “Superstar” from the album Carpenters.

During an era when rock and roll dominated radio, later followed by disco, the Carpenters offered a distinctive, softer sound. “Rainy Days And Mondays” was in stark contrast to other songs of the day from the likes of the Rolling Stones or the Guess Who.

Richard Carpenter and Karen formed The Richard Carpenter trio with Wes Jacobs, and later performed as a duo. They appeared on the TV show “Your All American College Show”, playing a cover of “Dancing in the Street”.
While there, Karen played the drums and Richard discovered Karen’s dulcet voice. After glimmers of success in other iterations, they became the duo: “Carpenters”.

Richard took piano lessons as a child, progressing to California State University, Long Beach. Karen Carpenter known to have one of the most distinctive pop voices of all time, also played the drums for the band and played electric bass on a number of songs.

They first performed together as a duo achieving worldwide success in the years that followed with the classic hit singles “(They Long to Be) Close to You” and “We’ve Only Just Begun”, quickly became leading sellers in the soft rock, easy listening music genres.
The duo had decided to sign to A&M Records as simply ‘Carpenters’, without a ‘the’, which was influenced by bands such as Buffalo Springfield or Jefferson Airplane, which they considered “hip”.
After Richard and Karen signed with A&M Records, the label co-founder Herb Alpert said, “Let’s hope we have some hits.”

Seven months later, the duo delivered the first: a daring deconstruction of The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride.” Richard and Karen transformed The Fab Four’s rocking classic into a lushly produced ballad.

The first album, “Offering” (later repackaged and retitled Ticket to Ride), was a collection of re-recordings of songs originally done in busy session bassist Joe Osborn’s studio, along with some newly composed tunes and covers. “Offering” offered a hint of what was coming: masterful production and arrangements, and a voice on the verge of an all-time greatness!
After Offering, Karen and Richard were almost immediately back in the studio working on the next record, when Alpert suggested they record a Burt Bacharach-Hal David song that had been tucked away for years: “They Long To Be Close To You.” Neither Carpenter was thrilled with the choice at the time but Alpert believed that with an arrangement by Richard, Karen’s marvellous alto and the duo’s multi-tracked harmonies, the song could have potential, and he was proven absolutely right.

The record was an overnight smash and on July 25, 1970, the Richard-repunctuated “(They Long To Be) Close to You” marked the first of a four-week run atop the Hot 100, marking the start of an unbroken string of top-20 Hot 100 hits that would continue for an astounding six years, including such classics as “For All We Know,” “Rainy Days And Mondays” and “Superstar”.

Key critics were there from the start. And, over time, most opinion makers eventually came around. A 2017 Rolling Stone article reflected on Karen and Richard’s work, noting the gradual reassessment and celebration of Karen’s extraordinary contralto and The Carpenters’ catalog.

The Carpenters won three Grammy Awards, and an American Music Award. They topped the Billboard Top 200 album chart with “The Singles”, scored three Hot 100 #1s. Globally, they were hugely successful, as well.

However, between 1971-75, they performed in more than 800 concerts. That’s a jaw-dropping number of live shows for any act — no less one that was best at delivering meticulously produced, often-dazzling studio recordings. The touring combined with recording demands took personal tolls, but the hits just kept on coming.

In 1976, The Carpenters’ Very First TV Special landed at #6 in the Nielsen ratings, and led to an ABC contract resulting in four more specials. Back in the recording studio, Carpenters shook things up with the experimental 1977 Passage, which included an epic cover of Klaatu’s otherworldly “Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft (The Recognized Anthem Of World Contact Day),” which became a global chart success. Passage also took Carpenters for its one trip into the US country top 10 single chart, with a number Newton co-penned.
A year later, Carpenters enjoyed one of its biggest hits. Eight years after producing an instant holiday classic with the single, on Christmas, came the long-awaited Christmas album, “Christmas Portrait”, which remains a strong seller each holiday season.

Karen succumbed to complications of anorexia nervosa on February 4, 1983. Richard forged ahead, producing four more complete collections of Carpenters material never released on albums, overseeing reissues and other Carpenters-related projects, releasing his own two solo albums, overseeing the belated release of Karen’s solo effort, producing albums and tracks for other artists and performing occasional concerts.
Carpenters With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO), Richard composed a huge new overture and between-track interludes, as well as the fresh orchestral arrangements to accompany the original Carpenters recordings. He conducted the RPO sessions at London’s Abbey Road Studios. Then it was back to Los Angeles, for more recording and post-production at Capitol Studios in Hollywood.

The Carpenters’ joint career ended in 1983 with Karen’s sudden death from heart failure brought on by complications of anorexia. Extensive news coverage surrounding these circumstances increased public awareness of eating disorders. Their music continues to attract critical acclaim and commercial success, making them one of the best-selling music artists of all time.

An entire recording of the program is available at this link:

1. We’ve only just begun:

“We’ve Only Just Begun”, is from the 1970 Album: “Close To You”.

This massive hit was The Carpenters’ third single. It also became their second gold single. Richard Carpenter considers this song to be the Carpenter’s signature recording which sold over a million copies.

