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Official Review [Album]: "MADE IN AMERICA" (SP-3723)

Discussion in 'A Song For You: The Carpenters Forum' started by Chris May, Sep 1, 2013.

How Would You Rate This Album?

  1. ***** (BEST)

    9 vote(s)
    13.4%
  2. ****

    13 vote(s)
    19.4%
  3. ***

    26 vote(s)
    38.8%
  4. **

    17 vote(s)
    25.4%
  5. *

    2 vote(s)
    3.0%
  1. mr J.

    mr J. Active Member

    MIA is probably the most frequently discussed album on the Carp forum.I just want to start by saying(as I've said several times before) that MIA is absolutely one of K&R's most welldone albums-sparkling production,classy arrangements & some fine material.And,(as Must Hear This Album mentioned above) MIA features some of Karen's most sensuous vocals.

    I have to point out,also,that MIA is not top-40 material and shouldn't be regarded as such."Touch Me" was a great choice for a single,and managed to become a top-20 hit.But,even still,it's too lushly orchestrated and too classy for top-40 radio.(remember,this was the year of "Physical","Bette Davis Eyes" and "Celebration").

    MIA does feature some of K&R's most "avante-garde" material: the R&B arrangement on "Strength Of A Woman",the bouncy,semi-disco "Back In My Life Again",the adult-themed lyrics on "I Believe You" and Touch Me".

    The synthesizers on "Back In My Life" and "Beechwood" haven't aged well-they don't sound good today.Of course,everybody knows "Beechwood" is one of K&R's worst recordings.

    I absolutely agree that Karen's vocals on MIA are noticeably "Thinner"-the rich heavy cream somehow got watered down to skim milk.

    MIA was a massive 6-month recording session(May-November 1980) that produced 27 tracks.There are still about 10 MIA tracks sitting in the vaults,and about half of those are complete-including two standards with a full orchestra.(the orchestra tracks were recorded three days before Karen's wedding).I've never understood why Richard decided to not release these completed tracks.

    MIA sold 500,000+ copies.

    Lastly,MIA was both Karen & Richard's favorite album.
     
    Must Hear This Album likes this.
  2. ThaFunkyFakeTation

    ThaFunkyFakeTation Ah am so steel een luv weeth yoo

    I have to respectfully disagree with Mr. J on a few points:

    I disagree that this album is well-done. IMHO, it's completely over-produced. As has been stated earlier by many of us, Richard asserts himself and goes way too far. He squeezes the life out of each song - piling on the strings and ridiculous oboes until all you can try to hang onto is Karen's lead. On this record, the songs don't matter because he drowns them in the equivalent of musical shellac and I can't cut through. "Touch Me" is a very nice tune. However, he sends it straight to "elevatorland" with the Mantovani-esque string arrangement that didn't need to be there. Not every song needs to be orchestrated. Just sayin'...

    To my ears, there is nothing remotely "avante garde" about MIA. If anything, this album plays it safer than any in their career. I don't hear the R&B thing on "Strength..." at all. Carolyn Dennis on backgrounds does not R&B make. I hear a rip on the Stylistics' "Betcha By Golly Wow" in the intro but that's as close as that tune gets to R&B. I do hear some very slight R&B overtones in the vocal arrangement of "I Believe You" but that's about it. Excellent vocal, though.

    The pathetic stab at trendiness ("Want You Back In My Life Again") featured colorless and almost android-like vocals from Karen (why was she doubled all the way through) and incredibly tepid synth programming that could have been done better even then. My issue with the synths is that they didn't work even then. It sounds like the work of old people trying to be hip and failing. Biggest crime? I feel nothing coming from her vocally at all. The beauty of her performances is that they could always be felt. Not on this tune. This only gets over on Richard's vocal arrangement - stellar as always.

    The "watering down" of Karen's voice is just criminal. "I Believe You" and "Kiss Me..." (which didn't make the album) prove that it wasn't necessary. He drowns her in reverb at every turn and that practice has continued on the remixes he's done. We'll never know why it happened on MIA and we can only speculate. In the end, it was a horrible decision that, to my ears, cripples the record.

    Again, to my ears, this is a totally "Carpenters by numbers" album. As has been stated elsewhere, the best stuff that was done for this record didn't show up until "Lovelines".

    BTW, Mr. J., how do you know that there are 10 unreleased MIA tracks remaining? I've never heard that.

    Ed
     
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  3. ullalume

    ullalume Well-Known Member

    Hey all,

    Yikes, I'm coming in with largely positive remarks in a negative thread but I'm going for it anyway.

