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1971, Never A Dull Moment

Discussion in 'A Song For You: The Carpenters Forum' started by Simon KC1950, Mar 3, 2018.

  1. Simon KC1950

    Simon KC1950 Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    I recently took this book out of the library. "1971 Never A Dull Moment" by David Hepworth.
    It's all about 1971 in music, mostly Rock, it mentions the Carpenters quite a bit.
    so here are all the parts on our duo:

    •pg 31:
    about photographer Jim McCrary and A&M records using him whenever they needed a photo of one of their artists...
    "He had photographed Richard and Karen Carpenter on a sail boat on Lake Tahoe"

    •pg 33:
    regarding Carol Kings Tapestry album and A&M Studios...
    "there were 3 studios at A&M on the corner of Sunset and La Brea. They were all busy that month: Joni Mitchell was in the small one, recording the songs that would make up Blue; Richard and Karen Carpenter were in the biggest one, recording the songs that would comprise their biggest-selling third album Carpenters;..."

    •pgs 51-54

    Regarding the song "Superstar" being covered by other people...
    "Watching the Carson show that night in the new five-bedroom house he and his sister Karen had recently moved into in the Los Angeles suburb of Downey was Richard Carpenter. The Carpenters, who were originally from Connecticut, had put out their first album in late 1969 but already he was under pressure to come up with their third. They had spent the day in A&M's studio on La Brea recording tracks for this third album, and he knew he needed follow-ups to huge hits of the previous year like "For All We Know" and "We've Only Just Begun".
    The success of the Carpenters, which was already considerable, had been achieved at the expense of some of Richards pride. As the older sibling and an accomplished pianist and arranger, Richard might have expected to be in charge. Things hadn't worked out like that. Although he wrote his own songs, Carpenters hits tended to come from other composers like Paul Williams and Burt Bacharach. Although Richard did some singing his vocals were nothing like as distinctive as his gawky kid sister Karen. Richard had steeled himself from stardom only to find that It's mantle had fallen instead on his sister, who seemed manifestly unready for it. Their parents, the original driving force behind their children's efforts, still saw Richard as the talent. The rest of the world didn't agree.

    Karen Carpenter had been included as a package with her older brother ever since they were teenagers. Their gimmick was that she played the drums. The session musicians who played on the Carpenters records, who came from that loose federation of brilliant pop instrumentalists' known as The Wrecking Crew, knew that while average drummers were ten a penny, voices like Karen's happened only rarely. Joe Osborn, the bass player in whose garage they first learned to record, said 'She got no credit for anything. Richard was the star as far as the family was concerned'. Drummer Hal Blaine, who played along with her on some of the studio recordings, says 'that voice was just incredible. She was born with that. She didn't learn that'. Karen Carpenter's problem was that while the requirements of show business demanded that she come out front and be the band's lead singer, her self-consciousness about her appearance meant that she preferred to stay behind the drum kit. 'she was kind of a Tomboy' said Sherwin Bash, who managed them 'and the drums were traditionally a male instrument. She wasn't sure she was slim enough, svelte enough, pretty enough, any of those kinds of things'.
    Richard and Karen Carpenter prospered greatly in 1971 but they were scorned by those who considered themselves hip. They popped up on old-fashioned tv shows fronted by stars terrified that they were losing their way in a country which appeared to have gone youth crazy. In any show fronted by a comedian in a tux you could guarantee that there would be a musical guest. There wasn't the ghost of anything edgy about them. In a world where people were expected to flaunt their attitude they didn't appear to have any. They sounded like creamed rice.
    The fact that the Carpenters made it big speaks volumes for the willingness of a few record companies to invest in unconventional talent. A&M was a company that had made a lot of It's money from the east listening sounds of Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass and the Sandpipers so it knew as well as anyone how to promote an act like the Carpenters. They were one of the first acts to sell big on eight-track and cassette. Their buyers were the great bulk of American and overseas public who just liked good tunes and also found something in Karen Carpenter's profound contralto that spoke to them about their lives every bit as much as Leonard Cohen, Carole King or Neil Young did to their listeners. So 'Groupie (Superstar)' was an odd choice for a Carpenters song. Then again We've Only Just Begun ' was originally a jingle for a bank. Richard had never heard the song Midler sang before, which is an indication of the direction in which his personal radio was turned, but he guessed his sister could sing the song, as she could sing pretty much any ballad.
    He was right. Karen was less than convinced but she did what she was told. They made one change to the lyrics, 'to sleep with you again' becoming 'to be with you again'. She did a guide vocal for the musicians to play along with. Even with only half her mind on the job she delivered a perfect performance. The guide vocal never needed to be replaced. That was the special quality of Karen Carpenter, a quality which became even more poignant following her anorexic-related death in 1983. When Bette Midler performed, half the impact was in the twinkle in her eye, her coquettish body language, the way she carried herself. With Karen Carpenter it was in her voice and her voice alone."

