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Music / Carpenters

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"Every sha-la-la-la, every whoa-whoa, still shines..."
— "Yesterday Once More"

Carpenters (absolutely not "The Carpenters") were a brother and sister pop duo consisting of Richard (born October 15, 1946) and Karen (March 2, 1950 – February 4, 1983) Carpenter. Karen started out as the act's drummer, but was gradually phased off the instrument and moved to the front once it became clear she had a superlative singing voice; Richard wrote and arranged the material, played piano, and provided backing vocals.

They were active from 1969 until Karen's death in 1983. During this time, they were very prolific and scored numerous hits, only a few of which are now commonly known to people who weren't there in The '70s. Their biggest hit, and probably their best-remembered song, is "(They Long to Be) Close to You"; others include "We've Only Just Begun", "For All We Know", "Rainy Days and Mondays", "Superstar", "Hurting Each Other", "Sing", "Yesterday Once More", "Top of the World", and "Only Yesterday".

Nowadays, the duo are as well known for their behind-the-scenes tragedy, specifically Karen's, as they are for their music. Karen developed anorexia nervosa in her mid-twenties after years on a restrictive diet, and as a result her health rapidly deteriorated, culminating in her death from heart failure at the age of 32. Anorexia was a little-known condition at the time, with Karen's death being the primary catalyst in it becoming more widely publicized; as a result, she tends to be viewed as the public's unofficial Patient Zero for anorexia, though the disorder was already known and documented in the medical community.

May or may not be related to Sabrina Carpenter of Girl Meets World and her older sister Sarah, despite the fact that both sets of Carpenters have the same roles in music. (Karen and Sabrina sing while Richard and Sarah do the behind-the-scenes work; in Sarah's case, she plays on instruments when Sabrina performs live.)

Studio Discography (both together and solo material from Richard and Karen):

  • 1969 - Ticket To Ridenote 
  • 1970 - Close To You
  • 1971 - Carpenters
  • 1972 - A Song For You
  • 1973 - Now & Then
  • 1975 - Horizon
  • 1976 - A Kind Of Hush
  • 1977 - Passage
  • 1978 - Christmas Portrait (Christmas album)
  • 1981 - Made In America (last album released in Karen's lifetime)
  • 1983 - Voice Of The Heart (comprised of unreleased outtakes and Karen's last two recordings)
  • 1984 - An Old-Fashioned Christmas (Christmas album)
  • 1987 - Time (Richard solo album, featuring special guest singers Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick and Scott Grimes)
  • 1989 - Lovelines (unreleased recordings and songs from television specials)
  • 1996 - Karen Carpenter (Karen solo album, recorded from 1979-1980)
  • 1998 - Pianist, Arranger, Composer, Conductor (Richard solo album, made of instrumental versions of Carpenters songs)
  • 2001 - As Time Goes By (unreleased recordings, released in Japan in 2001 and internationally in 2004)


