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[Album] Karen Carpenter

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tomswift2002

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Thread Starter
Over the past week, I guess with the New Year, I’ve been listening to the Universal compilation album “20th Century Masters The Millenium Collection: The Best of 1980”. I’ve got the rest of 80’s CD’s in this set (they go by year, so 81, 82, 83, etc.) and the present the Top 11 to 14 hits of each year, or what Universal was able to license in 2010 when the CD’s were issued.

But with “1980”, it struck me how, 40 years ago, if the solo “Karen Carpenter” had been released, it might’ve had a good chance on the charts in the year 1980. It probably would’ve run it’s chart life by January 1981, but during 1980, I think it could’ve still been a hit record.

1980 opened with the Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Pina Colada Song) which was also the last #1 US hit in 1979, but then you had other disco hits hit the top of the charts in 1980, like Donna Summer’s “On The Radio” and Diana Ross’ “Upside Down”. (It’s funny, in the liner notes of the 1980 CD it mentions that the Iran/Iraq war began in 1980—and here we are 40 years later with Iran in a similar situation.) You also had Kool & The Gang’s “Ladies Night”, Lipps, Inc.’s “Funkytown”, as well as romantic ballads like Styx’s “Babe” and the Captain & Tennille’s “Do That To Me One More Time”.

As I was listening to the “1980” CD, it got me thinking about how Karen’s tracks like “Lovelines” and “My Body Keeps Changing My Mind” probably would’ve had a good chance at climbing the charts in 1980. I know that people say that Disco died in 1979, however, (and this is from someone who wouldn’t even be born until the middle of the 80’s decade) when you look at the charts for the year 1980, you find a wide variety of music styles. One of the last charting singles in December 1980 was Blondie’s “Rapture” which combined disco and rap!

So overall would Karen’s solo album and singles have had a chance of hitting the charts in the year 1980? We’ll never know because it was never issued then, however I think it might’ve had a very good chance. The album seems to exude that flux of music styles that were dominating to Pop Charts in 1980. “If I Had You” and “Make Believe It’s Your First Time” (which I still think to be a weak song, but with it being in the vein of “Do It To Me One More Time”) might’ve been chart hits, even if only minor ones.

40 years later and “Karen Carpenter” is such a lost potential album, and yet had it been released in 1980, or even a single like “My Body Keeps Changing My Mind” it might be remembered differently.
 

CraigGA

Well-Known Member
I have always thought that with a single for The Last One Singing the Blues or Make Believe It’s Your First Time in one side with My Body Keeps on the other it would have been a good test. But there was a huge following of evangelicals who might have protested. Her image was so well protected for the huge sales as the Carpenters that this departure could have hurt the entire catalog back then. Now, the story is different after Madonna broke molds during her career that has tamed us. This recording product was ahead of its time in some regards. If more rhythm and blues songs were on the album it would have mellowed it more, and may have been more acceptable since those songs seem to flow along with the Carpenters canon. I have always liked the solo album and still do. I’m grateful that we have it! And today, I feel it helps the Carpenters in sales, but that is just my opinion.
 

Mark-T

Well-Known Member
Well... I don't know I'd consider myself an evangelical. But I just love Jesus. I would have welcomed something fresh. That said, you might be right, Craig. But look what the protests did for "Physical" by Olivia. 10 weeks at #1?!?! Nonetheless, it would have been fun to see how people would have responded to a different kind of Karen.
 

Jarred

Well-Known Member
There’s a few great songs on the album but the only two in my mind that musically and vocally are on the same level as her Carpenters work are “If We Try” and “Still Crazy”.

The former is a smooth and warm arrangement with Karen not even attempting to defer the protagonists knowledge that getting back to that feeling is absolutely futile. The joy the music builds to at the end is brought down to earth with her reading and creates an amazing contrast.

The latter is unlike anything she’s ever done musically, sounding very urban and New York. More grit. She makes us really think about how “she” feels about being crazy after all these years, how it’s made her who she is now telling the story, and if she is in fact accepting that “it’s all gonna fade”. Classic Karen; lots of clues and speculation but little specification and firm answers.
 