The song was inspired by a TV advertisement when Richard heard a bank commercial. Songwriters Paul Williams and Roger Nichols were commissioned by an advertising agency Roberds under the name ‘Freddie Allen’, it was then used in a wedding-themed advert for Crocker National Bank in 1970, with Williams singing. The song played over footage of a couple getting married

The song would also help the Carpenters earn two Grammy awards in 1971 and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for recordings “of lasting quality or historical significance” in 1998.

Songwriters Paul Williams and Roger Nichols who penned the song wrote many songs together, including The Carpenters’ “Rainy Days and Mondays”.

After watching the commercial, Richard guessed that Williams was the singer, as both of them were under contract to A&M Records . He ran into Williams at the record company’s office and asked if a full-length version was available. Williams praised Karen Carpenter’s performance on The Carpenters’ cover of the song, calling her “an angel.”
Richard Carpenter, heard him sing on the TV commercial, and called and asked if there was a complete song. And they went, ‘Well, funny you should ask.’ And if there hadn’t been a complete song, we would have still said, ‘Well, of course there is,’ and then sat down and written it as he remembered finishing songs in the publisher’s car on the way to play it for a producer. He retained his rights as a writer, and the publisher retained his rights as well.
Williams attributes his songwriting success to authenticity, explaining: “When ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ was a #1 record, I think the #1 album in the country was “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” So it was as far away from what was happening in the music scene as you can get. And yet it was a hit. I think it was a hit because of, obviously, Karen Carpenter’s amazing vocals, and authenticity in lyrics”. This is a clip of the song with instrumentation by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

2. Ticket to ride:

Name another band that has released a cover of a Beatles classic as their debut 45 rpm record. It’s audacious, and shows the kind of musical confidence that Richard and Karen Carpenter had from the very start. Richard was 23 and Karen was still a teenager at 19 years old when “Ticket to Ride” was released as Carpenters‘ first A&M single.

But the fact is that the album that we all think of as the Carpenters’ debut had been released in later 1969 under a different name; it was only changed in the wake of the moderate success of their 45.
The Beatles and the Carpenters are very different artists; however, the Carpenters covered The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride” and released their cover as a single. Richard Carpenter revealed what he did to transform the original Beatles song from an upbeat rock song into a ballad. The public reaction to the Carpenters’ version of the track was very different from The Beatles’ version.

In 1970 A&M Records had issued the duo’s debut album, Offering, from which “Ticket to Ride” was taken.

Offering failed to make the bestseller list, but would eventually make the Billboard album chart in the week of March 6, 1971, when, following the massive success of Carpenters and their “Close to You album”, A&M renamed the earlier release as “Ticket To Ride”, put it out with a new cover, and gave it a new lease of life. It remains the least well-known of their albums, and certainly one of the most underrated.

This album, unlike most Carpenters releases, has the siblings sharing lead vocals; later Karen would normally take on the job. Aside from Richard and Karen, there are virtually no other musicians on “Ticket To Ride”. It only goes to underscore what a fabulous album it is.
“Ticket to Ride” is one of the finest tracks,” Carpenter wrote. Since many of The Beatles’ up-tempo songs are as melodic as the ballads, they can be made, with the right approach, into ballads as well.

Richard Carpenter said he and Karen helped make the song sound sad together. “Not only did I slow the piece down, but changed, or added, some chord changes as well, along with the melody at the end of the choruses, with Karen resolving on a very effective major seven,” he wrote. This put her in her marvellous lower register which sounds terrific and adds to the plangent character of the entire chart; after all “Ticket to Ride” is a sad lyric.

“Ticket to Ride” is of course a song written by John Lennon & Paul McCartney and performed by The Beatles. Their version was released in 1965. The Beatles’ version of “Ticket to Ride” peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, remaining on the chart for 11 weeks.

Richard heard the Beatles’ #1 recording of “Ticket to Ride” one day in 1969 and decided it would make a good ballad.

The duo’s melancholy interpretation of the song coincided with the breakup of the “Fab Four” and it brought to light the song’s somber meaning.

The Carpenters’ first long-player, cut in 1969 (and originally released as Offering) amid the breakdown of America’s postwar social contract, the Vietnam War’s soaring to a crescendo of bloodshed, the coming apart of the Beatles, and the final wilting of the youth rebellion of the prior four years.

In some ways, Ticket to Ride is the Carpenters’ most interesting album, for it contains all the interests and sounds that were modified on their subsequent albums, showcasing the ravishing performances by the duo.

3. Top of the world:

“Top Of The World” is from the 1972 Album: “A Song For You”.
Recorded and released by various artists inside and outside of the country music scene. However, the most successful performances of them all were from The Carpenters and Lynn Anderson.
“Top of the World” is one of the most remarkable pieces of music of their entire career. With Karen Carpenter’s magical voice , the song truly hit and kept on rocking the music lovers all over the globe. Richard Carpenter along with John Bettis pooled resources for the words and lyrics of “Top of the World.” It was part of their album “A Song for You.” which was released in 1973, a few months after Lynn Anderson released her version. Interestingly, The Carpenters intended to release the song as an album cut. Nevertheless, when the band heard of Lynn Anderson’s cover version, they decided to release it as a single. Their decision was perfect and it became a worldwide hit. It even placed at #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. It then became their third single to peak at number one spot on the said chart.

