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The Carpenters, 1974
The Carpenters, 1974
General information
Genre (s) Pop , soft rock
founding 1969
resolution 1983
Last occupation
Karen Carpenter
Singing, piano , keyboard
Richard Carpenter

The Carpenters were a American pop - duo , consisting of siblings Richard Carpenter (* 15. October 1946 in New Haven , Connecticut ) and Karen Anne Carpenter (* 2 March 1950 in New Haven, Connecticut; † 4. February 1983 in Downey , California ). The Carpenters peaked in their careers in the 1970s.


Childhood and youth

Richard Carpenter showed great interest in music as a child . When he was three or four years old, he loved listening to his father's long-playing records, who worked for a company in the container industry. His father's records covered a wide spectrum, from classical to big band music, so that Richard got a comprehensive and varied musical impression that would affect his later compositions and arrangements .

After listening to more pieces of music on the radio, he asked his parents if they would buy him some of the records he liked so much. Among them were artists like Perry Como , Nat King Cole , Guy Mitchell and Patti Page as well as the guitarist Les Paul and his wife Mary Ford . Also Dixieland Jazz by Red Nichols and the comedy music of Spike Jones and His City Slickers it had done to him.

Richard began making music himself at the age of eight. His first instrument was an accordion , which he soon put aside in favor of the piano . At the age of 15 he studied piano at Yale University and was a member of a trio consisting of bass , piano and drums with which he performed at various events in New Haven and the surrounding area.

Richard soon after graduated from Downey High School and began studying piano at California State University in Long Beach . When he learned that he would be exempted from physical education if he joined the school's marching band , however, he had to understand that the piano is not necessarily a very portable instrument. But when the bandleader heard him play, he approached him with the request that the band perform Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue at an auditorium . He then invited Richard to play with his own combo outside of school.

Karen's musical talent was revealed in late 1964 when she played the portable metallophone in the marching band of Downey High School . She was particularly impressed by the drumming of her bandmate Frankie Chavez, so she began to accompany her records with her own rhythms at home. When her parents gave her a real drum kit shortly afterwards, she was able to play on it immediately. This is how the idea of ​​founding a music group developed.

Unlike her brother, Karen Carpenter showed no particular interest in music at an early age. In 1963, when she was 13 years old, the family moved to Downey, a suburb of Los Angeles .

Karen was just 15 years old when the Carpenter Trio was formed. The third member was a schoolmate of Richard's tuba and bass, Wes Jacobs. The musical style of the trio was jazz . At Richard's insistence, Karen was asked to sing some tracks, but the trio mainly played instrumental pieces. Karen's later unmistakable singing voice was only just developing, so she didn't quite agree with the overall sound of the music. But by 1966 her voice was so well developed that more and more people became interested in her music. Karen Carpenter died on February 4, 1983 of complications from anorexia .

First record deals

When the well-known West Coast bassist Joe Osborn and a partner founded their own record label called Magic Lamp , they started looking for young talent and came across the trio through a school colleague of the Carpenters. The audition took place in Osborn's garage and it was decided to make recordings. The result was a recording deal for Karen Carpenter in May 1966, which her parents signed. Of some songs, which Richard had composed among others, two appeared on a single as Karen Carpenter. This was a start, but since the small label had no promotion or sales structure , it was closed after a year.

On June 24, 1966, The Richard Carpenter Trio won the Battle of the Bands at the Hollywood Bowl , the most important talent competition in the United States. Richard had composed a piece called Iced Tea for the performance, which emphasized Wes Jacobs' tuba playing and Karen's drums. The second track was a rearranged version of The Girl from Ipanema . The judges were very impressed, and the trio won three awards for best combo, Richard became best instrumentalist, and the trio won the highest score of the entire competition.

In the parking lot Richard was approached by a man who congratulated him and asked if they would like to take test photos; However, Richard told of an existing contract. The man handed him his card and advised him to call if circumstances should change. The man was Neely Plumb , the then West Coast manager of the pop division of RCA Records . Richard remembered quickly and explained that the record deal was limited to his sister as a singer, but the trio was free. This is how the first test recordings were made at RCA.

