It was hard to choose just one Carpenters song to feature here. I chose Yesterday Once More because that is the first song of theirs I owned on a 45, and if you listen to the lyrics you might even agree that it suits this 31 Days topic. It might have been the sha-la-la-la and shooby-doo-lang-lang parts that got me listening at age seven, but I prefer to think that even at that young age I recognized true talent when I heard it. Plus I’ve always been a sucker for the kind of layered harmonies that The Carpenters used.
Karen Carpenter had a voice like maple syrup, just as warm and rich and sweet on the low notes as on the high ones, and I wanted to sing just like her. So much beauty and talent wrapped up in one package and yet she didn’t recognize it in herself. She died at the far too young age of 32 from heart complications related to anorexia. By all reports she was a bit of a perfectionist with her music, and that could have contributed to her struggles with her weight. Her brother Richard was a musician from a very early age (a prodigy, in fact), and he did most of the song arrangements, crafting the harmonies to suit his and Karen’s voices. He didn’t get noticed as much as Karen did, due to her outstanding vocals, but I get the feeling that Richard was the wind beneath her wings, so to speak. You may already know that Karen Carpenter was also a drummer, which is cool all in itself. Did you also know that “We’ve Only Just Begun” was originally written as a jingle for a bank commercial?
I wonder why there are so many exceptionally gifted people who leave this world before they’ve lived a full life. Karen Carpenter, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Robin Williams, Elvis, and so many others have passed on when it seemed like there was so much creativity still waiting to be expressed. And then I wonder if maybe we exaggerate their talent simply because they met a tragic end, but I don’t think that’s true, although I do think we tend to take for granted the amazing talents of those who are still with us. And then when they are gone we are left to mourn the loss of their genius. I don’t have an answer – I’m just wondering.
If you want to hear a little more, try Rainy Days and Mondays, or Superstar. If you want to read up on The Carpenters, Richard has a comprehensive website here. It’s especially fun to read the section of fan questions/answers to get an insider account of the history behind some of their biggest hits.