Without Richard Carpenters brilliant mind, the song wouldn’t be created. Meanwhile, if Lynn Anderson didn’t release her version, then it wouldn’t be a success for The Carpenters. With this, both had successfully provided us with great sound and music.

The lyrics to this song originated as a poem penned by a woman from Tuatapere NZ, after walking the Humpridge Track and viewing the world from the Tors above what is now the Okaka Lodge. The view from the Tors is other-worldly and literally, one is looking down on creation. And John Bettis was on a plane sitting next to Richard Carpenter looking down at Carpenters fans waving and screaming, he leaned over to Richard and said, “You’re on top of the world.” That’s how the song was hatched!
In this joyful song, Karen Carpenter is “on the top of the world, lookin’ down on creation.” And flying high.

This originally showed up on the multi-platinum album “A Song For You” in June 1972. The song was released as a single in Japan in 1972 and went gold. At the same time, country artist Lynn Anderson covered it and her version reached #1 on the Country chart. Finally, in 1973, the Carpenters released the song as a single in the US and UK due to popular demand. It shot straight to #1 and became one of their best known hits. 

This has been used in a number of TV series and movies. Among the films:
Shrek Forever After (2010)
The Fast and the Furious and plenty more.
And the TV series like
The Simpsons ( 1997) and a few more.

4. (They long to be) Close to you….

“(They Long to Be) Close to You” by Carpenters is from the 1970 Album: “Close to You”.

This was written by the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It was originally released as the B-side of “Blue Guitar” by Richard Chamberlain.

The Carpenters signed with A&M Records which was co-owned by Herb Alpert. Burt Bacharach asked Alpert to record the song himself, but he didn’t feel comfortable with the lyrical content – “Moondust in your hair” – and instead produced a new arrangement for the Carpenters. 
Herb Alpert gave a lead sheet, to Richard Carpenter and told him that he himself was not recording this, and also told Richard not to hear any other recording of the song as he didn’t want anything to influence what he may come up with.

At the end of the first bridge, Richard kept two piano quintuplets. But that record, that song, the arrangement, all of it, is misleading to the uninitiated, because it sounds simple. And it’s anything but simple.
In their first sessions for this song, Karen Carpenter played the drums, which Alpert didn’t agree with. Said the producer Herb Alpert: “I thought it was a little light. And so I asked them to go back in the studio again, because Karen was playing drums. And they recorded it the second time and I still felt they were missing a little something on the groove, so I suggested very carefully to Karen that maybe Hal Blaine should come in and play drums on it.”
Blaine replaced Karen on drums and they got the take they liked with Richard on the piano, Joe Osborn on bass, and Karen singing

This was the first of a string of hits for the Carpenters. Easy listening had done huge business all through and people like Herb Alpert, the man who signed the Carpenters to his A&M label, had made fortunes off of it. But the Carpenters took that music, with all its lush orchestration, and fused it with the starry-eyed sensibilities of rock. In doing so, they became a commercial juggernaut and helped to invent the somnambulant sound of ’70s studio-pop.

Meanwhile, “Spectrum”, the first band that Richard and Karen formed, had a hard time getting signed or even getting shows because their music was soft and ponderous. For a while, they were too new for old sounds, and too old for new ones. In 1968, Spectrum broke up, and the Carpenter siblings soldiered on as a duo. After a while, they signed on to do a Ford commercial, but they backed out of that, once Alpert signed them to A&M. “Offering (Ticket To Ride)”, their debut, went nowhere. But a year later, Burt Bacharach met with the duo, liked them, and asked them to open a charity show for him. As part of the gig, they were planning to play a medley of Bacharach songs. But then Richard got to working on Bacharach’s song “(They Long To Be) Close To You,” and the version that the Carpenters recorded ended up breaking through and becoming one of 1970’s biggest songs. All earlier versions of the song were big, traditional showstopping orchestral-pop ballads but when Alpert got the Carpenters working on their own version of the song, he told Richard not to listen to any of the others when coming up with his arrangement. All those melodies are saccharine sweet and impeccable to the point of being antiseptic. And the song itself looks simple. The one thing that really works about the song is Karen. She’s got this warm, controlled delivery, and she manages to get across both sadness and joy with a lot of subtlety. Karen thinks that birds and stars and all the girls in town are hovering around this mythical beloved figure. The day this person was born, angels sprinkled gold dust in this person’s hair and starlight in his eyes of blue, this is an internal-monologue song. It’s like she’s the only person involved in the song who even understands what it’s about.

Fifty years ago, A&M Records co-founder Herb Alpert sent Richard and Karen Carpenter a personal message that had far greater meaning than just a few words on the page.
“We’re No.1,” the handwritten note began.

