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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 Active 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.

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