šŸŽ§ Podcast CARPENTERS: Q&A, Ep. 5: "Christmas Portrait" (Special Edition)

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Chris May

Resident ā€˜Carpenterologistā€™
Staff member
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As a longtime Carpenters historian and coauthor of ā€œCarpenters: The Musical Legacyā€ (with Mike Cidoni Lennox and Richard Carpenter, Ā© 2021), I answer a number of questions submitted to me directly by Carpenters fans related to the duoā€™s Christmas catalog, while laying out a comprehensive breakdown of how the ā€œChristmas Portraitā€ album was conceivedā€”including its overall lack of promotion by A&M Records in 1978.

I also get into the Carpentersā€™ relationship to ABC with regard to the television specials, Mom & Dad Carpenterā€™s involvement in the second Christmas special in ā€™78 (which includes audio from a 2021 interview with Richard Carpenter), and Karenā€™s solo appearance on ā€œBruce Forsythā€™s Big Nightā€ in the UK in December that same yearā€”a trip in which she was led to believe was set up to promote the ā€œChristmas Portraitā€ album, only to find out otherwise after she arrived.

If youā€™re a fan of the Carpentersā€™ Christmas oeuvre including the behind-the-scenes backstory and trivia, youā€™ll want to check this out!
 

JohnFB

She was born to belong to the lines of a song...
I enjoyed this inside look back at the making of the Christmas albums - fascinating details - it's no wonder Richard calls this "Karen's album", given both her predominance throughout while he was pretty much AWOL from the arranging/orchestration of most of the songs...

One thing I would love to have heard is Spectrum's version of "Merry Christmas, Darling" that you mentioned they were doing before the A&M years...

And, I disagree on Richard's (and the recording engineer's) opinion about "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" - I don't hear too much vibrato on Karen's vocal at all (there is a lot more vibrato to be heard on "Have Yourself...") - her voice is simply beautiful strolling along in the "basement", in her resonant lower register, doing so in this song probably more than any other - what is truly remarkable is her breath control on the long phrases of the song - it takes more air to sing all those low notes at a decent volume and she manages to do that even given the length of those phrases - just when you think she can't possibly make it to the end of each, she does...she did this so often on so many songs that we shouldn't be surprised - but we are, and we're amazed and delighted. The song belongs.
 

Joeyesterday

Well-Known Member
Thanks Chris!
Like John, I would love to hear Spectrumā€™s version of MCD. Is there a recording of it or just performed live?
 

Nemily

"I'm goin' way down south to Baton Rouge, tonight"
Love it! Thank you so much for all of this. Very special.
Everything Matthew said. There is so much new insight, I have to listen another 5 or 6 times to absorb and really appreciate it all. I especially enjoyed you walking us through the process of live in studio recording on the Bruce Forsyth show.
 

Someday

Well-Known Member
Thank you again, Chris! Your work has given us fans a direct link to RC and your wealth of knowledge is fascinating.

With regard to "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day", I've often wondered if there was an error in Karen's lead, as the choir takes over on the line 'then peeled the bells more loud and deep', rather than just backing her up. She does, of course mispronounce the word Christendom and this has probably irked Richard for years! Her breath control on the long phrases is astounding.
 

JohnFB

She was born to belong to the lines of a song...
...

With regard to "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day", I've often wondered if there was an error in Karen's lead, as the choir takes over on the line 'then peeled the bells more loud and deep', rather than just backing her up. She does, of course mispronounce the word Christendom and this has probably irked Richard for years!
Probably not many people have ever used the word Christendom, and of those few who have most have more than likely mispronounced it as Christiandom - if he was "irked" about this was it at the time of the recording, or only much later when some word-nerd pseudo-intellectual brought it to his attention? I wonder how Richard would have sung it originally...I wonder if he was desperate for something about her to be irked about...

Hearing Agnes sing leads one to wonder if that's how Karen would have eventually sounded at her mother's age - on tune but a tad weak & shakey...after all Karen by her own admission didn't practice singing or do vocal exercises, which might have taken its toll on her voice over time.

I find fascinating the story of Karen being hesitant to sing the line "...these wonderful things are the things we'll remember all through our lives..." (from "Sleigh Ride) with it jumpy melody line and how arranger Billy May encouraged her to go after it all out...which she did, nailing it. What else?
 

Chris May

Resident ā€˜Carpenterologistā€™
Staff member
Moderator
Thread Starter
I enjoyed this inside look back at the making of the Christmas albums - fascinating details - it's no wonder Richard calls this "Karen's album", given both her predominance throughout while he was pretty much AWOL from the arranging/orchestration of most of the songs...

One thing I would love to have heard is Spectrum's version of "Merry Christmas, Darling" that you mentioned they were doing before the A&M years...

And, I disagree on Richard's (and the recording engineer's) opinion about "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" - I don't hear too much vibrato on Karen's vocal at all (there is a lot more vibrato to be heard on "Have Yourself...") - her voice is simply beautiful strolling along in the "basement", in her resonant lower register, doing so in this song probably more than any other - what is truly remarkable is her breath control on the long phrases of the song - it takes more air to sing all those low notes at a decent volume and she manages to do that even given the length of those phrases - just when you think she can't possibly make it to the end of each, she does...she did this so often on so many songs that we shouldn't be surprised - but we are, and we're amazed and delighted. The song belongs.
I can't imagine the album without it. It's the perfect close ...
 