    A favourite of mine, mainly due to 3 of my all time favourite tracks being on the album (Dreams, Touch Me, When it's Gone).
    A patchy collection (can't stand "Strength", always skip "Wedding Song", rarely listen to "Lyin") A shame they didn"'t replace these with "Guest" "Kiss Me" and "Rainbow" - that would have been a cracking collection.

    That said, Richard's arrangements are top notch and a nice hint as to where they might have headed. Also nice to have the block harmonies. But agree her voice should have been more prominent in the mix, something Richard obviously agrees with since all post-humous 1980 releases showcase her voice far better.

    Also nice to have some (minor) drumming from KC.

    All in all, a strong album in my opinion, with a sprinkling of gems, and duds. Just needed stronger songs, really.

    neil
     
    Must Hear This Album likes this.
  4. newvillefan

    newvillefan Well-Known Member

    I'm guessing from the buried treasure list that was released years ago, that these are most likely the tracks Mr J was referring to:

    All My Life
    All Good Things I Remember
    I Don't Want My Arms Around You (I think this is a finished track)
    Once In A Lifetime
    Play A Simple Melody
    Peter Pan Moon
    Sweet Talkin' Guy
    The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
    Why Don't They Understand
    You Made Me Feel Love
     
  5. Rumbahbah

    Rumbahbah Active Member

    I'd have to come down on the 'negative' side of things re Made in America. For a 'comeback' album, it's inexcusably tame. Aside from a couple of attempts to subtly update the Carpenters' sound on 'Touch Me When We're Dancing' and 'Back in My Life Again', it plays it far too safe. There's nothing remotely avant-garde on here - would that there were! Karen is singing a bit higher on some tracks, so there's not so much 'lower register' on show, but the far bigger problem is that she's so buried in the mix. The vocals on 'Back in My Life Again' are so airy as to have virtually no impact.

    The other chief problem is that the song selection is pretty weak. To me, the only track with 'hit' potential is 'Touch Me When We're Dancing', which, slightly overblown production on the chorus aside, is a pretty good track. As others have said, 'Back in My Life Again' is too timid to work successfully. Plus there are too many lightweight-seeming tracks included. 'Beechwood' is fun on a superficial level but not the sort of thing they should have been recording at this stage, let alone releasing as a single (bizarre to think that they may also have recorded 'Sweet Talkin' Guy' during these sessions too - yet another disposable oldie!). 'When You've Got What It Takes' sounds pretty sappy and vapid, 'Strength of a Woman' is ruined by its chorus (leaving aside its questionable subject matter) and although Richard seems quite keen on it, given that he's added it to some compilations, 'When It's Gone' has never had much appeal to me. Then you've got two more elaborate 'show tune' style tracks with 'Somebody's Been Lyin' and 'Because We Are in Love' - you only need one of these on an album containing 10 tracks. 'Those Good Old Dreams' features a nice vocal but is just a rehash of 'Top of the World'.

    As an aside, I have to admit that I think, as a piece of music, 'Because We Are in Love' is quite well done, but it's a difficult listen now given what we know about the marriage it was supposed to celebrate. It's awful to think that Karen did actually have that 'Mom I'm afraid' conversation but that Mom's response was almost the exact opposite of that given in the lyrics of the song.

    That leaves just 'I Believe You' (which wasn't even recorded for the album!) and 'Touch Me When We're Dancing' as solid, worthy tracks. The album would have been much improved if some of the more substantial outtakes like 'Kiss Me...', 'You Baby Doesn't Love You Anymore' and 'The Uninvited Guest' had been included - these had stronger vocals and more substantial subject matter, which might have added a bit of weight to proceedings. However, I'd say that of the outtakes, only 'Kiss Me...' sounds like a potential single, and is perhaps too reminiscent of 'Touch Me When We're Dancing' to have been released in addition to it.

    It's strange that Richard seems so proud of this album - I recall Ray Coleman's book giving it a bizarrely glowing review as if it was a new 'Abbey Road' or 'What's Going On', which was surely heavily influenced by Richard's opinion of it. After all, it wasn't a hit (whether it has actually sold over 500,000 copies in the US I don't know, but it certainly didn't even come close to going gold at the time of its release) and it doesn't suggest that he had much in the box in terms of not getting stuck in a musical rut thereafter (particularly as the only tracks they recorded after this, 'Now' and 'You're Enough', weren't very contemporary either). I don't think Karen ever claimed this to be a favourite of hers - Richard may have made that comment on her behalf years later, but that's not the same thing - particularly following the solo album debacle. Whether it would have been a hit or not had it been released, the solo album makes for a much more interesting listen than Made in America to me these days.
     