Rudy

ᕦ(ò_óˇ)ᕤ
Staff member
Site Admin
Pros: Musically it would have fit right in at the time, and Rod Temperton's "Lovelines" was in the same spirit of Michael Jackson's Off The Wall album from August '79. (Those clustered harmonies are straight out of that same style as the title track from MJ's album--RC was way off base saying that they "stole" the Carpenters sound; more like they stole Quincy Jones' and MJ's style.) I'd call it post-disco, if anything, since the "disco" movement was a bit different than this, and there was still plenty of music out there with a dance beat that wasn't quite what disco was (which was more about filling dance floors and pushing producer creations over artists, than selling records).

Cons: Carpenters were considered "square," and I doubt many PDs at radio stations were willing to give it even a cursory a listen, even if the backing music was current (or even just a few months behind) to what was going on in the industry at the time. Just think of where Off The Wall was played at the time. Top 40 radio didn't want Carpenters much since they were past their commercial prime and turning too MOR-ish; funk/R&B radio probably wouldn't take a chance on it since it would be an unknown entity. Yet it would have fit in perfectly on those stations. And it was too Top 40-ish for easy listening/adult contemporary, where Carpenters would stand a chance.

What if they had released it on an unmarked, plain record label with no artist and just a song title? Maybe a slightly better chance but again, once KC started singing and they recognized her, a few of them probably would have flipped the promo straight into the trash, and others would have been "meh" about it. I've always guessed that RC felt threatened by "his" vocal star finding a new career (so in principle he never could have liked it), and A&M was probably anticipating the backlash and ending up with a sales dud, for a product they had no idea how to market.

I mean, let's face it--this is no major album musically, but it wasn't a turd either. It's a pleasant little time capsule from that point in time. I certainly like it way better than everything Carpenters released post-Horizon.
 

Harry

Charter A&M Corner Member
Staff member
Moderator
"Still Crazy After All These Years" is Paul Simon's song and his alone. He even titled an album with it. Karen's version is a pleasant cover, but couldn't have been a hit anywhere - no station would have touched it.

And Rudy's right to say that Karen's identity was so tied to "Carpenters" that there was zero chance that anyone on radio would have touched anything from her solo album. The radio industry is, and was, terrified of negatives. The idea of playing anything with a tune-out factor is just unheard of. The thing they fear most is a listener punching that "other station" button on their car radio, and Carpenters negatives at that point were probably among the highest of any artist.

Be thankful that you have the album to listen to, even if it was a decade and a half late. At least it's out there.
 

newvillefan

I Know My First Name Is Stephen
I know that people say that Disco died in 1979
Whoever has said that is wrong - disco didn’t really fall out of fashion until 1980, which is why Karen’s album was just that bit too late. The following three disco-flavoured albums were released during 1979 and were absolutely huge:

Michael Jackson - Off The Wall
ABBA - Voulez Vous
Bee Gees - Spirits Having Flown


...and not forgetting of course The Ethel Merman Disco Album :laugh:
 

Mark-T

Well-Known Member
Had Karen been in shape to promote it, it could have turned out better than we think. She was warm and charming, and with the right songs, released may have won over some detractors- if they were open minded.
 

Mike Blakesley

Well-Known Member
Staff member
Moderator
I remember the '80s well. I thought then, and I still think, that if Karen wanted to get back on the charts she should have done a country album. Her voice would have been perfect for it, and they'd already dabbled in it anyway with "Top of the World," "Reason to Believe," "Sweet Sweet Smile" and so on.

The solo album sounds too much like Carpenters, thanks to her instantly-recognizable voice, and they were as good as OVER by that time. Harry nailed it, the album had next to no chance of being a big hit.... which is why it was not released at the time.
 

Carpe diem

Well-Known Member
It might not have been a hit, but as a "courtesy" to Karen for all the revenue she brought in to your label, release it anyway. You can't tell me that a courtesy was not presented to Richard later on for his Time album. There is absolutely no way that Alpert & Moss believed that album was going to be a hit...

