Tag Archive | The Carpenters

Goodbye To Love

February 4, 2020

Karen Carpenter

February 3, 1959. August 16, 1977. December 8, 1980. February 4, 1983. April 5, 1994.

For any person who is a true fan, any one of these dates might invoke an unpleasant memory of the ‘day the music died’ for them. Each date marks the passing of a well loved and famous musical artist. Do you recall where you were and what you were doing on any one of these days?

My brother – who is a disc jockey – still talks about August 16, 1977. The day Elvis died. For Nirvana fans it’s April 5, 1994. Beatles devotees recall December 8, 1980 as a day which shocked the world. And, of course, February 3, 1959, marks the tragic date when Buddy Holly died in a plane crash along with a few others.

Karen Carpenter early 1970s

Karen Carpenter in the early 1970’s

If you don’t recognize February 4, 1983, you can be forgiven. But for me that was the date when the first artist whose voice and music truly captured me died: Karen Carpenter.

To this day I wonder it was an avoidable outcome if only…  if only her mother had been more loving and less controlling… if only she hadn’t been forced to come out from behind her drums… if only the press had not been so awful to her… if only she could have loved herself the way her fans loved her.

By all accounts, Karen’s life could have become a fairy-tale come true. At the age of 19 Karen, as one half of The Carpenters, saw their first big hit “Close To You” rocket to the top of the pop charts. Fame and financial success followed with a string of Top Ten records. Concerts, TV specials, and an invitation to the White House were all a part of those heady years.

And yet. Karen was particularly sensitive to body image. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Carpenter began dieting while in high school. Under a doctor’s guidance, she began the Stillman diet, eating lean foods, drinking eight glasses of water a day, and avoiding fatty foods. She reduced her weight to 120 pounds and stayed approximately at that weight until around 1973, when the Carpenters’ career reached its peak.  That year, she happened to see a photo of herself taken at a concert in which her outfit made her appear heavy. Carpenter hired a personal trainer who advised her to change her diet. The new diet caused her to build muscle, which made her feel heavier instead of slimmer. Carpenter fired the trainer and began her own weight loss program using exercise equipment and counting calories. She lost about 20 pounds and intended to lose another five pounds. Her eating habits also changed around this time, with Carpenter trying to get food off her plate by offering it to others at the meal as a taste.”

With increased success, came increased pressure to look and be perfect. By most accounts it seems that Karen spent her life trying to gain her mother’s love and approval. Older brother Richard was the focus of the family’s attention. At age 3 he was playing the piano and identified as a child prodigy with immense talent. It must have come as a huge shock to her parents when it was Karen and her amazing voice that proved to be the secret to success. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“(Karen) Carpenter had a complicated relationship with her parents. They had hoped that Richard’s musical talents would be recognized and that he would enter the music business, but were not prepared for Karen’s success. She continued to live with them until 1974. In 1976, Carpenter bought two Century City apartments which she combined into one; the doorbell chimed the opening notes of ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’.”

Karen carpenter in grip of her disease

In this photo, you can clearly see that she is not at a healthy weight.

Most of the focus on Anorexia Nervosa came after Karen’s untimely death. In the decades since there has been research and a public push to find solutions for those who are afflicted by the disorder. Karen Carpenter’s struggle has been largely responsible for this.

One of the things I would have loved would have been to attend a Carpenter’s concert. Alas, being only 13 when they hit the top of the charts, it was not going to happen. My mother believed rock and roll concerts (the Carpenters were not exactly rock and roll BTW) were not appropriate places for young women. In fact, the first concert I attended was in 1980’s, long after the Carpenters were no longer touring.

For several years in the 1970’s, however, I purchased every one of their albums and would listen to Karen’s dulcet tones for hours on end. I loved her voice.

Fast forward to Friday, February 4, 1983. I was working at Microsoft – then located near the Burger Master on Northup Way in Belleuve, Washington – paying more attention to selling computer software and not listening to music for hours each day.

It was payday and at lunchtime one of my fellow Microsofties, Sue C., and I decided to go deposit our paychecks in the bank. We headed to downtown Kirkland, a few miles north. Once our banking was complete, we drove south on Lake Washington Boulevard. We likely had the radio on – background to our chatting – when I heard the announcement “Pop star Karen Carpenter has died.”

I think Sue was behind the wheel and immediately stopped the car as we both exclaimed shock and dismay. How could it be? What I most recall about that day is that it seemed dark to me. In reality, according to the weather history, it was a fairly mild, clear day. But in my mind, it’s dark.

Karen Carpenter was such a part of our growing up experience; she was 32 years old, a mere seven years older than ourselves.

