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The Carpenters' Struggle for Uptempo Material

Discussion in 'A Song For You: The Carpenters Forum' started by Sabar, Mar 8, 2019.

  1. Sabar

    Sabar Member Thread Starter

    I'm of the view that the Carpenters would have been more commercially and artistically successful post-1975 had they been better able to find quality uptempo material and an uptempo sound. Finding pretty, melancholy ballads for Karen to sing was never a problem. Finding material that lifted your spirits and made you tap your toes was a challenge.

    I don't think I'm alone in this view. Richard acknowledges that he struggled to find really good songs; that good ballads were left off records because the album already had enough slow numbers; that he regrets doing the Motown covers, etc. I've also heard fans express regret that post-Horizon, Richard seemed to abandon the modest use of rock elements in songs (such as We've Only Just Begun, Road Ode, Happy).

    So here's your chance to play A & R man/producer. Can you think of any uptempo songs, artists, styles, from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s that would have provided a good model for the Carpenters to emulate; something that would have been both artistically and commercially appealing?
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2019
  2. Carpe diem

    Carpe diem Well-Known Member

    ^^Nice topic! This is a tuffy. By mid-decade the duo was so entrenched in the MOR/Easy Listening sound, let me get back to you on this...
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  3. Brian

    Brian Well-Known Member

    In the long run, I don’t think that it was a problem that K&R didn’t have a big hit (in the USA) after 1975. They have had a longer life and are still selling more albums than most of the artists who had big hits in 1976 and beyond. Not trying to put a dampener on this discussion. You’re right though, Sabar. Many of the hits of 1976 were uptempo and very repetitive disco, although there was also a lot of soft, AC pop - but more hooky than what K&R were doing at the time. In contrast to the music that hit the big time around 1976, it was the slower, more musical and subtle ballads that brought out the best in Karen’s voice and gave Richard the chance to demonstrate his strengths in arrangement. Their music was much more classy and is having a longer life than most of the big hits - so would we have wanted them to record something uptempo, just to get a hit? Personally, I don’t think Karen did uptempo anywhere near as well as she did slow and ballady, anyway. At this stage in my life, I can’t think of any of their uptempo songs that are anywhere near my favourites.
  4. Sue

    Sue Active Member

    I love the Carpenters upbeat version of Breaking Up is Hard to Do.
    I would have really loved more upbeat from them at that time because I was a much more “dance” (Bee Gees, ABBA, Bowie, Electronic type stuff) music fan in my youth!
    I really wish I had paid more attention to the Carpenters. I enjoyed their records but just didn’t appreciate how good their music was and How wonderful Karen’s voice was. I always thought their music was too grown up for me! If only I had realised what I was missing!!
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  5. John Adam

    John Adam Well-Known Member

    Ditto! :)
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  6. Brian

    Brian Well-Known Member

    In the spirit of this thread, though, K&R should have done disco in ‘76, (‘More, More, More’, ‘Fly Robin Fly’, ‘Shake Shake Shake Your Booty’, ‘Boogie Fever’ and ‘You Should be Dancing’ were smashes), done a duet / trio with a more soulful artist in 1977, (‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’, ‘Sir Duke’, ‘Best of My Love’ and ‘Got To Give It Up’ were huge), crossed over to the other side of the Atlantic throughout 1978 and 1979 to work with an exciting British producer or artist, maybe ska, street or electronica influenced, for a groundbreaking, uptempo UK hit that spoke of exhilarating new directions, (Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, Denis, Message In a Bottle, Bang Bang, Cool for Cats, Dance Away, Lucky Number and Cars were biggies- a couple of these by US artists being produced in the UK), then returned to the UK for 1981 / 82 for something new wave or, once again, electronica, (Kids in America, Don’t You Want Me?, Love Action, Tainted Love, Mickey, Mad World, Don’t Go). Those were some of the huge uptempo hits of the day. (I’m not being facetious, in case you think I am). No, I don’t think K&R would have done some of those styles well - especially not disco - right, Richard? - and, personally, I don’t think Karen sounded her best uptempo, as I’ve said, but, to have a hit in those years, I think that Carpenters would have needed to change with the times. And, I think, to produce something fresh and exciting and get away from the ‘bland’ label that some people tagged them with, I think they would have needed to move out of the US for a while. In reality, I’m glad they stuck with their own style of music. For my own listening pleasure, I wish they’d just recorded more music in this era, and more slow, low ballads at that, of the type that they’d traditionally done. If I want uptempo, catchy or danceable, there are thousands of other artists I can listen to.
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  7. Great topic. With "Top Of The World" being my favorite by them, I've always wondered why that was the only one like it ("Happy" is pretty close). I don't think the Carpenters could have had success creating faster songs post-1975 that would be hits. It just was not them. Now pre-1975, they could have had plenty of faster hits because they fit that time better. Karen's solo album is the perfect example for me of what not to do. Music styles changed drastically after 1975 and they just could not change with it and sound good, in my opinion. YES! They should have created far more albums during the first 5 years and less time on the road. The hits would have been doubled and I think we would have seen many more like TOP and far more fantastic ballads!
    Sabar likes this.
  8. Sabar

    Sabar Member Thread Starter

    I'm a big fan of TOTW too. Not surprisingly, I consider Sweet Sweet Smile and Those Good Old Dreams to be two of the more successful uptempo tunes in the post-75 period. All three tapped the country/pop vein. At the same time, its sounds like I would have been more open to the Carpenters exploring an R&B and Smooth Jazz direction than you would care for. Having said that, I do not want this thread to turn into an argument over Karen's solo record! Please, no!
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  9. What about 1960s songs?
    Sue mentioned "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" which came out in __ which year, exactly? (I can't recall). (I could Google it, but I'm lazy :agree:.)
    Sue likes this.
  10. Sabar