The Carpenters’ “(They Long to Be) Close to You” had just reached the summit of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, which tallied pop singles airplay and sales in the world’s largest music market, the United States.
“Weeeeeeeeeee,” Alpert continued in his note, gleefully letting the e’s trickle down the paper. “Congratulations + Love.” Alpert signed it, simply, “Herb.”

It also didn’t hurt that it was Alpert who had championed the Carpenters’ signing to A&M in the first place.
So, after “Offering”, he got Richard and Karen back in the studio to make another album, with one caveat:
He wanted them to record “Close to You,” a Burt Bacharach-Hal David tune that had been around for years. After topping the Hot 100 with Bacharach-David’s “This Guy’s in Love with You” the songwriters dug through their trunk and suggested lightning may strike again if Alpert gave “Close to You” a try. Alpert did as asked, but the recording stayed in the vault for years – a good thing, as he had the song up his sleeve ready to hand over to Richard, who he was certain would find the song’s elusive sweet spot. Alpert knew “Close to You” needed what would become Richard’s calling card: his multi-layered and intricate arrangements that would always provide the perfect vehicle for Karen’s once-in-a-generation voice: The so-called “Carpenters sound.

The recording of “Close to You” is part of A&M legend, with stories of staffers breaking company policy and ruining takes by slipping into studio C to hear what all the fuss was about. Alpert was so thrilled with the end result that he played the recording over the phone to Bacharach, who was stunned and delighted. Richard said he suspected the record would either be a blockbuster or a flop. And he had good reason for concern: There’d never been a record quite like it. It raised the bar on Top-40 pop forever!

And they’d only just begun.
The Carpenters would emerge as one of the most endeared and enduring recording artists in the history of pop music.
And without Herb Alpert, who knows?
Clearly, that note from the boss still means a lot to Richard a half-century later, as it’s framed and hung in a prominent place.

5. Yesterday once more

“Yesterday Once More”, is from the 1973 Album: “Now and Then”.

“Yesterday Once More” is a song based on nostalgia. The Carpenters go about this specifically by reminiscing and giving a shoutout to their favourite songs of yesteryear. They don’t actually namedrop their preferred tunes but rather go about achieving this task partially by emulating some of the sounds (i.e. unique artistic expressions) which apparently made these songs exceptional.

Moreover this track was specifically designed as the intro to an eight-track medley the Carpenters’ put together which were all covers of tracks (thus the title of the album it is featured on, is “Now & Then”). So the Carpenters are calling up “Yesterday Once More”. That is they are not only praising their beloved one who stood by them through the ups and downs of life but also actually reciting them for the present audience.
The song has the same effect on one of its writers, hit songsmith John Bettis. “Yesterday” is one of the 38 songs he wrote with and for the duo of Richard and Karen Carpenter, and he “distinctly” remembers the day the 1973 hit came to fruition. John Bettis said, “Richard and I got to know each other, from Cal State at Long Beach school. He asked me at one point, let’s put a group together. We’ll get some other people from the music department here and make a band’ and
Karen sang that heavenly even when she was 16″.
It also provides insight into the music and personalities of the duo who produced such timeless pop music.

Richard Carpenter reportedly stated that this is his personal favourite amongst the songs he has written. And that is logical, considering that “Yesterday Once More” is arguably the Carpenters’ biggest success, it is the best-selling track globally, that the duo has ever recorded.
The Carpenters’ “Yesterday Once More” can transport one back to the time and place one first heard it, no matter how long ago.
“Every sha-la-la-la, every wo-o-wo-o, still shines. Every shing-a-ling-a-ling, that they’re startin’ to sing’s so fine that all the best memories come back clearly. It’s yesterday once more,” the song goes….
They were enjoying a resurgence in popularity in the 70s, so Richard thought it would be nice to write a song about this and put the piece to bookend the medley they were planning to record for the second side of their first album release for 1973, “Now and Then”. The resulting “Yesterday Once More”, became their 8th domestic gold single, and one of their biggest hits worldwide.

“Yesterday Once More” was written during the time when The Carpenters were on the shows a lot, and Richard no longer had the time to find new materials, so he enlisted Bettis’ help who wrote maybe five pages of (song) titles. Richard chose this one and the two wrote the lyrics in something like 5 hours!!

Karen wouldn’t bother them during songwriting, Bettis continued, “She came in and said, ‘What have you got for me?’ We said, ‘Well, it’s not done.’ We played her the chorus, and she, of course, loved it.” When they were finally done with the song, Karen came back in and sang it. “It was one of those moments you live for, because she was so comfortable with us, and Richard could play so well that you could feel the arrangement.” Bettis said. “The record just bloomed in front of me. It was never any better than that, and the record really wasn’t that much different.”

Session man Hal Blaine played drums on most Carpenters singles, but Karen Carpenter played drums on this one. Richard played keyboards, Joe Osborn was on bass, and Tony Peluso played guitar.