  6. adam

    adam Active Member

    HI
    Made in America sold around 100,000 copies in America when released in 1981 and in the uk it sold over 60,oo0 copies and was awarded a silver disc for this.Overall this was probably Karen and Richards worst selling album.
     
  7. A&M Retro

    A&M Retro Well-Known Member

    'Kiss Me The Way You Did Last Night' and 'Your Baby Doesn't Love You Anymore' were both mixed identically to the songs that were included on 'Made In America'. Karen's vocals are buried in the mix once again, but the songs themselves, the production and performances are all top notch. I agree that Richard thankfully DID place Karen front and center on the other posthumous recordings.

    'Back In My Life Again' gets slammed on this site, but I will always love it. Karen's vocals are AGAIN mixed too low, but a proper remix with her vocals placed front and center would be very welcome. The synths are indeed dated, but that was pretty cool in 1981.
     
  8. mr J.

    mr J. Active Member

    The sales figures for MIA came straight from Richard,and they're as of 1992.MIA sold 500,000 within 11 years.MIA was deleted in 1992 and reissued in 1998(remaster).The remastered disc might have sold an additional 30-40,000 copies during it's eight years in print.(deleted in 2006).The total sales for MIA is between 500,000-550,000.

    MIA was one of the lesser-sellings albums,but it's not the worst.That distinction belongs to "Passage"(400,000 copies).(If your including K&R's solo albums,then "Time" would be the worst seller,followed by Karen's album.(both under 100,000).

    About the MIA outtakes: "All My Life" and "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress" are complete and ready for release,along with "All The Way" and "Your's Sincerely"."Peter Pan Moon" and "All Good Things I Remember" have incomplete lead vocals and are unreleasable."Why Don't They Understand" has a finished vocal-not sure if Richard ever completed the track.

    "Play A Simple Melody" (mentioned above) was recorded in 1978 and was featured in the Christmas Portrait TV special.It's not a MIA outtake.The buried treasures article listed the tracks according to when they were cataloged,not when they were recorded.

    Richard stated in 1985 that MIA was his favorite "project" ,as well as Karen's.Karen did state that her favorite recordings were "I Need To Be In Love","Look To Your Dreams" and "Because We Are In Love".
     
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  9. Rumbahbah

    Rumbahbah Active Member

    If Made in America had sold 500,000 copies by 1992, it's odd that it wasn't certified as having done so by the RIAA in 1998 when both Voice of the Heart and An Old Fashioned Christmas were certified as gold. Its omission from this suggests to me that its sales figures must still have been below the gold threshold in the late 1990s, otherwise it would also have been included in this.
     
  10. adam

    adam Active Member

    Hi
    Think passage sold more than made in america did.At the time passage sold around 400,000 copies and did well in the uk where it was awarded a gold disc for 100,000 copies sold.
     
  11. jfiedler17

    jfiedler17 Active Member

    This album - with the sole possible exception of A Kind of Hush - may be the most baffling to me of all the original Carpenters albums. So much about this album seems misguided - the album cover, the return to '50s/'60s oldie covers ("Beechwood 4-5789") or nostalgia-minded material, the overly-orchestrated arrangements, the mixing on Karen's vocals, the inclusion of a single ("I Believe You") that came out three years prior, etc. - that you really have to wonder how anyone involved thought the final product would be a good career move. Passage may not have sold in big numbers, but at least it showed a desire on the group's part to move forward and make something that sounded just a bit more contemporary than usual, whereas this album is the sound of them backpedaling toward the very kind of things - like the focus on nostalgia - that were at the very core of their ongoing image issues. They've never sounded more hesitant about moving forward and stuck in a time warp than they do on this album, and it ends up casting a weird vibe over the whole disc. Even the more contemporary-sounding material ends up being hurt by Richard's arrangements and production, which make the record sound at least two or three years older than it really is, as if it were all tracked at the same time that "I Believe You" was (and even that one sounds a lot more current than some of the other tracks here!)
    Some of the material itself is actually quite good - "(Want You) Back in My Life Again" (easily their best of their singles that missed the Top 40, IMO) and "Touch Me When We're Dancing" are excellent pieces of songwriting and certainly two of the duo's better latter-era singles, flawed though the production may be - but there's also more material here that I always skip past than on any other Carpenters album ("Strength of a Woman," "Beechwood," and "Because We Are in Love" especially), and it's just all badly mishandled. Listen to this album back-to-back alongside any other adult-pop album A&M released in the first couple years of the '80s, like Sergio's self-titled homecoming album (which sounds amazingly fresh in comparison), and it just becomes all the more obvious how completely backwards this album sounds.
     