In September the trio signed with RCA and recorded eleven tracks for a first album , including Flat Baroque , which later became a popular Carpenters track. However, RCA rejected all pieces because they saw no future for a non-commercial jazz trio in the age of the emerging psychedelic wave. On the now returned record deal, which was triggered with a few hundred US dollars , the trio broke up. Wes Jacobs decided to become a concert musician, and the two Carpenters turned back to their studies.

In the summer of 1967 Richard teamed up with John Bettis , a fellow student friend. The duo took a job at Disneyland to play a selection of well-known melodies in a pub . But they were released after just four months.


At that time Richard founded a new project, the Spectrum group, with his sister and John Bettis and three other fellow students . The repertoire was mainly written by Richard and John, the arrangements came solely from Richard's pen. Karen Carpenter was now singing in the voice that would make her so popular. But since the emerging new rock bands concentrated the public interest, Spectrum was not granted a long life either.

Return to Joe Osborn

After the collapse of Spectrum, Richard Carpenter was convinced that he now had a powerful concept for a successful career. In his opinion, the three mainstays were his high-quality arrangements, his sister's excellent singing voice and her overlapping vocals. Joe Osborn wanted to give the Carpenters another chance and brought them back to his studio. In mid-1968 they recorded three pieces, all of which were vocalized by Karen and Richard. These were Don't Be Afraid , composed by Richard, as well as the Carpenter-Bettis compositions Your Wonderful Parade and Invocation ( a cappella ). After three recording sessions, Richard said they hit the right groove to produce hits. With that the new sound was found, which put Karen's voice in the foreground; and with the right song you should be able to find enough fans to hit the charts. As the name of the group they simply chose Carpenters without The front of the name, similar to Buffalo Springfield and Jefferson Airplane .

Karen still considered herself a drummer who also sang; Richard, on the other hand, saw more potential in her voice.

Your All American College Show

Richard heard of a new national television show, Your All American College Show , for which talent scouts were traveling across America to find new, unspent musical acts at universities. The show was sponsored by Colgate-Palmolive and produced by popular radio announcer Wendell Niles . Coming to this show would have been a huge leap in their brand awareness.

Together with Bill Sissyoev , a bassist hired specifically for the show, they auditioned for the talent scouts and were hired three times for 1968. In addition, they got a prize money of 3500 dollars for the trio and Richard again the same amount for his excellent solo play.

Immediately after their first appearance, John Bahler from the Love Generation , who also produced television commercials , got in touch . The Carpenters were to write the music for the Ford Motor Company's campaign to launch the new Ford Maverick . The contract, signed in early 1969, brought both $ 50,000 and a Ford Mustang each . The only thing that both were missing was a well-paid record deal.

Herb Alpert and A&M

After many rejection of the tapes they had sent, they got a call from Herb Alpert , the well-known trumpeter and head of Tijuana Brass . He was also a co-owner of the record label A&M Records . Alpert was absolutely delighted with Karen's voice, and his partner Jerry Moss was also convinced of the possible success of the Carpenters. The record deal was signed on April 22, 1969.

A&M also included some songwriters Alpert hired, including Burt Bacharach and Hal David , who composed hits for Dionne Warwick , and Roger Nichols , who worked with Paul Williams .

A record career now stood in the way of the previously signed contract with Ford, which provided for a US advertising tour for which the Carpenters now no longer had time. A record production was more important. With John Bahler's support, they managed to get out of the contract, and to their astonishment, even without a penalty .

The first album Offering was released in November 1969. It contained, among other things, a cover version of the Lennon - McCartney hit Ticket to Ride . The album was not a success, but the single stayed in the charts for 12 weeks with the highest numbering at number 54 in April 1970.

Burt Bacharach, who had heard the Carpenters version of the song Ticket to Ride on the radio, invited the two to a few meetings in early 1970. As a result of these get-togethers, it was a Burt Bacharach song that earned them a worldwide success in June of that year: (They Long to Be) Close to You . Bacharach and his partner Hal David had written the song for the singing actor Richard Chamberlain back in 1963 . Six weeks after its release, the song was number one on the US charts. It was one of the best-selling singles of the year with over three million copies worldwide. In the fall, the British listed the song at number 6 on their charts. Similar quotations were also recorded in other countries.

