Keep or Cull: The Carpenters – The Singles 1974-1978

IMG_20200220_150544Karen Carpenter had one of the most beautiful voices in pop music.

It was rich and resonant.

Somewhat melancholy.

And yet there was a sweetness, a lightness, to it that prevented rainy days and Mondays from getting you too down.

Because in anyone else’s hands, a song like the one I am referencing could have turned very bleak.

Carpenter was half of The Carpenters, a duo that really eptiomized 70s pop radio.

Politely produced to the point where it was almost scrubbed of any character, their songs really got over not just because they were drawing on talents like Paul Williams but also because Carpenter’s contralto gave them weight, or import.

She made them come alive.

And yet, she thought of herself as a drummer who sang.

But that voice brought her out from behind her kit into the spotlight, something she was not initially comfortable with.

That voice helped make The Carpenters a constant presence on the charts, starting with their cover of Ticket to Ride, a modest hit in 1969, through to their last minor hit, a cover of Beachwood 4-5789.

In fact, they had enough hits that, just four years after their first one, The Carpenters were anthologized by A&M with The Singles: 1969-1973.

Just five years later, another compilation appeared, this time gathering up everything from 1974-1978.

IMG_20200220_150613According to Discogs, it was released in the UK, Canada, and a couple of other countries, but not the U.S., where sales of their records had tapered off considerably.

Looking at the track listing, you can kind of see why.

There is one indisputable classic here that could and should have been on that first set of hits.

I Won’t Last a Day Without You.

Written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols, that song was initially released in 1972 on A Song for You, but it was not released as a single until 1974.

So it really does belong on the first set.

The other songs on here are not at that level, but there are a couple that are relatively nice, such as Sweet, Sweet Smile, which Juice Newton co-wrote, intending to cut it herself.

And there is the absolutely odd choice of Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft, a song written and recorded by Klaatu, a band that, for a brief moment, was thought to be The Beatles incognito.

But with one notable exception, nothing quite sticks with you the way that the songs on the first set of singles.

Even Karen seems a bit lost in the increasingly slick productions to the point where the longing and bittersweetness that added ache to songs like Superstar or Sing has been smoothed over, and you can hear why some critics dismissed them as saccharine, and why A&M declined to put this out in the U.S.

The selections just lack the tension, the sentiment, the depth that Karen applied to make The Carpenters stand out from other glossy radio fare.

If you want to hear her at her finest, that first singles collection is a must.

With every sha-la-la-la, every whoa-whoa-whoa, she makes it feel like yesterday once more.

So this one is a cull for me.

 

 

 

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