    •pg 309
    Regarding family being a popular ingredient for Billboard chart success... And the chart for the first week of October...

    "The Osmond's breakthrough success earlier in the year with 'One Bad Apple' had been a fairly shameless pastiche of the leading family act of the year, the Jackson Five. Richard and Karen Carpenter were not far behind at number 4. "

    •pg 329

    "October Playlist:

    Carpenters, "Superstar"
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2018
  2. David A

    David A Well-Known Member

    Thanks for posting this, @Simon KC1950

    " Richard had steeled himself from stardom only to find that It's mantle had fallen instead on his sister, who seemed manifestly unready for it."

    Yep. And we know what dynamic this set up for the next 12 years.

    The session musicians who played on the Carpenters records, who came from that loose federation of brilliant pop instrumentalists' known as The Wrecking Crew, knew that while average drummers were ten a penny, voices like Karen's happened only rarely.

    That Karen's voice was unique is of course a fact. I'm not a drummer so I cannot say with certainty that Karen was not a "10 a penny" drummer, but to me there seemed something distinctive about her style. But I can certainly see how the best drummer(s) in the business may have seen her as a good drummer but not in their class.
    Don Malcolm and Simon KC1950 like this.
  3. no1kandrfan

    no1kandrfan Active Member

    Simon KC1950 likes this.
  4. no1kandrfan

    no1kandrfan Active Member

    What an enjoyable read. Thanks for sharing Simon.
    Simon KC1950 likes this.
  5. Don Malcolm

    Don Malcolm Well-Known Member

    Glad you found it, Simon, and thanks much for taking the time to share the relevant passages. It's a darned good book: Hepworth is fair in his judgments, thorough and insightful. It really brought back memories of just how significant that year really was in the scheme of things, musically and otherwise. He doesn't really cover any new ground re K&R but he clearly gets how special she was...I think that will penetrate into the minds of those readers who didn't live through the time and prompt them to give the Carpenters an open-minded listen. (That's all we're asking for--they will do the rest!!)
    GaryAlan, Simon KC1950 and David A like this.
  6. GaryAlan

    GaryAlan Well-Known Member

    Interesting to speculate:
    Had Karen continued with her drumming, honing only those skills,
    would those same drummers have elevated her drumming status among their ranks ?
    Who knows...yet, her drumming on Please Mr. Postman is captivating--as is the
    drumming on the All-American College Program.....