With a string of number-one hits showcasing Karen Carpenter’s warm and distinctive vocals and Richard Carpenter’s sophisticated compositions and arrangements, the Carpenters were responsible for some of the most popular music of the 1970s, and this one is no different. Really sounds like it is Yesterday Once More!!!

6. I won’t last a day without you

“I Won’t Last A Day Without You”, is from the 1972 album, “A Song For You”

The lyrics were written by Paul Williams and the music composed by Roger Nichols. In 1972, Richard Carpenter had learned of a new song by Williams and Nichols, who had already contributed “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Rainy Days and Mondays” to the Carpenters. He included it on their 1972 album “A Song for You”, but it would not be released as a single until 1974.
This song was the 5th and final single from the album “A Song For You”. It was originally only an album track; two years passed before it was released as a single. During 1973- ’74, the Carpenters found themselves with a busy touring schedule, which kept them from working on new material as a result, they had no album issued for the year 1974, but decided to choose this song for single release.

Williams recorded his own version of this song for his 1972 album. Other artists who have covered this include Shirley Bassey, Rosemary Clooney, Bobby Darin, Robert Goulet, Maureen McGovern, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand and Andy Williams.

“I Won’t Last A Day Without You” is a peach of a song, featuring some of Karen’s finest harmony vocals, written by lyricist Paul Williams with a lovely melody by Roger Nichols.

“I Won’t Last a Day Without You” was the result of another wonderful collaboration with them where one feels connected to the melody as well as the uplifting lyrics, and the warmth that Karen brings to this sentimental song, capturing the depth of emotion. The song begins with a truth that most of us have experienced or continue to experience: “Day after day, I must face a world of strangers, where I don’t belong, I’m not that strong.” We will often feel discouraged about our own dreams and “getting over that rainbow.” However, those special people are the constants in our lives that will be there to always bring us joy, and encourage us to keep going. That’s why there is so much emphasis on the delivery of singing the lyrics, “I can take all the madness the world has to give.” We know we can deal with what the world throws at us because of the support we have, knowing we are not really alone. And we are afraid to imagine our world without that .

7. Rainy days and Mondays

“Rainy Days And Mondays”, is from the 1971 Album: “Carpenters”.

May 15, 1971 was in fact a bright day for Carpenters as sun shone on them when their single “Rainy Days and Mondays” became the highest new entry of the week on the Hot 100.
Recorded in early 1971, “Rainy Days and Mondays” was released on The Carpenters’ third and eponymous album, “Carpenters”. The song was originally given to the duo as a demo, and it didn’t take long to decide that it was perfect for Karen as Richard left his arrangement sparse on purpose to highlight her powerful vocals.
Karen shone like a star, radiating a celestial essence that remains as powerful as it was 50 years ago. She possessed one of the most enchanting vocal abilities that one has ever heard of and inspired many others to rise up and be a success in the music industry.

This 1971 track was a mega-hit on both sides of the Atlantic and confirmed her as one of the most captivating vocalists around. A magnificent reflection of her wide vocal range and emotive delivery, it’s a swooning and reflective piece that has one struggling to contain the tears and listening to Carpenter’s isolated vocal track for “Rainy Days and Mondays”, only reinforces the lump in one’s throat. Even if she didn’t write the song, the pain in her voice is palpable. As she sings, “Nothin’ to do but frown / Rainy days and Mondays always get me down” before the saxophone solo, a large shiver goes running down the spine. It’s also indicative of just how little her voice needed mentoring in the studio. It had a natural, unique warmth that most singers should be envious of. Additionally, the way she ramps up the pitch at the end of the last chorus before bringing it back down is pure genius!
A terrific testament to one of music’s most influential figures, Karen Carpenter‘s isolated vocals for “Rainy Days and Mondays” is a must-listen for anybody wanting a masterclass in vocal delivery.

According to Richard, “Rainy Days…” was submitted to him in a stack of demos from Almo/Irving, A&M’s publishing houses. Two of the songs impressed him: “Let Me Be The One” and “Rainy Days And Mondays.” They ultimately recorded both, and selected the latter as their fifth single release.

This beautiful ballad was composed by singer-songwriter Paul Williams, who wrote the lyrics, and Roger Nichols, wrote the music; it is one of those songs that is perfectly suited to Karen’s poignant, vocal style. It was The Carpenters’ second Nichols/Williams hit, following, “We’ve Only Just Begun” from the “Close to You” album of the previous year.

The song stakes its claim to our hearts with the opening harmonica motif that is used throughout the song to great effect. Uncredited on the original album, it is played by Tommy Morgan whose talents graced a number of great records.
Along with the harmonica is the delicate Richard Carpenter piano playing and then it’s all down to Karen who wrings every last drop of emotion from Williams’s lyrics. When she sings, “What I’ve got they used to call the blues,” we all feel them. And it is not just Karen’s vocals that make this song work. Richard’s harmony vocals add immeasurably to the song and their subtlety just ooze emotion and, if that isn’t enough, there’s that saxophone solo, again uncredited, which was by Jim Horn.