In March 1971, the Carpenters got their first Grammy for (They Long to Be) Close to You in the category Best Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Choir . A second Grammy followed with the award for the best young artist of 1970. In total, Close to You and the album of the same name were nominated in six categories, including best single and best album of the year.

Another hit followed immediately with We've Only Just Begun , also from the album Close to You . The single reached number two on the US charts and was her second million seller in the USA. The song, composed by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams, became the wedding song of an entire American generation. In addition, there were many requests from graduating classes at American colleges to use the song as a motto song .

We've Only Just Begun was the first typically well-arranged Carpenters ballad and influenced many more to come. Starting with the sound of the piano at the beginning of the song and in the first verse , the use of Karen's singing voice and the horn sections in the transitions, We've Only Just Begun became the typical Carpenters signature song over the next few years. The song was included in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 best songs of all time . The album Close to You ranks 175th in the corresponding album list .

Three more singles made it into the top 10 in 1971: For All We Know , Rainy Days and Mondays and Superstar , all three from the next album with the simple title Carpenters . This earned them another Grammy for best duo.

From 1971 the duo toured worldwide: in London in a sold-out Royal Albert Hall during their European tour, in the USA at many top-class shows, such as the Hollywood Bowl and in Japan , where they performed in sold-out houses.

Karen and Richard Carpenter with President Richard Nixon (1972)

In the first half of 1972 they hit the charts again with Hurting Each Other and It's Going to Take Some Time . The song Goodbye to Love was released in the second half of the year. Not only was it a success at number 7 in the US, it was also listed at number 9 in the UK charts.

The next four singles came from Carpenters fourth album A Song for You : Top of the World , Bless the Beasts and Children , Flat Baroque and Piano Picker . The Carpenters' success in the USA was thus significantly greater than in Great Britain. The single Sing , which was released in early 1973, also contributed to this and went over a million times over the counter in the USA.

The turning point in Great Britain came in mid-1973 with the single release of Yesterday Once More from their album Now and Then . The song stormed the UK charts, topping it at number 2, just like it did in the US. It was also her first hit in the German charts. The Now and Then album contained an unusual idea. One site was set up as a radio show in which the Carpenters presented eight classic hits from the 1960s. Tony Peluso appeared as a disc jockey . The album is their best-selling studio album with over four million copies sold in the US alone. Only their greatest hits albums sold more copies.

The following compilation of their hits under the title The Singles 1969–1973 was number one on the LP charts in the US and Great Britain for weeks and stayed in the UK charts for almost two and a half years. In the USA, it is her most successful album with seven platinum awards.

In 1974 the Carpenters had their biggest chart hit worldwide with the single Jambalaya . Not only in Great Britain, the song was in the charts for a long time , the single was also awarded gold in Japan and the Netherlands . It was their only chart listing in Austria. In the USA the single was not released because there at the same time John Fogerty could record a hit with the title.

The greatest single sales success came in early 1975 with the Marvelettes ' 1960s hit , Please Mr. Postman . Thanks to the interpretation of the song by the Beatles , it was already known worldwide, and the Carpenters were able to help the song again in the hit parades. It achieved top positions in many countries, including first place in the USA, second in Great Britain and 10th in Germany.

The next album, entitled Horizon , had a bigger success in the UK than in the US. It was in the LP charts for six months and was listed at number one shortly after its release.

TV specials

Richard remembered at the time that the Carpenters' great success actually came from their excellent record productions and that the group did not want to be a live band. The 1974 tours hadn't brought them to a new album production, so he realized they had to change management .

While working on their seventh album A Kind of Hush , ABC signed a television contract for an evening show at its prime, with guest stars like Ella Fitzgerald , Olivia Newton-John , John Denver , Victor Borge and Barry Manilow . The Carpenter's Very First Television Special launched on December 8, 1976. It was so successful that by 1980 five specials were broadcast.