    I am a bit dubious about this phrase:
    "but she did what she was told"
    It reminds me of the 1983 February People Cover story, where we read:
    "He was a tyrant in the studio...it always seemed as if she were under Richard's thumb..."
    Simon KC1950 likes this.
  7. David A

    David A Well-Known Member

    I think if you trade out "perfectionist" for "tyrant" it becomes more palatable for some. Based on everything I've seen, read, and heard, Richard _was_ a tyrant in the studio. In his own way Richard has, I think, acknowledged as much. A lot of talented creative people are perfectionists and can seem a bit tyrannical in their drive to attain the purest form of their creative vision. In MY PERSONAL OPINION, it's indisputable that in Richard's case, some of that was also driven by jealousy that Karen became the focus, the star.
  8. Guitarmutt

    Guitarmutt Active Member

    I think Karen did work on her drumming through the years. It seems so to me when watching the "I Got Rhythm" section of 'Music Music Music'. If you watch the drum solo, there is a moment when she crosses her sticking hands over one another which is not an easy thing to do. That, among other things, is a sign of her working at her craft. Or so it seems to me.
    goodjeans, Simon KC1950 and GaryAlan like this.
  9. Carpe diem

    Carpe diem Well-Known Member

    Concerning Karen's drumming; this is the timeline as I understand it (correct me if I'm wrong). Karen didn't take up drumming until her first year at Downey High to join the marching band to escape gym class - fall of 1964, then she expressed enough of an interest to her parents that they purchased her Ludwig set (Christmas 64 or her birthday Mar/65?) and by May 66 she was talented enough to be part of the trio that won the Battle of the Bands competition (her drumming on The Girl From Ipanema is impressive) not to mention in 1966 her drumming skills on the Magic Lamp 45 (especially on I'll Be Yours). I don't know about y'all, but I think that's a VERY FAST track she took to become more than a competent drummer. And I agree with earlier posts, had she been allowed to develop her craft as a drummer, she could have reached the upper echelon in the category (and not had anorexia, which sapped all her upper body strength). The woman had crazy talent.
    Guitarmutt, David A and Simon KC1950 like this.
  10. GaryAlan

    GaryAlan Well-Known Member

    ^^Additionally, From The Top Liner Notes:
    "Caravan....recorded in our living room, summer of 1965....intended to feature each musician,
    especially Karen, who had been playing drums for only a matter of months."
  11. David A

    David A Well-Known Member

    ^^ The thought also occurred that with Richard being a perfectionist, he would not have allowed his sister to play the drums with his band early on, if he didn't think she was good enough to do so very competently.
  12. Mike Blakesley

    Mike Blakesley Well-Known Member Moderator

    Well remember it was Herb Alpert who insisted they bring in the studio drummer for "Close to You" because he thought the drum sound "needed to be funkier." (That's a quote from a Herb interview....which is kind of funny to me because I think "funky" would be the LAST word you'd use to describe "Close to You.")
  13. David A

    David A Well-Known Member

    That sounds like an excuse. I don't know for sure, but Herb comes from an era where men drummed. I have zero doubt that, had Karen played drums on that song (in the studio), it would have been just as big a smash hit.
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  14. Carpe diem

    Carpe diem Well-Known Member

    I agree with your statement. I think she would've done just fine. I read an article on the Moderndrummer website (on Karen's bio page), that it was Joe Osborn that insisted on replacing Karen with Hal Blaine for the studio recordings. Regardless, it had to have been a major blow to Karen's self-esteem to not have her drumming skills used on those recordings.
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2018
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  15. GaryAlan

    GaryAlan Well-Known Member

    While it makes sense to move Karen "out from behind the drums" while in Concert,
    I have never understood exactly Why she was effectively removed from Studio Session drumming.
    True enough, that concentration centered upon her "lead vocals", thus, some logic there.
    But, imagine the album Offering, there, Karen drummed on everything....so, if I used that logic,
    perhaps Offering would have been a smash if someone else had drummed ? Highly unlikely !
    As has been well-documented, Richard needed a metronome to play keyboards to studio recordings,
    and, yet Karen--according to all--was a born metronome !
    It would be interesting to hear those Close To You recordings that did have Karen drumming.
    Probably discarded tracks.
    Geographer and Simon KC1950 like this.
  16. Harry

