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Solo Album and Single Success

Discussion in 'A Song For You: The Carpenters Forum' started by newvillefan, Sep 13, 2017.

  1. Rumbahbah

    Rumbahbah Well-Known Member

    I'm not sure I'd agree with all of this. Our view of an artist's catalogue nowadays, when pretty much everything is easily available either to buy or stream, is I suspect quite different from how back catalogues would have been perceived in the 1970s and 1980s, chiefly because albums were deleted and then weren't available anywhere other than hunting through secondhand stores. As such, acts would be judged much more on their current material rather than always putting that new material into context. It's worth recalling that the Carpenters' catalogue was only seriously reappraised critically after the success of the TV movie and the re-release of the back catalogue on CD (plus the From the Top compilation) in the early 1990s. Before then, and particularly in the US, the view on the work seemed to stay in limbo.

    Karen and Richard have both been quoted in several interviews as saying that you were only as good as your last single. Acts like Elvis were really the exception in the sense of having built up such a reputation that they could trade off of it for the rest of their lives (and in any case, although their performance was variable, some Elvis singles were still making the Top 20 in the mid-1970s, long after his prime, so he wasn't in a position of having no hit singles by then). Most acts couldn't really work like that - touring long term might keep them going, but really they still needed hits to sustain their career.

    There are many reasons why someone who bought an album by an artist doesn't buy the follow-up album. The problem the Carpenters had is that from Horizon onwards, fewer people kept buying each new album and it seems that not many former buyers came back to the fold. In terms of keeping a career going, that's a pretty problematic dynamic. Made in America did nothing to address that issue.

    In general, their albums are worth listening to all the way through, but I'd single out Made in America and A Kind of Hush to a lesser extent as albums where cherry-picking the best tracks is the way to go, particularly for someone who's not already a fan, as there's more chaff than wheat to be had.
    byline likes this.
  2. Most (who listened to radio in the 70's) would likely view Carpenters as a "singles act" anyway; their biggest album was "The Singles..." and their biggest-selling studio albums were those that had the most hit singles on them.
  3. Don Malcolm

    Don Malcolm Well-Known Member

    My sense--and please feel free to correct and modify what follows as anyone deems appropriate--is that 1979-80 really was the point of emotional abyss for both Richard & Karen. I say this despite Karen's yeoman effort to make a solo album, which also carried a huge amount of emotional baggage.

    The changing landscape of pop music was like a rollercoaster whose tracks more likely than not were coming to an end in mid-air for the Carpenters. They'd tried to shake things up with PASSAGE, and it didn't really work.

    Richard had finally gone down for the count vis-a-vis his quaalude addiction, which had to stem from his own ongoing anxiety over his ability to sustain their success.

    Karen was oscillating between the various issues about her selfhood, with autonomy from her family being the cul-de-sac that she could never find a way to escape. The solo LP was a step in that direction--it was taken away from her. To combat the disappointment and humiliation of that outcome, she wound up in a "rebound" romance with Tom Burris, which had its own macabre undertones which eventually pushed her deeper down the rabbit hole of all of the cumulative contradictions she'd been trying to either balance or ignore, seeing them as the cross she needed to bear for achieving success and having (however unintentionally) wrested the upper hand of stardom from Richard.

    So making MADE IN AMERICA was almost pre-ordained as a way to desperately slap as many band-aids on all the festering sores and open wounds that had surfaced in the wake of their fall from the charts. And the LP couldn't help but be a retrenchment and a recapitulation--Richard clearly felt that his effort to shake things up with PASSAGE had failed, so he was committed to using something tried-and-true as the way back. Above and beyond the flaws in that plan, the more pressing problem was that by the time the album was ready, Karen's marriage was cratering and her descent toward a skeletal appearance would soon emerge as a frightening distraction--and a serious impediment to any possible comeback. (It's hard to build momentum when the video for "Touch Me" produces as many "What is wrong with Karen?" responses as kudos for the song's melody and arrangement...)
  4. Well said, indeed. Incredibly, sadly, accurate.
    byline likes this.
  5. CraigGA

    CraigGA Well-Known Member

    I still don’t equate album sales to popularity. Sure, it’s a part, but not the total part. Their TV specials were watched by many millions and the Karen Carpenter Story was the most watched movie of the year. In the later years, the singles weren’t the best the album had to offer and those other songs showcased a side of Karen that the singles did not allow. We had three albums of material and possibly still a fourth of material that would never have heard had Karen lived. If Horizon suffered it was because of too few songs, price increases, and no TV promotion, and coming after a Greatest Hits album. If Hush suffered it was because a hit was not on it, yet the tour in Japan broke records that year, yet their TV specials ranked in the top 10. If Passage suffered it was because it needed 2 more songs plus the buying public thought they already had enough of the catalog of Carpenters albums. In the early 70’s the Carpenters had it all. They were in touch with the scene. If Richard had promoted Karen solo, they would have fared better. Her solo album with Phil Ramone is one I listen to as much as the others. You could say everything went down from there (1971) using the formula of album sales only, but many things happened after 1971 that that kept them in the buying public and adored by fans. Songs like Yesterday Once More and Top of the World, plus the many TV guest spots and world tours of 1974 and 1976 that broke records while In 1974, Karen’s voice was the most recognized world wide. You can’t ride on top like that forever. I have always seen their records and CD’s in stores, especially during the 80s-90s when I lived in Atlanta. Sure there were used record stores who had them at $2.00 instead of record store prices at $8.99.