After the release of the new album, they made up for the canceled tours. The Japan tour with 21 concerts in 27 days was a huge success. The subsequent European tour culminated in a sold out concert at the Palladium in London , where a live LP was recorded. After the recordings had been mixed in the AIR studios, the LP was released just a few days after the Carpenters left.

Richard Carpenter also faced a problem. Since the beginning of his career, he had taken the sleeping pill Quaaludes regularly . The family doctor had pointed out the intake rules, but over the years Richard had steadily increased the dose to help him fall asleep. At the end of 1976 this made itself felt so painfully that he decided to fight against the addiction.

The last years of success

All You Get from Love Is a Love Song , the new single in 1977, brought a new wave of success in the USA. In Great Britain, however, their only hit of the year was the title Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft, which was planned for the so-called World Contact Day . He reached ninth place in the UK. Together with the follow-up single Sweet, Sweet Smile , their last chart hit in Germany, it was a decoupling from the album Passage .

1978 was dedicated to a few concerts, two TV specials, video recordings and a project that the two had been pursuing since 1971: a Christmas album. But Richard's pill problem didn't leave him the energy he actually needed to work intensively on it. So he limited himself to the selection of titles and their order and hired two world-class arrangers. The production was also in his hands. The result was Christmas Portrait , a Christmas album with a large orchestra and choir made up of the best talent in Hollywood. Karen's voice fitted in perfectly with the arrangements, and from October 1978 it was an absolute bestseller.

In January 1979, Richard finally decided to go to a rehabilitation clinic , where he spent six weeks. Karen was also in the hospital for two weeks at this time to recover from the last strain. Richard decided to relax for the rest of the year after his rehab, which led Karen to finally tackle her first solo project. For this she got the east coast producer Phil Ramone . For the productions, she commuted back and forth between the west and east coast several times. But some factors such as Phil Ramone's sophisticated studio work delayed work on the solo album. Ideally, it should be released at the beginning of 1980, shortly after the fifth TV special, so that both could then work on a new album together. But shortly before the end of the recording, A&M let it be known that they didn't quite agree with the song selection. Karen therefore decided to put the album on hold for the time being.

On October 8, 1996, thirteen years after Karen's death, the album was finally released by A&M. Richard Carpenter said:

"As time passes and events unfold, one's perspective on certain matters can change, as has mine regarding this album. Karen was with us precious little time. She was a great artist. This album represents a certain period and change of approach in her career. "

“In the course of time, the way things look at things can change and it was the same for me with this album. Karen stayed with us for a very short time. She was a great artist. This album represents a certain period in her work and a new approach in her career. "

Phil Ramone adds:

"As years passed, both Richard and I wondered when it might be released. Together we stand proud as this was a piece of work that meant so much to Karen; it was truly a labor of love. I have not remixed or done anything to the tapes. These mixes, the material and style are the way Karen approved them. The bonus track is unmixed and was one of several that might have been finished. "

“Years went by and Richard and I wondered when the album might be released. Together we are proud of it because it was a job that meant so much to Karen; it was really a love work. I didn't remix the tapes or add anything. These mixes, materials, and style are how Karen approved them. The bonus track is unmixed and one of several that should still be finished. "

The Carpenters spent the rest of 1980 working in the studio on their next album, Made in America , which wasn't released until June 1981. The released single Touch Me When We're Dancing was the Carpenters' last top 20 entry in the USA.

The end of the duo and Karen's death

In November 1981, after 14 months of marriage, Karen separated from contractor Thomas James Burris. In January 1982 she moved to the Regency Hotel in New York and sought out the psychotherapist Steven Levenkron for therapy for her anorexia . Levenkron was a well-known therapist because he had brought anorexia into public interest in 1978 with his book The Best Little Girl in the World . Karen saw him five times a week for the next eleven months. Despite all the progress, according to Levenkron, she had to go to Lenox Hill Hospital in the meantime, as she was emaciated to a life-threatening 36 kg. There she was brought to 48 kg by parenteral nutrition. In high school, she weighed 66 kg and was 1.63 m tall. Almost a year after separating from her husband, she filed for divorce on October 28, 1982.