Paul Williams wrote this with Roger Nichols. It was an early effort for the duo, who went on to write hits and separately wrote popular TV themes. Williams said in an interview: “As I examine myself, when I was an out-of-work actor, I had a movie called The Chase. I wasn’t even writing songs yet. I was an actor before I was a songwriter. I did a movie called The Loved One with Jonathan Winters, then two years later I got another movie just like that, called The Chase. I think I worked three months on it. My mom was a widow living in Denver. And I brought her out to live with me. I said, ‘Mom, you’re never going to have to work again. This movie’s going to really make me, it’s going to be the big break I’ve been waiting for. My career as an actor is gonna just fly.’ The movie came out and I’m not in it. I’ve got two lines, I think, the way it turned out. Big movie starring Marlon Brando, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Robert Duvall, huge film. So I worked on it, but I’ve got a little, really small part. So the career didn’t take off, and eventually the phone stopped ringing. So I’d stay up all night, I’d started to plunk out writing songs. My mother would get up in the morning, and she’s like, ‘Don’t worry, my son, God has a plan.’ And she’d talk to herself, she’d mumble. And she’d walk away, ‘oh jesus, I hope so…’ I’d go, ‘Mom, what’s the matter?’ She’d say, ‘You wouldn’t understand. I’m just feeling old. Just feeling old.’ So she’d talk to herself. So I think that’s probably where, ‘Talking to myself and feeling old’ came from, because she would jabber to herself, and whenever you’d ask her she’d say, ‘I’m just feeling old today. I’m not sad, I’m just feeling old.'”

Sometimes song lyrics are written on the fly, and that was the case with a line in this song.
Apparently, this song is the antithesis to AC/DC.

8. Superstar.

“Superstar”, is from the 1971 Album: “The Carpenters”

“Superstar” is a song composed by Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell. Released in 1971, The Carpenters’s version of “Superstar” peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at #2, and it became one of their signature songs.

The Carpenters and Bette Midler made pretty different music; however, the Carpenters probably wouldn’t have recorded “Superstar” if not for Midler. Notably, Richard Carpenter was also hesitant to release “Superstar” as a single. Interestingly, Carpenter said his attitude toward “Superstar” differed from that of many Carpenters fans. Carpenter discussed why his band decided to cover “Superstar.” “I came home from the studio relatively early one evening in early ’71,” he wrote and I tuned in “The Tonight Show”. The host, Johnny Carson, was championing a then relatively unknown performer named Bette Midler. One of the songs she sang was ‘Superstar,’” Carpenter added. “It was quite a bit different than what my arrangement turned out to be, but I knew it could be a hit. As the lyric never mentions the word “Superstar”, I had to quiz a few people about it to find out its name in order to get a lead sheet or recording. It turned out that Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett had written it for Rita Coolidge for the recording and tour. The album was on A&M and I owned a copy of it, but never got around to playing it.” But record producer Jerry Moss convinced him to release “Superstar” and Carpenter was grateful for Moss’ advice.
“Superstar” became a massive hit and the song’s album, “The Carpenters”, was a hit as well, peaking at #2 on the Billboard 200 and staying on the chart for 59 weeks.

The song had an impact beyond its time on the charts. Todd Haynes made a film about Karen Carpenter’s life called “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story”, which is both named after the song and features it as well. “Superstar” became one of the Carpenters’ classic songs and it wouldn’t be if not for Midler.

Richard Carpenter heard the song for the first time when Bette Midler performed it on The Tonight Show. Richard knew about the potential of the song and reworked the song in their style and recorded it, resulting in the most successful version.

Karen’s performance on “Superstar” is astonishing: she inhabited the lyric’s mediation between the artist and fan so completely that every previous version of the song, including Delaney and Bonnie’s original, was immediately rendered void.
Richard Carpenter received a Grammy award nomination for Best Arrangement and Accompanying Vocalist for this song. It was the second of five nominations Carpenter received for his arrangements.
“Superstar” was recorded by Karen on her first take, singing the lyrics that had been scribbled by Richard onto a paper napkin. It took a while for Karen to warm up to the song. “For some reason that tune didn’t hit me in the beginning,” she recalled in a 1981 interview. “It’s the only one. Richard looked at me like I had three heads. He said: ‘Are you out of your mind?’ When I heard his arrangement of it I fell over, and now it’s one of my favorites too.”

A&M co-founder Herb Alpert said in the BBC documentary: “The Carpenters were always looking for good material, and Richard Carpenter had an ear for great melodies. And Leon had that touch.”

9. Sing…

“Sing” is from the 1973 Album “Now and Then”

“Sing” is actually a 1971 song written by Joe Raposo (who was a staff songwriter) for the children’s television show Sesame Street as its signature song. It gained popularity when performed by Carpenters, a #3 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

Barbra Streisand’s 1972 version of the song was released as a single, reaching #28 on the Easy Listening chart and #94 on the Billboard Hot 100. Many other versions have been recorded by a variety of artists, including Trini Lopez, who recorded a Spanish-language version in 1972 that appeared on his album “Viva”.