Wasn't it Alpert or Moss, or both of them that approached Karen after Richard went to drug rehab to encourage her to record solo and directed her to Phil Ramone in the first place? It must have been almost laughable for Karen to sit there in that playback session and have her two bosses turn against it like they did.
 

tomswift2002

Well-Known Member
Thread Starter
I remember the '80s well. I thought then, and I still think, that if Karen wanted to get back on the charts she should have done a country album. Her voice would have been perfect for it, and they'd already dabbled in it anyway with "Top of the World," "Reason to Believe," "Sweet Sweet Smile" and so on.

The solo album sounds too much like Carpenters, thanks to her instantly-recognizable voice, and they were as good as OVER by that time. Harry nailed it, the album had next to no chance of being a big hit.... which is why it was not released at the time.
I don’t think so. The thing is that Richard saw it ok to release “Lovelines” and even label an album after it and then even release “If I Had You” as a single in 1989 (and he even released just under her name...the album name and Carpenters were in small print). And “If I Had You” even hit the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart. But you’ve got to wonder how it would’ve done in 1980 vs. 1989. And even in the 90’s we saw other solo tracks released as singles as either A or B sides (“Still Crazy After All These Years” was issued in the UK as a B side in 1990, and then the solo “Make Believe” was a Japanese single in support of the solo album’s release, backed with “If We Try”.

But Karen wasn’t the first artist to leave a group and become a solo act and the main group has faded from view. Like right around the 1978-1980 period you had Michael Jackson breaking away from the Jackson 5, and in 1981 you had Lionel Richie leaving the Commodores. You also had John Lennon, Ringo Star, George Harrison and Paul McCartney of the Beatles and Paul Simon of Simon & Garfunkel go solo. So the argument that radio wouldn’t play Karen’s solo stuff because of her Carpenters connection is extremely weak. But because A&M didn’t release the album in 1980, we don’t know. And yet there’s more evidence that she would had some success with what happened in 1989.
 

John Adam

Well-Known Member
Be thankful that you have the album to listen to, even if it was a decade and a half late. At least it's out there.
It's always interesting how the solo album keeps coming up for discussion. It obviously brings up strong feelings.
What Harry said is so true. At least we got to hear it, and it didn't burn up or decay in the vaults!
 

Jarred

Well-Known Member
It might not have been a hit, but as a "courtesy" to Karen for all the revenue she brought in to your label, release it anyway. You can't tell me that a courtesy was not presented to Richard later on for his Time album. There is absolutely no way that Alpert & Moss believed that album was going to be a hit...

Wasn't it Alpert or Moss, or both of them that approached Karen after Richard went to drug rehab to encourage her to record solo and directed her to Phil Ramone in the first place? It must have been almost laughable for Karen to sit there in that playback session and have her two bosses turn against it like they did.
^ THIS times a million. I know our discussions about the solo album are endless, but there’s so many holes in the story they try to sell us and we know they could have acted on the human gesture to release it for her own personal benefit, even if it flopped. Her psyche was so fractured that even a flop that she could call her own would have done wonders for her mindset.

And aside from two tracks on Time I’m flummoxed thinking about how anybody (even Alpert and Moss) could think that dog was releasable and better than Karen’s outing.
 

John Adam

Well-Known Member
I don’t think so. The thing is that Richard saw it ok to release “Lovelines” and even label an album after it and then even release “If I Had You” as a single in 1989 (and he even released just under her name...the album name and Carpenters were in small print). And “If I Had You” even hit the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart. But you’ve got to wonder how it would’ve done in 1980 vs. 1989. And even in the 90’s we saw other solo tracks released as singles as either A or B sides (“Still Crazy After All These Years” was issued in the UK as a B side in 1990, and then the solo “Make Believe” was a Japanese single in support of the solo album’s release, backed with “If We Try”.

But Karen wasn’t the first artist to leave a group and become a solo act and the main group has faded from view. Like right around the 1978-1980 period you had Michael Jackson breaking away from the Jackson 5, and in 1981 you had Lionel Richie leaving the Commodores. You also had John Lennon, Ringo Star, George Harrison and Paul McCartney of the Beatles and Paul Simon of Simon & Garfunkel go solo. So the argument that radio wouldn’t play Karen’s solo stuff because of her Carpenters connection is extremely weak. But because A&M didn’t release the album in 1980, we don’t know. And yet there’s more evidence that she would had some success with what happened in 1989.