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  12. mr J.

    mr J. Active Member

    As I stated earlier,I received the sales figure info(MIA & Passage) from Richard in 1992.These are US sales figures.MIA wasn't certified gold in 1998 because A&M didn't have enough receipts to confirm 500,000 copies sold.(possibly they only had receipts for 490,000).To get an album certified gold/platinum,the record label has to provide written proof/reciepts to the RIAA that the minimum amount of copies for that certification have been sold.

    "Voice Of The Heart" sold close to a million copies-A&M had no problem getting gold cert for that album

    Also,if MIA sold only 100,000(as suggested above)-it probably wouldn't have stayed in print for eleven years,initially.An album has to sell a minimum number of copies each year just to stay in print.
     
  13. mr J.

    mr J. Active Member

    As I stated earlier,I received the sales figure info(MIA & Passage) from Richard in 1992.These are US sales figures.MIA wasn't certified gold in 1998 because A&M didn't have enough receipts to confirm 500,000 copies sold.(possibly they only had receipts for 490,000).To get an album certified gold/platinum,the record label has to provide written proof/reciepts to the RIAA that the minimum amount of copies for that certification have been sold.

    "Voice Of The Heart" sold close to a million copies-A&M had no problem getting gold cert for that album

    Also,if MIA sold only 100,000(as suggested above)-it probably wouldn't have stayed in print for eleven years,initially.An album has to sell a minimum number of copies each year just to stay in print.
     
  14. mr J.

    mr J. Active Member

    As I stated earlier,I received the sales figure info(MIA & Passage) from Richard in 1992.These are US sales figures.MIA wasn't certified gold in 1998 because A&M didn't have enough receipts to confirm 500,000 copies sold.(possibly they only had receipts for 490,000).To get an album certified gold/platinum,the record label has to provide written proof/reciepts to the RIAA that the minimum amount of copies for that certification have been sold.

    "Voice Of The Heart" sold close to a million copies-A&M had no problem getting gold cert for that album

    Also,if MIA sold only 100,000(as suggested above)-it probably wouldn't have stayed in print for eleven years,initially.An album has to sell a minimum number of copies each year just to stay in print.
     
  15. Rudy

    Rudy ᕦ(ò_óˇ)ᕤ Site Admin

    US
    "Lovelines" fits right into the Michael Jackson/Rod Temperton/Quincy Jones mode (albeit without Quincy's touches...but the sound was copied, right down to the harmonies in the chorus). And with Off The Wall being released in 1979 and the public tiring of it by 1980, I think it would have come off as a "me, too" effort. I remember my buddy's sister calling the radio station with her request to not play "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"! :laugh: In retrospect, maybe the album would have achieved some sort of hipness if Quincy had produced it, as he still had his signature sound yet could differentiate between his artists' unique sounds. (George Benson's Give Me The Night is from the same era, but does not sound like a Michael Jackson album, in other words.)

    Not to knock Phil Ramone as a pop music craftsman, but I don't feel the pairing with KC brought anything new to the table. We'd heard this sound before...and now KC is doing it after everyone else had been there the year earlier.

    Of all the songs, I'd say "Lovelines" would have been the hit, since it was so similar to the songs that Jackson/Temperton/Jones had taken to the top of the charts. Top 40, perhaps. But I can't say the singles or albums would have been flying out of stores either. Only the pairing with Peter Cetera might have picked up some novelty votes and cracked the Top 40 as a second single. Although even that would have been questionable, as Cetera was known more as a voice than a chart-topping name in his own right. (In 1980 if you'd said she did a duet with "that singer from the group Chicago", the public would have recognized it; only Chicago fans would have recognized his name on a single.)

    And here I haven't said a word about Made In America... :laugh:
     
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  16. Mark-T

    Mark-T Well-Known Member

    Off the Wall is my favorite MJ album by far, and Don't Stop my favorite single of his ever.
    That said, Karen's voice tops his any day- and to put a similar sound to the best female voice of the generation, well... :)
     
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  17. A&M Retro

    A&M Retro Well-Known Member

    I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. I always thought "Lovelines" was the weakest tune on the album. Just too sudsy and "Love Boat" like.

    "My Body Keeps Changing My Mind" would have done very well as a single if released in the fall of 1979, which was the plan all along. The fact that the album release was delayed to spring might have affected it because disco was on its way out by summer of 1980. But that's only one song. "Make Believe It's Your First Time", "Making Love In The Afternoon" and "Guess I Just Lost My Head" would have fared well as singles also.

