Saturday, March 22, 2008

Every Sha-La-La-La, Every Wo-O-Wo-O

I heard it said somewhere that for anything in life to be successful, there must be the right balance of light and dark, soft and hard, quiet and loud, etc., and so it goes with my music collection.  For every Motorhead, Ted Nugent, Black Sabbath and Kiss on the dark/hard/loud side of my music spectrum, there are equal parts ABBA, Partridge Family, Bread and The Carpenters on my light/soft/quiet side, and the latter duo is the subject of this blog entry.

If you're a child of the '70s like yours truly, there was no escaping Richard and Karen Carpenter on Top 40 radio.  It seemed at times that their music was played more often than the commercials on the AM dial, and while their stuff was pure '70s pop fluff, to be sure, much of their music has stood the test of time and has aged quite well.  Several so-called "hip" '90s artists like The Cranberries and Sheryl Crow participated in the tribute album If I Were A Carpenter, so they must have done something right.  I sure's hell don't see anyone lining up to do an Air Supply or Starland Vocal Band tribute album anytime soon...

Richard Carpenter was/is a very accomplished musician and songwriter, but of course the focal point of this duo was his little sister Karen, who was blessed with quite possibly the most distinctive voice in music history.  About the only person I can think of who's even come close to rivaling her voice is Gloria Estefan, and even she is a stretch.  It's also easy to forget that Karen was a multi-taskershe also played the drums, both on their early records and on stage at times.  Although she eventually stepped aside in favor of veteran session man Hal Blaine (in the studio) and former Mouseketeer Cubby O'Brien (on tour), it wasn't before some early '70s magazine (I forget which) named Karen best drummer of the year over Led Zeppelin's John BonhamWTF?!?  This naturally begs the question, did Bonzo at least out-rank Karen on the best singer list?  Eerily enough, Bonzo and Karen did share one thing in common as their lives were both self-inflictedly cut way too short at age 32.  Bonham died pathetically choking on his own puke while drinking himself to death, and of course Karen became synonymous with the medical condition Anorexia Nervosa.  Extremely tragic losses in both cases, both of which could've been avoided, and they could easily both still be with us today...

What I don't get is why The Carpenters don't rate more airplay on Oldies radio stations these days, like Tony Orlando and Dawn (now Twilight) receive.  True, some of their stuff was pure schlock like "Sing" and "Sweet, Sweet Smile", and I still haven't forgiven them for the travesty that was "Calling Occupants (Of Interplanetary Craft)", but it's no sin to like Carpenters music, folks!  Their music stands up just as well today as it did in the '70s.  Give them another shot, if you've been resisting...

My All-Time Carpenters Top 10:
10) "(They Long To Be) Close To You" (1970)  The one that started it all.  I remember not liking this one much when I was a kid, but it's grown on me over the years.  Maybe it's the "waaaaah"s at the end that got to me...
9) "For All We Know" (1971)  From the film Lovers and Other Strangers.  Don't even waste your time with the flickit sucked, big-time.  Nice song, though.
8) "Please Mr. Postman" (1975)  My all-time favorite version of this songI like it even better than the Marvelettes' and The Beatles' versions.
7) "We've Only Just Begun" (1970)  This song was all over AM radio when I first started listening to AM radio at the age of six.  At age 43, I'd give most anything to be able to revert back to that carefree time in my life...
6) "Hurting Each Other" (1972)  Song originally recorded by Jimmy Clanton in the mid-'60s.  This version blows the doors off Clanton's.
5) "Yesterday Once More" (1973)  While the full album-side version of this song went a bit overboard, the 3:30 version of it was brilliant.  Shoo-be-doo lang-lang, indeed!
4) "Rainy Days And Mondays" (1970)  See also #7.  Oddly enough, neither rainy days nor Mondays get me downnot very often, anyway...
3) "Superstar" (1971)  Co-written by Leon Russell, the way Karen sang this one made you think it was a true story for her.
2) "Merry Christmas, Darling" (1971)  My #2 Christmas song of all-time, right behind Weird Al Yankovic's "Christmas At Ground Zero"okay, I'm just as warped as Al is, so sue me!  This one got a lot harder to listen to after Karen died, tho...
1) "Only Yesterday" (1975)  Easily The Carpenters' most underrated song, and an all-time favorite AM radio hit of mine.  Every time I hear this one, it takes me back to the summer of '75 in a heartbeat, as does The Eagles' "One Of These Nights" and John Denver's "Thank God I'm A Country Boy".  Damn, I miss being a kid...

2 comments:

Ken said...

One of the things I respect about you, Brian, is the way you aren't afraid to admit things like loving the Carpenter's. I'd say "Goodbye To Love" is my favorite...and it's one of the ONLY cuts from them that you can't discern the sound of Karen's stomach growling in the "softer" parts of the song!

Brian Holland said...

Karen's growling stomach was probably drowned out by that gawdawful guitar solo that just seemed so out-of-place on "Goodbye To Love". Belinda Carlisle's "Mad About You" suffered from the same problem, with Duran Duran's Andy Taylor and his squealy guitar solo. In both cases, it was like, "Dude, come back when you learn how to play that thing, will ya!"