Did Richard really despise Karen's solo album? After all he did put several cuts on two Carpenters releases! But I do think he was more fond of the material that he did with his sister. They were a team after all. I'm listening to the Karen Carpenter CD right now. I am very fond of it. More fond of it than the Carpenters albums? Think I am equally fond of it. It's really not that dramatically different from anything she's done with Richard. Maybe the lyrics are slightly risque and a the songs a bit more rhythmic? It was an honest effort.

Many Carpenters songs recorded in 1978 remained unreleased until much later. Were they sub-par or just victims of bad timing, sort of like Karen's solo album? They certainly deserved to be heard, and most of them have, and I am equally thankful for those! :)
 

Mike Blakesley

Well-Known Member
Staff member
Moderator
Karen wasn’t the first artist to leave a group and become a solo act and the main group has faded from view. Like right around the 1978-1980 period you had Michael Jackson breaking away from the Jackson 5, and in 1981 you had Lionel Richie leaving the Commodores. You also had John Lennon, Ringo Star, George Harrison and Paul McCartney of the Beatles and Paul Simon of Simon & Garfunkel go solo. So the argument that radio wouldn’t play Karen’s solo stuff because of her Carpenters connection is extremely weak.
There are two important facts that make the argument:

1. All of the groups you mentioned were still "hot" at the time of the solo ventures. Carpenters were cold and getting colder at the time Karen did her album. When the Beatles were breaking up, they were still top of the charts with every release.

2. She still had that nasty "image" problem, deserved or not, and the style of their music only enhanced it. The artists you mentioned were still "red hot" and didn't have that issue.

If you've never heard Chris May's "The Download" podcast interviews with John Bettis, I highly recommend a listen. In the second part, he goes into great detail about why Karen's album was not released, and it had nothing to do with any gratitude for sales, or about anybody's feelings. It wasn't released because they didn't think it would sell.
 

newvillefan

I Know My First Name Is Stephen
And aside from two tracks on Time I’m flummoxed thinking about how anybody (even Alpert and Moss) could think that dog was releasable and better than Karen’s outing.
I wonder how much money A&M made from Time. I’d guess it was in the minus. Before anyone goes down the road of “here we go another Richard bashing”, that’s absolutely not a criticism of his album. I love many tracks from it. It’s a straightforward question. He made a solo album. She made one. Stand them side by side and there’s absolutely no comparison. Whatsoever.
 
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Proudofyou

Active Member
If you ask me, instead of going right to solo, different image/sound, I think she should have collaborated-duet with someone. James Taylor? Billy Joel? Dionne? Can you imagine Dionne and Karen doing something together? Then around that time she and Richard get pulled into We are the World and transition into what was going on then. Linking her up with someone might have been a nice bridge to something refreshed.
 

Carpe diem

Well-Known Member
Karen Carpenter-REJECT......what are your options now?.......go back and sing with your brother......oh and by the way, here's the bill $400,000. Just brutal.
Absolutely right! $400,000 she had to pay back on her effort!! We perhaps will NEVER know the real story of all this. But at it's core it stinks to high heaven!
 

Jarred

Well-Known Member
It’s always sad to think that, even if Karen was living today and became healthier psychologically and physically, their heyday was totally over. If they wanted to make music together (or if Karen wanted to) then would they have ever released music again on par with the best of their 70s work, commercial hit or not? Aside from some gorgeous standards albums, would Richard ever be able to get back his freshness and spark for contemporary pop that was up to her level?
 

Kacfan

Member
If you ask me, instead of going right to solo, different image/sound, I think she should have collaborated-duet with someone. James Taylor? Billy Joel? Dionne? Can you imagine Dionne and Karen doing something together? Then around that time she and Richard get pulled into We are the World and transition into what was going on then. Linking her up with someone might have been a nice bridge to something refreshed.
I always wondered if they would have been part of we are the world if Karen had been alive: it was recorded at the a&m studios and Michael jackson was a fan, so probably yes. I even wonder which line would have been good for Karen to sing.
 
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