Although Barbra Streisand had an easy-listening hit in 1972 with “Sing,” Karen and Richard Carpenter heard the song for the first time as guests on the ABC television special “Robert Young with the Young” in 1973. They loved the song and felt that it could be a hit. It appeared as the debut single on the group’s 1973 album “Now & Then” and reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #1 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart, and it became the group’s seventh gold single.

In 1974 while touring Japan, the Carpenters recorded their first live album in Osaka. It contained a new version of the song with the children’s chorus sung by the Kyoto Children’s Choir. It is featured on the album Live in Japan, recorded in June 1974 and released in Japan only on March 7, 1975. The album has since been released on CD.

The 1991 box set From the Top contains a Spanglish version of the song. The title is listed as “Canta/Sing,” and the song is sung with alternating Spanish and English lines. The Mexican single contains full Spanish lyrics except for the refrain. A new remix of Carpenters’ version was created in 1994 by sound engineer Roger Young.

10. Please, Mr Postman.

“Please Mr. Postman” is from the 1975 Album, “Horizon” which went to #1 in US.

“Please Mr. Postman”, by the “The Marvelettes” and later the “Carpenters” is one of the most successful pop or R&B compositions ever. This ode to snail mail frustration topped the Billboard pop chart twice, as performed by the two very different acts, and in its original version was also a #1 R&B hit. It also earned the fairly rare honour of actually being recorded and released by “The Beatles.”
The smash-hit by “The Marvelettes” evoked such a response by people all over the world, that two other bands capitalized on its unrelenting success. Despite the overwhelming success of “Please Mr. Postman”, the provenance of the song started from an unusual place. Before “The Marvelettes”, became the wildly popular, sweet-sounding girl group, they were just five girls from a suburban high school in Detroit trying to make it.

Dobbins, who left the group before they actually recorded the song, got a blues version of “Please Mr. Postman” from her friend, William Garrett. From there she completely rewrote the song, keeping only the title. The powers that be at Motown loved it and quickly went to work on getting it live.
“Please Mr. Postman” hit #1 and gave the girls from Inkster, Michigan their big break. The timing for the massive hit was perfect. The Vietnam War was heating up and the move to large cities from rural areas was in full swing. Many folks all over the country were waiting hopefully for the postman to deliver a letter from someone special.

The Beatles decided they enjoyed “Please Mr. Postman” so much they wanted to cover it. Of course, various music executives thought such a popular American song by five black girls wouldn’t play so well from four mostly unknown, at the time, white guys from the UK.

That’s precisely why the song wasn’t included on their first Capitol album, “Meet The Beatles!.” However, once that album sold three million records, they wanted to rush a second album to capitalize on their huge popularity. That’s why The Beatles added “Please Mr. Postman,” among other R&B covers (such as “Roll Over Beethoven,” “You Really Got A Hold On Me,” and “Long Tall Sally”), to their second Capitol album, released as With The Beatles in the UK and in shorter form as The Beatles’ Second Album in the US. The Beatles’ “Please Mr. Postman” was also released as the B-side to “Roll Over Beethoven” in Canada.
From the suburbs of Detroit to the lips of the Beatles, by any measure “Please Mr. Postman” defied the odds. But the song wasn’t done yet. In 1975, The Carpenters covered “Please Mr. Postman” to the tune of country-pop as opposed to R&B. By 1975, people were ready for more of it as their version also made it to #1. Clearly, people loved hearing about the anguishes of snail mail. The Carpenters surely seemed to have the Midas touch, with every single they released becoming big.

Featuring Karen Carpenter on lead vocals and drums, Richard Carpenter on backing vocals and piano and a full band playing guitar, bass guitar, saxophone, tubular bells and castanets, it turned into the Carpenters’ tenth million-selling single. It was also #1 on the United States’ Easy Listening Chart and topped the charts in Canada and South Africa. It made the top ten in the UK, Germany, New Zealand and Switzerland.
Richard said, “Karen and I had always liked the Motown classic and I had considered recording it for some time. Listening to the basic track of this song, it is only four chords repeating themselves. Our engineer, Ray Gerhardt, upon first hearing the track, didn’t like it, and thought we had taken leave of our senses. Of course, as more was added to it, the recording took shape, and Ray ultimately just disliked it. We loved it and thought it could be a hit”. Released in the fall of 1974. “Postman” was a smash worldwide.

An awesome fact about the song is that the chorus of the song is sung in majority by the background vocalists, and Karen Carpenters chips in sometimes.
Thirteen years after the Marvelettes’ original, Richard and Karen Carpenter’s cover of ‘Please Mr. Postman’ became their third US #1 as on January 25, 1975, the duo’s remake was sitting pretty atop the Billboard chart.