In 1989 I watched with interest the CBS TV movie The Karen Carpenter Story. In the years since her death I had not listened much to The Carpenters. The moment I heard those favorite songs and her voice, however, it was as if I was transported back to the early 1970’s. What a voice. It was filled with emotion and able to convey a sadness that transcended the years. Like so many artists who died young, I wonder what wonderful songs the world missed out on when Karen Carpenter left us on February 4, 1983.

A few links:


I couldn’t make up my mind as to which of these two songs to share… so I did both. I think Superstar also captures the depth of whatever pains she felt in life.

Superstar: https://youtu.be/SJmmaIGiGBg

Just like me, they long to be…

…Close To You

July 30, 2019

In the spring of 1970 there were around 17 million Americans between the ages of 12 and 16, approximately eight and a half million of which were female. It was the era of AM radio and the dawn of a musical period often dominated by a form of music known as soft rock.

According to the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts became more similar again toward the end of the 1960s and into the early and mid-1970s, when the texture of much of the music played on Top 40 radio once more began to soften. The adult contemporary format began evolving into the sound that later defined it, with rock-oriented acts as Chicago, the Eagles and Elton John becoming associated with the format. The Carpenters’ hit version of ‘(They Long to Be) Close to You’ was released in the summer of 1970, followed by Bread’s ‘Make It with You’, both early examples of a softer sound that was coming to dominate the charts.”

Carpenters album cover 1970It was during the last week of July 1970 when Close To You topped the Billboard Hot 100 and held the number one position for four weeks. It marked the ascension of The Carpenters as one of the defining musical acts of the early 1970’s.

Despite the group being derided as saccharin at the time, their musical success is undisputed. Much has been written about Karen Carpenter’s voice and her three octave range and soulful interpretations. The Carpenters would not, however, have been the Carpenters without older brother Richard who was the arranger behind their ‘sound.’

Love em or hate em, the Carpenters’ style was original enough to propel them to the top of the pop charts. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“They produced a distinct soft musical style, combining Karen’s contralto vocals with Richard’s arranging and composition skills. During their 14-year career, the Carpenters recorded ten albums, along with numerous singles and several television specials.”

It was from 1970 through 1973, however, when they achieved their greatest success, appealing to a demographic who purchased their records and made the Carpenters a household name: females aged 13 to 18.

“Their career together ended in 1983 when Karen died from heart failure brought on by complications of anorexia. Extensive news coverage surrounding these circumstances increased public awareness of eating disorders. Though the Carpenters were criticized for their clean-cut and wholesome conservative image in the 1970s, their music has since been re-evaluated, attracting critical acclaim and continued commercial success.”

I have decided to reserve the right to blog more about the Carpenters at a later date. They were the most influential musical group for me during my teen years and I will have more to say. But this article is only to focus on their launch and the song Close To You. 

My early blogging was in the form of keeping a diary. Although I couldn’t put my hands on my 1970 diary, I found a reference to this song at the end of my 1971 diary, noting when it was played on the radio.

I was so obsessed with the song that I used a cassette tape recorder with the microphone held up to the radio to record it for later listening. Close To You was one of the first single records I purchased as was their album of the same title. It’s four week run on the charts also coincided with my 13th birthday.

My obsession even prompted me to think it was a good idea to do a lip-sync version for a competition where I needed a ‘talent.’ (I have zero public performance talents) Taken from the pages of my 1971 diary on December 31 I dutifully record that “I am going to pantomime Close to You like I’m a chorus girl or something. I’m going to wear Sue’s blue velvet formal and silver shoes. If she’ll let me.”

Yes, my older sister did let me wear the dress and the shoes. Yes, it was a total embarrassment. It’s why I avoid karaoke and limit my singing to the shower and the car.

Thank goodness Karen Carpenter – who suffered from stage fright – was able to overcome it enough to share her amazing voice with the world. But I’m not so sure the price she paid was worth it.

The lyrics:

Why do birds suddenly appear, ev’ry time you are near?
Just like me, they long to be close to you.
Why do stars fall down from the sky, ev’ry time you walk by?
Just like me, they long to be close to you.

On the day that you were born the angels got together.
And decided to create a dream come true.
So, they sprinkled moon dust in your hair of gold
And star-light in your eyes of blue.
That is why all the girls in town follow you all around.
Just like me, they long to be close to you…

On the day that you were born the angels got together.
And decided to create a dream come true.
So, they sprinkled moon dust in your hair of gold
And star-light in your eyes of blue.
That is why all the girls in town follow you all around.
Just like me, they long to be close to you…
Just like me, they long to be close to you…

And a couple of links: