1968 (New Haven, CT)
Pop, Sunshine Pop, Soft-rock, Pop-country
Karen Carpenter (b. March 2, 1950, New Haven, CT; d. February 4, 1983, Downey, CA): lead vocals, drums
Richard Carpenter (b. October 15, 1946, New Haven, CT): piano, backing vocals
Contributions to music:
- The most successful soft-rock act of the Seventies
- Brought a new level of romantic sophistication to sunshine pop
- Their lush arrangements and tight songcraft made them one of the more tasteful artists of their era
- Karen Carpenter's voice is recognized as one of the greatest vocal instruments in the history of pop
- Karen was also one of the first female rock drummers to make a name for herself
A natural musician, Richard Carpenter mastered the piano at an early age, playing around his hometown of New Haven in a jazz trio and studying the instrument further at Yale while still only 15. The Carpenter family soon moved to Downey, CA, however, and Richard joined the local high school marching band. Although his sister Karen had no formal training, she also joined band to escape Phys Ed -- and found herself a natural at the drums. Before long the two formed the Richard Carpenter Jazz Trio with friend Wes Jacobs; after winning a Battle of the Bands contest at the Hollywood Bowl, RCA signed them.
That dream was short-lived, however, and the label soon dropped the trio, who then evolved into a sextet named Spectrum. After several more false starts, a poppier demo featuring Karen's voice found its way to Herb Alpert of A&M, who signed them immediately. A ballad rendition of the Beatles' "Ticket To Ride" made some headway on the charts, but a cover of the Bacharach/David song "(They Long To Be) Close To You" put them over the top the following year. Their next single came from an unlikely source: "We've Only Just Begun" was written by Paul Williams to be included in a TV ad featuring a California bank.
The duo ruled the pop charts in the early Seventies with hits penned by Williams, Leon Russell, and Richard himself, working with former Spectrum member John Bettis. By the middle of the decade, however, Richard had become addicted to pharmaceuticals, and Karen had begun to develop anorexia stemming from weight problems she'd had in her teens. By the time Richard got his problem under control, the disco craze was in full swing; by 1981, the duo managed a small comeback with the hit "Touch Me When We're Dancing," but before they could continue, Karen died in 1983 from cardiac arrest brought on by her anorexia.
- Karen originally played glockenspiel before switching to drums, beginning with chopsticks on a bar stool
- The duo worked at Disneyland before their big break, and appeared in commercials for the Ford Maverick
- The group's official name is simply Carpenters, without "The," which Richard thought made them sound less hip
- Alpert signed the Carpenters because Karen's voice reminded him of Patti Page
- John Lennon was a big fan of Karen's voice and their rendition of "Ticket To Ride"
- Performed for Richard Nixon at the White House in 1973
- The family home in Downey, CA, serves as a shrine to many fans, but is scheduled for demolition
- GRAMMY Awards (1970, 1971)
- Hollywood Walk of Fame (6931 Hollywood Boulevard)
Top 10 hits
- "(They Long To Be) Close To You" (1970)
- "Merry Christmas Darling" (1970)
- "Top Of The World" (1973)
- "Please Mr. Postman" (1975)
Other important recordings:
- "We've Only Just Begun" (1970)
- "Superstar" (1971)
- "Rainy Days And Mondays" (1971)
- "For All We Know" (1971)
- "Hurting Each Other" (1972)
- "Goodbye To Love" (1972)
- "Yesterday Once More" (1973)
- "Sing" (1973)
- "Only Yesterday" (1975)
"Ticket To Ride," "Bless The Beasts And Children," "It's Going To Take Some Time," "I Won't Last A Day Without You," "Solitaire," "Goofus," "I Need To Be In Love," "There's A Kind Of Hush (All Over The World)," "All You Get From Love Is A Love Song," "Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft," "I Believe You," "Sweet, Sweet Smile," "(Want You) Back In My Life Again," "Touch Me When We're Dancing," "Beechwood 4-5789," "Those Good Old Dreams," "Make Believe It's Your First Time," "Your Baby Doesn't Love You Anymore," "Mr. Guder," "I Believe You," "Those Good Old Dreams"
American Music Club, Sonic Youth, Bettie Serveert, Cinerama, Shonen Knife, Cracker, The Sugarcubes, The Temptations, Redd Kross, Alabama, Dogstar, Grant Lee Buffalo, Stabbing Westward, Tori Amos, Two Nice Girls, Curtis Mayfield, Bjork, Gal's Panic, Waterlillies, Nicki French, The Shaggs, Lynn Anderson, Ruben Studdard, Tuck & Patti, Andy Williams, Luther Vandross
Appears in the movies:
"The Special Arizona State Park Special" (1972)