After the sessions were very successful according to Levenkron, she returned to her parents' house in November 1982 as a much better-looking 32-year-old. Your brother confirmed this. Her energy was back and she threw herself into work to get on with her life and career. In December she gave one final performance at her sponsorship school in Downey, Los Angeles County.

On February 4, 1983, Karen Carpenter was found unconscious in the bathroom at her parents' home in Downey. At 9:51 a.m., shortly after she was admitted to the hospital , she was pronounced dead. The cause of death was initially given as a heart attack , the autopsy report names heart damage as a result of ingesting Ipecac syrup, a strong emetic . In addition, there was chronic abuse of thyroid hormones ( cardiac arrhythmias ) and laxatives (dehydration, malnutrition) as well as lorazepam , which, contrary to some reports, is not an antidepressant .

After Karen's death

Star of the Carpenters on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (2007)

The Carpenters' popularity continued after Karen's death. The posthumously released album Voice of the Heart contained the last recordings of the siblings and was very successful again, especially in Great Britain, where it rose to number six. In 1984 Richard put together another Christmas album from songs that hadn't made it onto the first one due to lack of space. The album title was An Old Fashioned Christmas . In 1989, Lovelines was generated from several recordings by the Carpenters that had never been used for earlier LPs . In addition, there were songs from a few television shows and four songs from Karen's never completed solo album. Another best seller was launched in the UK in 1990; the greatest hits album Only Yesterday . It stayed in first place for nine weeks and was the second best-selling album that year.

In 1994 the 25th anniversary of the signing of the contract at A&M took place. To mark the occasion, the label released two albums. One of the Carpenters with the title Interpretations and an album (If I Were a Carpenter), on which well-known stars like Sonic Youth and Sheryl Crow interpreted their songs in honor of the Carpenters . In addition, Sonic Youth set her a monument with the song Tunic (Song for Karen) on the 1990 album Goo .

In Japan, the well-known screenwriter Shinji Nojima chose the two carpenter titles Need to Be in Love and Top of the World as the title songs for his new 13-part series Miseinen . Other Carpenters songs could be heard as background music. The series was a huge success with the target group between the ages of 13 and 21 and the popularity of the Carpenters rose to dizzying heights in Japan . In addition, the song Montalbano , Rainbow Connection , was used for the drama series Koi Ga Shitai , which was very successful in Japan . A single CD that was then released went four times platinum and once again increased the sales of the older Carpenters albums. The CD Twenty-Two Hits of the Carpenters , compiled by Richard Carpenter, jumped to number 1 in Japan immediately. The song Close to You was also a hit in China . The song was used in the Chinese film So Close .

In March 2005, a box consisting of a CD with 20 greatest hits and a DVD with 15 additional recordings hit number 4 in the UK charts within 14 days.

The song Close to You is also known to many as the personal love song of Homer and Marge Simpson from numerous episodes of The Simpsons and most recently from the Simpsons film for the series from 2007.


Single hits

  • (They Long to Be) Close to You (1970)
  • We've Only Just Begun (1970)
  • For All We Know (1971)
  • Rainy Days and Mondays (1971)
  • Superstar (1971)
  • Hurting Each Other (1972)
  • Goodbye to Love (1972)
  • Sing (1973)
  • Yesterday Once More (1973)
  • Top of the World (1973)
  • I Won't Last a Day Without You (1974)
  • Please Mr. Postman (1974)
  • Only Yesterday (1975)
  • There's a Kind Of Hush (All Over the World) (1976)
  • Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft (1977)
  • Sweet, Sweet Smile (1978)
  • Beechwood 4-5789 (1982)


  • Stambler, Irwin: The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul . 3rd revised edition, St. Martin's Press, New York 1989, ISBN 0-312-02573-4 , pp. 100-103.

Web links

Commons : The Carpenters  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Richard Carpenter: Official Homepage. Retrieved January 24, 2018 .
  2. ^ Ray Coleman: The Carpenters: The Untold Story. Harpercollins, New York 1994, ISBN 978-0-06-018345-5 .
  3. ^ Autopsy Special: The Last Hours of Karen Carpenter