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Official Review [Single]: 7. "SUPERSTAR"/"BLESS THE BEASTS AND CHILDREN" (1289-S)

Discussion in 'A Song For You: The Carpenters Forum' started by Chris May, May 22, 2016.

Which side is your favorite?

  1. Side A: "SUPERSTAR"

    39 vote(s)

    7 vote(s)
  1. GaryAlan

    GaryAlan Well-Known Member

    Regards the Liner Notes which accompany
    The Singles 1969-1973 LP:
    If the information written for Superstar is patently incorrect,
    written, say, to "sell" records, instead of providing factual information,
    then, I am inclined to disregard much of what is written in the Liner Notes
    of any given consumer product.
    After all, I get rather weary of trying to disentangle fact from fiction.
  2. Harry

    Harry Charter A&M Corner Member Moderator

    The point was never that lyrics were written on a napkin per se, it's that they were handwritten and that the recording we hear was the first time Karen ever sang them. It's more likely that it was written on paper - a scrap, the back of something, or even a piece of notebook paper. It doesn't matter what the paper stock or what kind of pen was used - but who wrote them there in the first place? Was it Richard? Karen?

    How did Karen know which notes to sing? She didn't read music as far as I know. So she would have had to have heard the song at least once before to get a feel for the pacing and melody. I envision it all the way we see "Don't Be Afraid" being demonstrated to Karen in THE KAREN CARPENTER STORY. Richard playing the piano and demonstrating the melody and ultimate harmonies.

    All we really know is that the take we hear is in fact the first take and that the lyrics were handwritten (Was it really a napkin?). I'd give Mr. Diehl the benefit of the doubt as to whether it was a napkin or not. It could be an embellishment in the way a writer might do. All over the world people informally write things like phone numbers on napkins. That's part of his world.

    Don Malcolm likes this.
  3. newvillefan

    newvillefan Well-Known Member

    I'm inclined to think Karen had heard the song a few times over and rehearsed it before coming to the studio. Richard's comment about it being the first time she'd sung it was probably meant on a microphone in a studio.
    song4u, Chris May and Harry like this.
  4. Harry

    Harry Charter A&M Corner Member Moderator

  5. Don Malcolm

    Don Malcolm Well-Known Member

    Again, kudos to Chris May for this brilliant idea of going through all of the C's singles--what a fantastic catalyst for conversation! That said, we are in the "euphoric" phase here, when Richard was hitting them out of the park with more frequency than Babe Ruth (I won't mention those "steroids" guys here, so as not to distract us from the music!). We may not be quite as collectively effusive when speaking about some of the later singles...but for now, this is pure adrenaline rush!

    That article is a bit overwrought but several essential things are contained in it--markers about Karen's brilliant individuality as a vocal presence, something that is probably at its height with "Superstar," where the contrast between her ballad and "belter" modes (the latter of which would recede into the distance) is so beautifully put on display and, as the author suggests, is superbly supported by Richard's arrangement.

    I think Harry is right to get us past the specific details of Karen's studio performance (napkin, etc.) and focus on the gob-smacking emotional intelligence that she brought to singing--a gift so singular and potent that she could, as she does here, create such a complex performance the first time out and not have us ever get lost in it while we are listening to her. Her choices are simply perfection, and it begins with how she delivers the first line, starting high and swooping low...which might be one of the things that made Richard think it was so right for her, because it essentially reversed the melodic direction that had defined her previously in earlier hit records. And if so, he was 1000% correct, because no one can fail to be hooked after that incredible first-line reading: "Long ago...and oh so far away..."

    Gives me goose-bumps just thinking about it as I'm typing...
    byline, CraigGA and GaryAlan like this.
  6. GaryAlan

    GaryAlan Well-Known Member

    Lovely points, all !
    I do, however, find it incredulous to believe that Karen did not--or, could not--"read music" as of 1971.
    As for my belaboring the point made in the Liner Notes of
    The Singles 1969-1973 LP, regards to Superstar,
    here I include the exact quote:
    "The vocal track you hear on this album is the first time that Karen ever sang the song Superstar,
    reading the Lyrics written on a napkin.
    Her interpretation was so perfect, they decided to utilize this 'first-take luck."