    Just trying to show a more balanced side.
  6. GaryAlan

    GaryAlan Well-Known Member

    I was reading the comment section for Ned Nickerson's great Youtube video of
    My Body Keeps Changing My Mind, one fellow Guy Aoki writes:
    "I told Richard Carpenter this could've been a hit if released in the Spring of 1980.
    He said an A&M Records exec agreed, but nothing came out. Such a shame.
    The rest of the album wasn't great, but why not put out great singles like this?"

    I did some digging--Billboard Magazine--and it is plausible that this fellow is honest.
    Of course, who really knows ?
    However, the comment is interesting--if it is true.
  7. In my humble opinion I think the big problem with this album is what you quote "If Richard had promoted Karen alone, they would have fared better". If you have a brother or sister who works together and who have always protected each other, and suddenly one of them wants to grow as a person and decide something for himself ...
    Do that work with all the love, effort and I show it to your sister or brother and deny it to me, how would you feel?
    Independent if the album was good enough, I think that in this first solo work of Karen, they broke his heart (For something a day before his death, Karen called Phil Ramone) and if they realize the songs was very style of era, even "Still in Love with You" sounded from the 90s ....
    And why was not the album released in the 80s?, maybe karen gave new energy to the Carpenters, an example of how it could have worked is Genesis and Phil Collins in the 80s' ... Regards :)
  8. newvillefan

    newvillefan I Know My First Name Is Stephen Thread Starter

    If this is a true story, it shows there was some definite interest in putting a single out from the solo album to test the water in early 1980. Members of this forum have even suggested this would have been a great idea at the time. I’ve posted the YouTube video below with his comment. He also replied to others who responded, saying it wasn’t just Richard who didn’t like the album, but the whole label.

    I did a bit of digging and it appears that the Guy Aoki who commented on that YouTube thread was associated with Billboard and Casey Kasem, who was a good personal friend of Karen.

    Guy Aoki is the Founding President of Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), the only organization solely dedicated to monitoring the mass media and advocates positive, balanced, and sensitive depiction and coverage of Asian Americans. For 17 years, he wrote syndicated radio shows for Dick Clark (including the Billboard Magazine Radio Award winning “Countdown America”) and in the ’80s researched for and mixed “American Top 40 with Casey Kasem”.

    Guy Aoki | Discover Nikkei
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2018
  9. Mark-T

    Mark-T Well-Known Member

    I know she was thin in 1980, but I think Karen looked great. The dance number shows she was having a great time. MMM was easily the best of the TV specials.
  10. Rick-An Ordinary Fool

    Rick-An Ordinary Fool Honolulu City Lights

    My opinion is that something needed to be released between Oct 79 to Jan 80. It would have been a great way to test the waters to see how the public would react. The problem would have been where to market Karen. Olivia's show didn't happen until later in 80'
  11. Mark-T

    Mark-T Well-Known Member

    Agreed, Rick. Her solo album was as groundbreaking as Passage and a missed opportunity to "restart" their career by seeing Karen could sing in any style.
    CraigGA likes this.
  12. GaryAlan

    GaryAlan Well-Known Member

    Billboard Magazine, September 5, 1981:
    Karen Carpenter, "It was an interesting experience...It was good to know I had the ability
    to do things that are a little bit different

  13. I believe there were radio programmers and DJ’s open to the idea of a solo Karen Carpenter. Back around that time, I was listening to a disco format station (possibly out of Chicago) and heard the DJ say, “In that hour, we played...and...and...and Karen Carpenter”. I’d missed the actual song, so I called the station to ask what it was. I was hoping she had her own dance song! (That’s how easily this teenaged fan was accepting of the idea.) I remember my disappointment when he said, “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”! I thought to myself: She does sound “solo” on that, but how did the DJ work it in with the other disco songs?
    Carpe diem likes this.
  14. Carpe diem

    Carpe diem Well-Known Member

    LOL! That must've been a shock; that song is the polar opposite of disco.
    jaredjohnfisher likes this.
  15. We’ll never know, but it’s quite possible he was simultaneously spinning another 12” dance song and mixed a suitable BPM (beats per minute) instrumental break that matched the timing of “Argentina”. As I said, there were people who were open to the idea of a solo Karen. (It might’ve been KISS 107.9 out of Boston; not sure.)
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2018
  16. Mark-T

    Mark-T Well-Known Member

    I had read in Billboard that she might have recorded "Still Crazy". And even though I wouldn't hear it until years later, I could hear her in my mind. I was not disappointed.
    newvillefan likes this.
  17. GaryAlan