    Karen's album is superior to "Made In America", which was too 'bread and butter' (to quote Jerry Moss). The solo album is fun, it's contemporary for the time, it's VERY different for Karen, and it would have reversed their downward spiral on the charts.
     
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  18. ThaFunkyFakeTation

    ThaFunkyFakeTation Ah am so steel een luv weeth yoo

    I agree that "Off The Wall" is MJ's best record. As for comparing their voices, it's apples and oranges. They have nothing vocally in common. Few hit high notes better than MJ and, while most focused on his perceived weirdness, most forget what amazing vocal chops he really had. His tunes are almost impossible for most guys to sing correctly because of what's required to do it. Only Stevie Wonder operates in that register nearly as well and his approach is slightly heavier than MJ's.

    Ed
     
  19. Mark-T

    Mark-T Well-Known Member

    I guess I have always loved lower register voices the best. No doubt MJ was gifted but his voice doesn't do it for me.
     
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  20. Okay, so "BEechwood 4-5789” is taking quite a beating in this thread, with one reviewer calling it “one of K&R’s worst recordings.” Fair enough, but I have a soft spot for it. I was 10 years-old when MIA was released, and my older sister was a huge fan and immediately bought the album. I hadn’t really been old enough to be a fan up to that point, but for whatever reason, to this 10 year-old’s ears, that song was crazy-good (the romantic songs went way over my head). True confession: when nobody else was around, I’d put the needle on the record and play that song over and over and over. In fact, I couldn’t sit still when it played. And then later when the video came out, all cutesy and full of 1950’s nostalgia, I liked the record even more! So yes, not one of their greatest, but I’ve never ever skipped it, either...
     
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  21. Yeah, "BEechwood..." does take a beating, and I too find it a lot better than its reputation, particularly of late. I started appreciating it more when working on cleaning up the mono mix from the single, and it's been one of my go-to songs on MADE IN AMERICA ever since. The bad rep it gets is, I think, just because it was an unwelcome choice for Richard and Karen to have dug back into the past-rock-chestnut closet for yet another "castanet oldie". We'd already had the oldies medley, the Bacharach medley, "Postman" and "Hush" and "Breaking up..." and it was 'enough already!' when they went back and did "BEechwood...".

    But taken on its own terms, I think the arrangement is top-notch and the record sounds great.

    Harry
     
  22. Mark-T

    Mark-T Well-Known Member

    I'm not sure I agree, Harry, about your final comment. The "La La La... Oh Baby" vocal line by Karen just grates on my nerves.
     
  23. A&M Retro

    A&M Retro Well-Known Member

    I liked 'Beechwood' a LOT when it came out in 1981. But I also knew it wouldn't do much on the charts. It was taking a major step backwards as a single, but the arrangement is creative and Karen's vocals are pretty great, too. The only thing that kind of bugged me was, 'Just take-y your time'.

    I was DJ'ing fraternity/sorority/dorm parties in the spring of '82 when it was released as a single, and I had the kahunas to play it at parties (tough college crowd), and nobody complained. And they did dance to it. :)
     
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  24. Rumbahbah

    Rumbahbah Active Member

    I'd say Beechwood, while no masterpiece, is far from the worst thing they ever recorded - it's far superior to Goofus or Man Smart, Woman Smarter for instance. On its own terms, it works OK.

    My chief issue with it, as Harry points out, is that it's an exercise in treading water creatively - they'd covered this ground already more than once, most notably on Please Mr Postman, which was another Marvelettes oldie and which was a superior performance. It didn't say much for Made in America being a bold statement of artistic intent for the 1980s to find them repeating themselves so exactly on a track like Beechwood, particularly when a more interesting and substantial remake like Your Baby Doesn't Love You Anymore was recorded at the same time but was left as an outtake.
     
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  25. Tapdancer

    Tapdancer Active Member

    What a paradox: "Those Good Old Dreams" doesn't really challenge the listener, yet it never bores. I can have it on almost endless repeat on my car CD player and still enjoy my journey!

    The recording is a testament to Richard's talent as a writer / arranger. I can't imagine him exactly labouring on this one, yet he seems to know exactly what to do at just the right time and in the right degree - whereas in the hands of most others my guess is that the song would end up dead and forgotten. Simple but effective ideas, such as modulating between [off the top of my head] E and G; putting in a solitary bass note a whole octave higher than expected (start of fourth line in the chorus); or the ending previously mentioned by BarryT60 turn the otherwise possibly mundane into a musical delight.

    These seem like small things - however, they're necessary to maintain the interest. But the guy's a genius, and if it was that easy putting the "easy" into Easy Listening, all songwriters and arrangers would be 'Rich' and famous.
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2013
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