    Whether, or not, the exact "thing" Karen read from is a napkin--or, not--is hardly my point.
    This LP sold, what, Seven Million copies--minimum ?
    Probably three million by 1973-1975, at the height of Carpenters' career.
    Nothing written in those Liner Notes should be open to re-interpretation.
    It either happened that way--as written in Late 1973--or, it did not.
    I'm all for "perfection" and "first-take luck".
    I am Not for perpetuating a Myth in order to sell records.

    We all hear how great the song sounds. That was never the issue with me.
    But, Karen Carpenter was a human being (at least, in my eyes and ears),
    Not a myth.
  7. K.C. Jr

    K.C. Jr Well-Known Member

    On page 52 of the Coleman biography, it has a quote from Richard stating that Karen could read music (which was partly what allowed her to enter the band). I'm not sure if it's a direct quote, paraphrase, or just something to move along the story, but it was one of the things that put me under the impression Karen could read music.
  8. Harry

    Harry Charter A&M Corner Member Moderator

    Then look at it this way: The liner notes were included WITHIN the SINGLES album. It was nowhere printed on the outside, so in order to read the line in question, you had to have already bought the album. It wasn't written as ad-copy.

    As for Karen reading music, I don't know. I wasn't there and never met her. Perhaps I confused the fact that she didn't COMPOSE music. As a band member, I'd think she'd almost have to read music, now that I think of it.
  9. GaryAlan

    GaryAlan Well-Known Member

    I do understand your perspective, Harry.
    However, the Article which I posted a link to--regards to Superstar-- was written in "2002",
    that is my point, here. (That is, the author of the Article is also under the misguided information as of 2002.)
    All this time--here I am speaking of myself, from 1973 until 2016--I have been under the impression that
    those 1973 Liner Notes, for this song, Superstar, were an accurate rendering of that situation.
    Then, a few days ago, Chris May, happily !, corrects this situation for me, and I begin to question everything !
    That is, everything going forward....all the other Liner Notes.....what is Myth....what is accurate ?
    How would I ever know ?
    Why am I just learning this....correction about Superstar...in 2016 ?

    Obviously, it takes nothing away from the beauty of the Music, or of Karen, or of Richard.
  10. Chris May

    Chris May Resident 'Carpenterologist' Moderator Thread Starter

    Not to add to any semantics here, but Richard has stated several times that Karen in fact could read music. Really doesn't much matter, since most of the time she listened to a reference demo and read lyrics off of the page when recording. And the reference to it being the first time Karen "ever sang the song" was meant to convey that it had never been previously performed or recorded.

    The Diehl references in the Singles booklet were full of what we call "creative license". Like Harry said, it was more metaphoric than anything, and doesn't in any way take away from its meaning or intention. The "gospel" if you will is in the music itself, not in the text. Shoot, if it were the other way around, we'd never believe a thing Richard wrote in the liner notes! With all due respect, he HAS had many times over contradicted himself. However, just like it is said that with the Bible - scripture interprets scripture, the same has been true with all things Carpenters. If one learns how to read what is written and cross-reference with other text and documentaries, you can nail the story; at least musically! :)
    CraigGA and Eyewire like this.
  11. CraigGA

    CraigGA Well-Known Member

    Superstar: The SACD version is the best. It is a great vehicle for both Karen and Richard.
    Bless the Beasts and the Children: The SACD version also best.

    I think I play them both the same and although they are entirely different songs, it shows how, just on one record the diversity of the Carpenters captured the world.

    I heard Superstar first on the Singles album back in 1973 and later the next year I heard Bless the Beasts and the Children on A Song For You. Once I heard A Song For You, I could not stop listening, and Bless the Beasts and the Children was among my favorites. I can't stress enough how I could not tare myself apart from this album and the songs contained in it. So, for me, Superstar and Bless the Beasts and the Children both showcase the layered vocal overdubs that attached my ear to the vinyl record at the age of 13. Even at 13, right before the voice change, I think I could sing along with each vocal part. In my headphones, it was bliss!
    Don Malcolm likes this.
  12. Murray

    Murray Well-Known Member

    I'd just like to add that Karen was studying towards a music degree at a university. She would have absolutely needed to read music! My buddy from high school - a jazz trombonist - did his B.Mus. degree, and he was required to take classes in music theory and composition, and even had to pass a piano proficiency exam in order to graduate (all music students did - even voice majors).
    byline likes this.
  13. Harry