  • Aliens Speaking English: "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft." The aliens on this song don't just speak English, they sing back to Karen!
  • All Drummers Are Animals: Erm... Karen Carpenter? A trope can't get more averted than this. Karen really could play, though, and preferred it to singing.
  • Christmas Songs: For all their success on the pop charts, Christmas music is likely the duo's most enduring musical legacy. Their 1970 single "Merry Christmas Darling" is still an annual radio staple, as are cuts from their two full albums of Christmas music, one of them released in Karen's lifetime (Christmas Portrait, 1978) and the other following her death (An Old-Fashioned Christmas, 1984). What's more, their 1978 ABC holiday special, also called Christmas Portrait, was a ratings success at a time when Karen and Richard's popularity had otherwise been in decline for several years.
  • Cover Version: Several, including "Ticket to Ride" (The Beatles), "Please Mr. Postman" (The Marvelettes), "There's a Kind of Hush" (Herman's Hermits), "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" (Klaatu), and "Sing" (Sesame Street). Some of them — namely "Close to You" (Richard Chamberlain)", "Superstar" (Delaney & Bonnie), "Hurting Each Other" (Jimmy Clanton), "Solitaire" (Neil Sedaka), and "Touch Me When We're Dancing" (Bama) — outfamed the original versions.
    • They also did a cover of "The Rainbow Connection" from The Muppet Movie, but it was kept unreleased, as Karen reportedly didn't care for the song or their performance of it. Songwriter Paul Williams also wasn't happy, as he disliked the liberties Karen took with phrasing that differed from the Kermit the Frog version. It wasn't even given a full recording, just a demo. It eventually was released, but not until long after the world lost Karen.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Their debut album Offering (later reissued as Ticket to Ride). While possessing the familiar Carpenters sound (albeit more baroque-pop inspired), it lacks the polish later albums had. It was also more self-contained than other albums, with Karen playing drums on all tracks.
    • Various songs from their first three albums, such as "Crescent Noon", "Your Wonderful Parade", "Mr. Guder", and "Druscilla Penny", focus on serious topics ranging from depression to social and political commentary.
  • Fading into the Next Song: Many of their albums feature this throughout the entire album.
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out:
    • In the song "I Believe You." The first time you hear what appears to be the final verse that slows down and stops a bit, you think it's over but then, BAM! A repeat of the bridge and the final verse again, this time once more.
    • Same with "(They Long to Be) Close to You:" After they say "Close to You" one last time, the song plays out slowly to end and you think it's over, until BAM! The last few lines of the chorus play again until fade. Notorious for catching disc jockeys off guard when the song started back up a few seconds into whatever was coming after it.
  • Game Music: Apparently, Hideo Kojima was a huge fan of "Sing", because it's what the AI's sing out during the battles of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, it plays during a few cutscenes involving Dr. Strangelove, and Peace Walker sings this when she drowns herself to stop herself from transmitting the launch sequence to the US military. It also plays during the end credits.
  • Hating on Monday: "Rainy Days and Mondays" is a pretty bleak example of this.
  • Hidden Depths: Karen and Richard's wholesome image, which always frustrated them and which they felt kept them from being taken seriously as musicians, wasn't evident in early press interviews in which they weren't afraid to speak their minds about controversial issues: they both favored the legalization of marijuana (Karen never smoked, but it was because she didn't like it, not because she disapproved of it), opposed the Vietnam War, admitted neither of them was a virgin, and took a dim view of organized religion. Thereafter, their handlers insisted they adhere strictly to the "Goody-Four-Shoes" persona they had created for the duo. Karen would later complain that the image she and her brother had would be impossible for even Mickey Mouse to live up to.
  • Intercourse with You: Karen got flak for some of the more mature themes on her solo album, likely from critics who were unaware that she and Richard had already covered the minor Dorothy Moore hit "I Believe You", with lyrics like: "I believe you when you say you'll fill my body with your soul/And love will grow into a freckled little girl who looks like we do." She never, however, descended into outright smut.
  • Invincible Hero: Karen and Richard were such on Billboard magazine's Adult Contemporary chart beginning with "Close to You" in 1970 and ending with "I Need to Be in Love" in 1976, reaching #1 or #2 with every single they released during that period. The streak ended when "Goofus" stalled at #4 in late 1976 (while also becoming their first A-side in nearly seven years to miss the Top 40 portion of the Hot 100 chart).
  • Later-Installment Weirdness: Passage, their 1977 album. The band were due for a shakeup since their hits were slowing down, so they try a few very odd musical detours (odd for the Carpenters, anyway), such as calypso, a space rock epic, and a couple of numbers with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, including a cover of "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" from Evita.
  • Lead Drummer: Karen was this, early on anyway. She was an accomplished drummer who could play jazz-fusion style fills and grooves, she just so happened to be great at singing. As time went on, her role as a drummer was slowly phased out as she just became a vocalist.
  • New Sound Album: As mentioned above, Passage was an attempt at this, but all the new directions didn't really pan out for them. Karen then attempted a solo career to invoke this and do some Disco, but A&M record execs in Los Angeles talked her out of releasing the resulting album (though it would be posthumously released 13 years after Karen's death).
  • Out-of-Genre Experience: The stinging fuzztone guitar solo in the otherwise-typical "Goodbye to Love" shocked a lot of people when the song first came out (the Power Ballad was still an Unbuilt Trope at the time).
  • Radio Song: "Yesterday Once More" is a famous example. On its parent album Now & Then, the song segues directly into an "Oldies Medley" of old radio classics like "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Fun Fun Fun," and it ends with a reprise of "Yesterday Once More."
  • Relative Error: Some early listeners assumed Richard and Karen were husband and wife rather than siblings, due to the romantic nature of most of their big hits and the way in which they were posed on their early album covers. Richard even angrily ended one radio interview in Toronto after the deejay suggested that the duo's music featured an Incest Subtext since he was writing romantic melodies for his sister to sing (never mind that Richard wrote the music while John Bettis wrote the lyrics, or that most of their early hits came from outside writers).
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: A major component of their fame. Most of their singles involve Richard and Karen overdubbed numerous times on backing vocals, often using chords most rock bands have never even heard of. Richard cites Les Paul and Mary Ford (early innovators in this technique) as a major influence on him.
  • Self-Titled Album: Their third release.
  • "Sesame Street" Cred: And without appearing on the show, no less. As mentioned above, they recorded a cover version of "Sing", which was originally written for Sesame Street.
  • Shave And A Haircut: At the end of "Piano Picker."
  • Shrinking Violet: One of the reasons Karen preferred being the drummer is that she hated being the frontwoman.
  • Silly Love Songs: Another major selling point.
  • Studio Chatter:
    • On the box set From The Top, there's a demo version of "Let Me Be The One" where you can hear Karen warming up a bit before the song counts in. And then she forgets the words at the end, and makes up new, silly lyrics just for a laugh.
    • The duo's version of "Make Believe It's Your First Time" (first recorded for Karen's solo album; the duo's version was featured on the album Voice of the Heart, released after Karen's death) features Karen saying in a goofy voice, before the instrumental begins, "I've gotta get in a serious mood here."
  • Take That!: "Mr. Guder" was written by Richard and John Bettis (who were both previously in the band Spectrum) as a jab at their old boss at Disneyland. The story goes that he and John were hired to play old-timey music on piano and banjo, but patrons kept requesting more contemporary tunes, and when they obliged them too many times, their boss, Vic Guder, eventually fired them. The song more or less paints him out to be too stuffy and old-fashioned.
  • Technician Versus Performer: Richard was a technician, as he arranged, composed, and produced most of the duo's music and is a skilled pianist. Meanwhile Karen, despite her own technical abilities as a singer and especially a drummer, was very much a performer.
  • Textless Album Cover: Horizon features an unadorned photograph of the duo, shown as the page image above.
  • The "The" Title Confusion: Karen and Richard as individuals are (some of) the Carpenters in the same way that you and your immediate family are (some of) the <Your Last Name>s, but the name of the duo is specifically and deliberately "Carpenters", without a definite article, because Richard thought it was cooler that way.
  • Top Ten Jingle: "We've Only Just Begun" was originally written as a TV commercial jingle for what is now Wells Fargo bank.
  • Weight Woe: Karen, to the point where it tragically killed her.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Carpenters


Tommy Boy

Tommy and Richard fight over what to listen until they unexpectedly find common ground.

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