Chris May

Resident ā€˜Carpenterologistā€™
Staff member
Moderator
Thread Starter
Thank you again, Chris! Your work has given us fans a direct link to RC and your wealth of knowledge is fascinating.

With regard to "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day", I've often wondered if there was an error in Karen's lead, as the choir takes over on the line 'then peeled the bells more loud and deep', rather than just backing her up. She does, of course mispronounce the word Christendom and this has probably irked Richard for years! Her breath control on the long phrases is astounding.
Always found this interesting, as well. Richard's never mentioned anything about that word specifically. What I will say, is, I don't think the lyric would have been nearly as impactful had she sung it "correctly!" I know, that's one of those iffy circumstances when you're dealing with performance and production in general. It may have simply been an exaggerated embellishment when she tracked it, and it stayed.
 

Carl

Well-Known Member
Another great episode Chris ! I always enjoyed the carpenters Christmas albums. So much insight as well. Will there be any more q and an episodes in the future ?
 

Chris May

Resident ā€˜Carpenterologistā€™
Staff member
Moderator
Thread Starter
Another great episode Chris ! I always enjoyed the carpenters Christmas albums. So much insight as well. Will there be any more q and an episodes in the future ?
Thank you! As of now, I don't have one specifically planned, but I do hope to record more. If you or anyone else reading this has a particular album or subject you'd like to hear covered, feel free to drop a note here or message me privately.
 

Chris May

Resident ā€˜Carpenterologistā€™
Staff member
Moderator
Thread Starter
Thank you! As of now, I don't have one specifically planned, but I do hope to record more. If you or anyone else reading this has a particular album or subject you'd like to hear covered, feel free to drop a note here or message me privately.
Also, for those of you who are enjoying these, do you prefer a song-by-song format like I did with the Hush album, or something a little more organic, where I take a handful of questions and answer them, followed by a more generalized thematic breakdown?
 

Someday

Well-Known Member
Thank you, Chris. Re the reissues - Iā€™m guessing that itā€™s far too early to say, but wondering if Universal are planning a ā€˜setā€™, or to release each album individually ā€¦
 

Mark-T

Well-Known Member
Thank you! As of now, I don't have one specifically planned, but I do hope to record more. If you or anyone else reading this has a particular album or subject you'd like to hear covered, feel free to drop a note here or message me privately.
I'd love to more about Richard's unreleased Christmas project- and about the songs with Seiko Matsuda.
 

Chris May

Resident ā€˜Carpenterologistā€™
Staff member
Moderator
Thread Starter
I'd love to more about Richard's unreleased Christmas project- and about the songs with Seiko Matsuda.
Well, since the Christmas Q&A is in the can, I can't really include the answers to this first question thereā€”assuming you're talking about the RC Christmas project discussed in years past??
 

Harry

Charter A&M Corner Member
Staff member
Site Admin
Always found this interesting, as well. Richard's never mentioned anything about that word specifically. What I will say, is, I don't think the lyric would have been nearly as impactful had she sung it "correctly!" I know, that's one of those iffy circumstances when you're dealing with performance and production in general. It may have simply been an exaggerated embellishment when she tracked it, and it stayed.
Great installment, Chris. As for "Christendom", I always knew that was the correct word, but I also assumed, probably incorrectly, that the way Karen pronounced it as "Christiandom" was intentional, and perhaps a new, modern version of the word. Language changes all of the time as we proceed through life, and I just thought, ah, the old "Christendom" that Bing Crosby sang is an old fashioned way of pronouncing the word.
 

JohnFB

She was born to belong to the lines of a song...
Great installment, Chris. As for "Christendom", I always knew that was the correct word, but I also assumed, probably incorrectly, that the way Karen pronounced it as "Christiandom" was intentional, and perhaps a new, modern version of the word. Language changes all of the time as we proceed through life, and I just thought, ah, the old "Christendom" that Bing Crosby sang is an old fashioned way of pronouncing the word.
Language does change - every once in a while for the better.

The two words are likely interchangeable in every day usage - to the extent that there is any...

Only religious historical writers and church authorities would insist on the word Chritendom. I think I'm safe in saying that 99.9999% of the fans of Karen Carpenter don't give a rat's a** which one she sings along as they get to hear her gorgeous voice wrapped around one of them...
 

Mark-T

Well-Known Member
Well, since the Christmas Q&A is in the can, I can't really include the answers to this first question thereā€”assuming you're talking about the RC Christmas project discussed in years past??
Yes, the RC solo Christmas album. I wasn't expecting a whole new video. Sorry for not being clear.
 

Chris May

Resident ā€˜Carpenterologistā€™
Staff member
Moderator
Thread Starter
Yes, the RC solo Christmas album. I wasn't expecting a whole new video. Sorry for not being clear.
No worries! Just more wanted to clarify that the project(s) you're referring to had nothing to do with this latest.

In a nutshell, there were 2 or 3 iterations of the project. One involved his work with Jo Stafford, and I believe included a number of instrumental (piano/orchestra) renditions of various Christmas tunes. In a random phone call, Joe Osborn told me that Richard was having trouble playing what he wrote on some of these. That, and a number of other delays caused it to stall out.

Then in 2013, he was working with Country artist Mandy Barnett on a project that, for whatever reason, was never completed. Since then, I don't think there's been much, if any additional work done in the way of an RC solo Christmas album.

Hope this gives at least some some answers your question. :)
 
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