    GaryAlan Well-Known Member

    The A&M Press Release (A&M Publicity Dept., written by Paul Grein) is of some interest:
    (1) Phil Ramone, "We took a lot of risks. A lot of things worked, some didn't."
    (2) Paul Simon suggested that Karen sing the song, Still Crazy After All These Years.
    (3) Grein: "Not all gambles worked. All Because Of You is a failed effort."
    (4) Grein: "Richard Carpenter had arranged and orchestrated all of the Carpenters' albums--
    and, had produced them since 1973."
    (5) Grein: "Herb Alpert came up with the suggestion for Ramone to produce."
    (6) Grein: "Karen says she chose Ramone for a variety of reasons."
    (7) "The album was given a Catalog Number (SP 4804) and placed on the release schedule in early 1980."
    (8) Gil Friesen (A&M President): "Karen decided the duo takes precedence. That was the priority in her life."
    Carpe diem likes this.
  18. Carpe diem

    Carpe diem Well-Known Member

    Gil Friesen (A&M President): "Karen decided the duo takes precedence. That was the priority in her life."

    Nice try Gil. I don't buy it. Karen loved her album as evidenced by her phone call to Phil Ramone on the eve of her death. She waffled and voted it down under extreme duress and negativity presented during that infamous meeting. Richard hated it before it was even conceived; Herb and Jerry Moss didn't think it would make any money. Plain and Simple.
  19. Rick-An Ordinary Fool

    Rick-An Ordinary Fool Honolulu City Lights

    So I'm assuming that catalog # was for a LP release?
  20. GaryAlan

    GaryAlan Well-Known Member

    ^^Yes, a catalog number for Album release.
    Of course, I then ask, why wouldn't a Single already be in the 'works'....ahead of the album ?
    Was a song already being considered for Single release ahead of the album ? Which one, if any ?
    Also, who were the other Producers 'in the running' for the Solo Album ?
    Notice, All Because Of You--for Paul Grein--is a 'failed' effort; I disagree.
    Jamesj75 likes this.
  21. Rick-An Ordinary Fool

    Rick-An Ordinary Fool Honolulu City Lights

    Hmm I don't understand how it could have got an album catalog assigned without a single released prior to that being assigned. Unless no single was scheduled to be released and just the album?
  22. newvillefan

    newvillefan I Know My First Name Is Stephen Thread Starter

    What I don’t understand is how things got so far. How come all the time, effort and money into an expensive photoshoot was incurred and it was even assigned a catalogue number, surely the last item on the list before the album goes to the pressing plant? These are the finishing touches you put on an album once it has been given the green light by the label. Was all this done before the infamous playback session? Surely not.
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2018
  23. Harry

    Harry Charter A&M Corner Member Moderator

    It was not uncommon at all for an upcoming album to be "slotted in" and get a catalog number. There are cases where an album was given a number without finalizing the title. I'm drawing a blank on providing any examples, but I know it to be true.

    It's obvious to me that A&M had faith enough in Karen Carpenter to have given her the benefit of the doubt, gone ahead with artwork, catalog numbers, album design - and then it all came to a crashing halt at the playback. As for what ultimately happened, I'll leave that to the usual conspiracy theorists among us.

    It would have been after the playback when if the album was getting the go-ahead that a first single would have been chosen.
  24. It still saddens me to read this. One can’t help but wonder if the solo album could have been a positive thing (if released); for Karen, especially, and everyone around her.
    Rick-An Ordinary Fool likes this.
  25. GaryAlan

    GaryAlan Well-Known Member

    Ray Coleman--Page 329--mentions...and, this is the only time Lovelines album is mentioned....
    "responding to many requests from fans, Richard included four songs prepared for the
    aborted Phil Ramone produced album. Substituting a contrived sexuality for Karen's normally
    understated discretion, these inferior tracks
    proved the wisdom of the earlier decision to stop the album."

    So, let us take stock of these so-called inferior tracks:
    Remember When Loving Took All Night
    If We Try
    If I Had You

    Note, that line is in the Authorized biography of Carpenters' career.
    The "proof" to 'stop the album' does NOT lie with these four tracks !

    Rolling Stone surely thought otherwise:
    "Four of those unreleased cuts surface on Lovelines, and they are liberating.
    Ramone recorded her in leaner, decidedly unsaccharine settings and, in effect,
    got rid of her music's otherwise characteristic bad aftertaste. As Karen's cozy contralto
    pulses through the come-hither "Lovelines," the hearth-warm "If We Try" (both written by Rod Temperton, whose credits also include "Rock With You" and "Thriller") and the saltier "If I Had You," her vocals come damn close to soulful. Listening to them, it becomes apparent why singers like Chrissie Hynde, Madonna and Gloria Estefan have "come out of the closet" and admitted they were Karen fans."

    That is Why we, the fans, continue these (ridiculous ?) questions without answers,
    because, what exists Biographically is simply without support !

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