    Harry Charter A&M Corner Member Moderator

    You guys need to place these events in context. Carpenters already had their shot with the OFFERING album where Karen did the drumming, and the album had somewhat poor sales. They were being given a second chance because Herb gave them the right song to do, and believed in them, in particular Karen's voice and Richard's arranging skills. Both were given a chance to shine on the CLOSE TO YOU sessions in their strengths, and that album and single shot to the top.
  17. Sue

    Sue Active Member

    I don't understand why it seems widely understood that Karen was very much under Richard/Agnes's control. I see her as a strong woman who wanted to be perfect in whatever way she decided. It just so happened she sadly picked on her appearance. Her voice was already perfect, so she had to pick on something.
    It seems to me that, yes she wanted to play the drums because who wouldn't if they had her talent but she was gifted in two respects and had to compromise as we all do. Is that the fault of others or just part of life?
    Geographer and Simon KC1950 like this.
  18. GaryAlan

    GaryAlan Well-Known Member

    Richard states--quite often--
    "Karen considered herself to be a drummer, who sang."

    Harry makes a good point, context is everything.
    Close To You LP is brilliant and happened to be a "hit" album.
    That probably happened on the strength of the #1 Singles (CTY and WOJB).
    Offering, however, was not a "hit"....in its own way, it is brilliant.

    However, neither the success of LP Close To You, nor relative failure of Offering,
    has anything--whatsoever--to do with Karen's drumming, or not, on the albums.
  19. Carpe diem

    Carpe diem Well-Known Member

    ^^! "However, neither the success of LP Close To You, nor relative failure of Offering,
    has anything--whatsoever--to do with Karen's drumming, or not, on the albums."

    Thank you, GaryAlan! Game, Set, AND Match, thanks for coming...PEACE OUT!!
    David A likes this.
  20. Harry

    Harry Charter A&M Corner Member Moderator

    But after the failure of OFFERING, the record company didn't want to take a chance. Hal Blaine was already established as THE drummer on many many hit records.

    Karen had drummed on one failure.

    Was it the drumming that caused the success of CLOSE TO YOU? Likely not. But that's hindsight.
    Geographer likes this.
  21. David A

    David A Well-Known Member

    And this is supported by the interview Chris did with Joe Osborn and Hal Blaine. Note that when Blaine said she could "really pound those drums", Osborn chimed in with "yeah but she was light", to which Blaine tepidly agreed. It does sound like Osborn at least, was of the opinion that she wasn't right for the studio.

    Yes! That. I 100% agree. The idea that any of their smash hits would have been failures with Karen drumming in studio, just doesn't pass the smell test.
  22. David A

    David A Well-Known Member

    Yes we all have nothing but hindsight to go on. In hindsight, I think there was clearly some - as we say nowadays - gender bias at work here. After all, they didn't replace Richard's keyboards, right?

    The only other reason I can think of, was that fear of another failure for A&M led them to making the decision to use their well-known session guys to try to limit the unknowns. But even in this case, I think Karen's gender - given the time period - played a role.
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  23. A&M Retro

    A&M Retro Well-Known Member

    Agreed, David. It was 1970....very, very different times. And Hal Blaine was the hottest drummer in L.A. at the time. It’s been reported that Karen was fine with Hal drumming on ‘Close To You’.

    According to Hal himself, parents Agnes and Harold were at the session and Agnes expressed displeasure about the switch. But Karen understood the reasoning and that was that.
    byline likes this.
  24. Harry

    Harry Charter A&M Corner Member Moderator

    You're excluding those of us who lived through the era and saw it all firsthand.
    Jeff likes this.
  25. David A

    David A Well-Known Member

    Unfortunately :wink: I was around as well, although just a 12 year old. We know what the principles have said about this issue; whether we take that at face value, is a judgement call. I'm not saying there was anything at all malicious about replacing Karen; just that, in hindsight, I think her gender played a role in the decision, even if subliminally.

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