Then, 13 years after the original, made when Richard Carpenter, who was 15 as it became a hit, and his sister Karen, who was still only 11 , the siblings’ interpretation entered the Billboard survey and swiftly became not only their 11th US Top 10 single, but their third and final #1 featuring Karen Carpenter on drums and a guitar solo by Tony Peluso, which was their biggest hit ever worldwide, reaching #1 in the US, Australia, Germany, Japan and several other countries, as well as reaching #2 in the UK and Canada. Richard Carpenter later said that he wished they never did the song, as by that stage of their career, they should not have been covering songs.
The Beatles recorded this in 1963. Sung by John Lennon, they played it at many of their early concerts.
Samuel L. Jackson sings some of this in the 2019 movie Captain Marvel in a scene where the titular superhero (played by Brie Larson) explains that her name is pronounced “Mar-Vell.” In character as Nick Fury, Jackson suggests “Marvel,” like The Marvelettes. When she has no idea what he’s talking about, he sings “Please Mr. Postman” to provide a guidepost. So, in this universe The Marvelettes helped name Captain Marvel.

11. For all we know:

“For All We Know”, is from the 1971 Album: “Carpenters”.

In 1970, while the Carpenters had a concert tour in Toronto and Chicago, Richard was worried about what song should follow their previous hits “(They Long to Be) Close to You” and “We’ve Only Just Begun”. Their manager advised them to take a short break from their work and go to a movie theater to see the film. Richard and Karen were immediately taken with this song and agreed that it should be the follow-up to their previous hits. They recorded and released it and it went gold in only two months. The Carpenters’ success with this song helped them win the 1970 Oscar for Best Song.

Richard said, “As “We’ve Only Just Begun” had peaked, Karen and I were concerned with what song should follow as a single. We had been touring almost constantly and, as a result, I had little time to be listening to, or writing, new material. We had arrived in Toronto to open the show for Englebert Humperdinck, and the night before opening, it was suggested we relax by seeing a movie, “Lovers And Other Strangers”. As we were to discover, “For All We Know” was written for this film. I liked it immediately and called the coast, requesting the demo and lead sheet be awaiting me when I returned home. The subsequent arrangement and recording were definitely rush jobs, as a follow-up for “We’ve Only Just Begun” was eagerly awaited by the record label and radio stations, and Christmas was fast approaching”. In addition to becoming a hit, the song went on to win the Oscar for Best Song of 1970.

It was written by Bread and was incredibly short, less than a minute and a half. The Carpenters fixed this by singing the verse twice. It appears that Bread never had any intention of rereleasing the song, so the only recording is just the one-time run-through of the verse. However, it is so captivating it is extremely worthy of top spot.
“For All We Know” is not sung by the usual lead singer of Bread, David Gates, it is sung by jazz singer and guitarist James Griffin. The song’s theme is unique. It talks about the anticipation of meeting someone, and also in the context of getting to take a lifetime to know them. This seems to be one of the truer expressions of love that we find in all of music. For what it is worth, The Carpenter’s version on its own would also appear on the same breath, but together, the two versions push them into the top 50s.

The Carpenters took that song to the charts in 1971, and it was also recorded by jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli and singers Mary Stallings, and Astrud Gilberto.

The chorus line “love may grow, for all we know” is both beautifully worded and equally beautifully arranged, a cor anglais weaving around the vocal. The song has been covered by a number of other artists including Shirley Bassey.

12. Only Yesterday:

“Only Yesterday” is from the 1975 Album, “Horizon”.

Released in the spring of 1975 as the follow-up to “Please Mr. Postman”, “Only Yesterday” peaked at #4 in the United States and became a hit in a number of countries, but not to the extent of its immediate predecessor. Still, Karen Carpenter sounds marvellous and the production sparkles, as does Roger Young’s impressive engineering.
Richard Carpenter composed this number with lyricist John Bettis. Both amazingly were sure the song wouldn’t be a hit, and lost a $1,000 bet to their recording engineer Roger Young when they were proven wrong.

“Only Yesterday” is a song recorded by The Carpenters in 1975. The music video features some footage of Karen and Richard at work in the studio. After Karen sang the line, “the promise of morning light”, it moved from the studio to a fountain in Huntington Library Gardens in San Marino, California. It then featured some footage of a Japanese bridge.

Cash Box called it a “ballad with its infectious beat” and that “Karen’s dulcet, multi-tracked vocals soar over a dynamic arrangement which should be buzzing over the airwaves for a long time.”

Working with songs of one of most favourite bands is always a pleasure, and this one was truly special. Working with some of Carpenters songs was so much of a rewind of the time, incredibly it does sound like it WAS ONLY YESTERDAY….. Thank you, Shriram Iyer….. it would never have been quite the same without being introduced to the duo in those circumstances in the New RMO Quarters

By abchandorkar

Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, Pune, India

12 replies on “They charmed the universe”

We had just bought a two in one. My brother..a sailor used to return with a boxes full of cassettes. My mother a mother in every friend’s always remember her, used to love Carpenters not just the songs even the sweet brother sister duo.

Liked by 1 person

My family lived singing their songs during their you get days. Have heard so many stories. We still listen to this classic group.. extremely well written.

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Wow….I am falling short of words….. Carpenters….Lovely…

All the songs are just superb….
Great write up sir….

Thanks a million for introducing me to the Carpenters…..

Wonderful programme Aniruddha sir….Keep going….💐💐👌👌

Many best wishes…..

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