    Harry Charter A&M Corner Member Moderator

    OK guys. I've crossed out my egregiously bad comment about reading music. Color me embarrassed. :doh:
  14. K.C. Jr

    K.C. Jr Well-Known Member

    Don't even think about it, Harry! We all do that from time to time..:)
  15. Joeyesterday

    Joeyesterday Active Member

    Wow, Chris you and Richard should team up and write a book on the Carpenters recording sessions. It's great hearing about the details both technical and otherwise.
    Don Malcolm, A&M Retro and GaryAlan like this.
  16. song4u

    song4u Well-Known Member

    Whatever Karen was reading the lyrics from, (napkin, etc.) it's amazing to me the way she sang it without knowing the words! Very soulful.
    Don Malcolm likes this.
  17. Mike Blakesley

    Mike Blakesley Well-Known Member Moderator

    Liner notes and any other "publicity" material must always be taken with a grain of salt. In all the various recent interviews I've heard, there are all these different stories about how Herb discovered the Carpenters.

    - On the BBC Herb Alpert Story, Bob Grace (a man from the UK who worked with A&M there) said Herb discovered them singing at Disneyland.
    - Herb himself states (I think in the Bob Edwards interview) that the tape was passed to him through the fence at A&M with the words "Psst! Wanna hear a tape?"
    - Herb states in a couple of places that the tape "came across my desk at A&M," making it sound like the tape was simply delivered to the office and then to Herb's desk
    - Herb states that the tape was presented by Jack Daugherty, who is named as producer on the first few Carpenters albums.

    So that last one is the one that makes the most sense, but the first two make for more interesting stories.

    Regardless of how it happened, I'm sure glad that it did....if R&K had been signed to a different label, they may have never gotten past Ticket to Ride before being dropped.
    Don Malcolm likes this.
  18. byline

    byline Active Member

    While I know that's what the lyrics are about, I never assumed the viewpoint had to be about that. As a kid listening to this song, I just felt it was someone hopelessly in love with a guitar-playing musician who was never going to reciprocate. The singer's viewpoint didn't have to be that of a groupie; most, if not all, of us have experienced unrequited love. For me, that's what the song is about, and Karen nails it perfectly.
    Don Malcolm likes this.
  19. Growing up listening to 'Superstar' I never made the groupie connection - it was just a song about missing someone and her performance made it all the more powerful. But after a generation of hearing it and knowing the real story it's now hard to ignore the true meaning. I agree though that everyone's entitled to attach any viewpoint they like to any song, but for me I now prefer the B side. I'll even go so far as to say 'Bless the Beasts' is almost a prayer - it's that good!
  20. ullalume

    ullalume Well-Known Member

    The first of the holy Leon Russell Trilogy, the later 2 being A Song For You and Masquerade - 3 of their very best. A shame they didn't do more, really. Anyway. . .a GREAT song, edgy, different, brave of them really. Love it.
    Mark-T likes this.
  21. newvillefan

    newvillefan Well-Known Member

    I never made that connection either, even into my twenties! It wasn't until the documentaries started popping up in the 1990s that the story behind the song started to get mentioned.
  22. A&M Retro

    A&M Retro Well-Known Member

    Gino Vanelli is the guy that handed Herb a demo tape of his music through the gates at A&M. And he signed him!
  23. GaryAlan

    GaryAlan Well-Known Member

    As much as I (now) love
    Bless The Beasts And Children,
    it was not until I heard the original Soundtrack recording that it truly resonated with me.
    The original arrangement is inspired. The later (re)mixes (including this single version) are
    not as effective for me.
    Needless to say, it's a powerful song, in any mix.
    ThaFunkyFakeTation likes this.
  24. MissK

    MissK Active Member

    Karen could most certainly read music but probably did not develop the skill of sight-singing. Sight-singing is a difficult skill which requires unwavering relative pitch and years of ear training. Many singers (pop singers especially) can not do this. Even Pavarotti, who could definitely read music, could not sight-sing.
  25. Chris May

    Chris May Resident 'Carpenterologist' Moderator Thread Starter

    Another trivia side-note: Bless The Beasts was another track that was grouped into the '85 session with drummer Hal Blaine, as the remixes from then on feature the updated drum track. If you listen to the original, it sounds much like what you hear in the original Superstar drum track sonically. I prefer the revised on both personally.
    Joeyesterday likes this.

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