    Sabar Member Thread Starter

    I'm in total agreement on a couple of points. There was no better ballad singer than Karen, so that would obviously remain the bread and butter in their repertoire. I also agree that New Wave was unsuitable for them, and disco (except for a possible one off). It does without saying they weren't going to do hard rock, but I'm not sure there weren't softer rock sounds that could have been fruitfully explored. Where I diverge is whether the soft ballads were enough. If the goal was commercial radio success, it might have been. However, I come at this as some whose main mode of enjoying music wasn't listening to hit radio (which offered a built in variety of tempos). I was, and remain, someone who likes to listen to albums, and I really appreciate a well sequenced and well balanced album. For me, the post-1975 albums were not strong records in this regard. They tend to be heavy on melancholy love songs (many good ones), and short on quality upbeat material to balance them out. The upbeat songs are both few in number and poor in quality (with some exceptions, such as Sweet, Sweet Smile and When You've Got What it Takes. So I'm still composing a response in my head about possible songs, and styles, and will post shortly.
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  11. Michael Hagerty and I have been discussing the idea of major-label recording artists doing renditions/covers of other major-artists hit singles -- in connection with later-day Brasil '66 and Lani's early 1970s solo records.

    One distinction is whether the hit single is a current (contemporary) hit, or if it's retro- from an earlier era.

    So, maybe that's why the criteria sets the time window from the mid-'70s through early-'80s.
  12. Sabar

    Sabar Member Thread Starter

    I think that's one possible source they could have drawn from. I personally don't care much for A Kind of Hush and Breaking Up is Hard to Do. I understand that many fans like those songs, and I won't argue taste. They're just a bit to sugar pop for me. On the other hand, I wonder whether Karen could have pulled off the Evie Sands song, I Can't Let Go. Linda Ronstadt did a great cover of that in 1980 on the Mad Love record. It rocks, but it doesn't rock too hard. Along the same lines is Linda Ronstadt's cover of When Will I be Love. I think the Carpenters could have pulled off a country rock sound like this. Of course, I'm not suggesting that they should have covered Linda Ronstadt songs, rather I'm trying to suggest a sound and style.
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2019
    John Adam likes this.
  13. A great topic! They did, indeed, struggle with this! That's why I always felt even "All You Get From A Love Song" could have "saved" them if only it had come out a year or two earlier. The Carpenters were great at what they did, but, truthfully, their love songs probably put many a potential radio fan to sleep.
    Sabar likes this.
  14. Sabar

    Sabar Member Thread Starter

    It wasn't my intention to limit ideas to songs written during mid-70s and early 80s. Fair game are songs written in the 50s or 60s that were successfully covered by artists during the period when the Carpenters were struggling. For example, Linda Ronstadt's When Will I be Loved (Everly Brothers, 1960) and I Can't Let Go (Evie Sands, 1966). Both were uptempo songs and successful. I'd never thought about it, but now that you mention it, I can hear Karen doing a Samba version of Fool on the Hill.
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2019
  15. Sabar

    Sabar Member Thread Starter

    Oh yes, I forgot about that song in my mention of good uptempo numbers post-1975. In fact, that would be my favorite.
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  16. John Adam

    John Adam Well-Known Member

    The uptempo "Hush" only took 3 weeks in 1976 to move into the Top 40. But ballad "Need" also did that in four weeks.......During the later seventies ONJ was also having a tough time until the uptempo "Your The One That I Want" in 1978. Got out my Billboard Top 100 charts book, and reviewed just "1976." It was full of mid tempo songs and ballads, as well as trending dance/disco.

    Some songs for Karen that year maybe, and I know I will be called insane for suggesting some of these. But that's what threads like this are for! A couple of Gibb Bros. songs, "Edge Of The Universe and Come on Over." Another Neil Sedaka song, "Lonely Night (Angel Face.)" An uptempo version (like Donna Summer did) of "Could It Be Magic." Getting a bit more dance, but a great pop song too, "Right Back Where We Started From." "Love Is Alive" a Gary Wright song, Olivia sang it, why not Karen? "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" would of been a great vehicle for Karen to sing. "Magic Man or Fernando." Chicago song, "Another Rainy Day In NYC." Here is my favorite one. The Carpenters first TV theme song, "Making Our Dreams Come True" theme from Lavern and Shirley. Immortalized forever.

    Hope this is what you were aiming for Sabar in your discussion here!
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  17. Brian

    Brian Well-Known Member

    I just don’t think that Karen did uptempo very well. I think it generally brings out a harsher, thinner sound in her voice that I don’t like. I don’t consider ‘Those Good Old Dreams’ or ‘You’ve Got What It Takes’ to be very uptempo. I love those songs and Karen sings them so well. ‘Top of the World’ isn’t particularly uptempo either, in my eyes. True, TGOD and TOTW are more uptempo than some of their other output. ‘Sweet, Sweet Smile’ is uptempo and it’s one of the tracks I don’t particularly like. Although, when I stop to think, ‘Sweet, Sweet Smile’ SEEMS more uptempo than ‘Those Good Old Dreams’, but, on second thoughts, when you think about it without checking, they’re possibly about the same tempo. In regard to my not liking songs of the tempo of ‘Sweet, Sweet Smile’ as much, its just my taste in regard to how Karen sounds. I do agree that Carpenters could have explored some other soft rock styles or even the style that’s called ALTERNATIVE, (was it around then? - maybe in its infancy), but I think uptempo was still best left alone. I agree with what you’re saying about a well-balanced album, though - I listen to albums as albums, as well. Like others, i’ll get back with some soft rock / alternate rock / pop titles.
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2019
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  18. Sabar

    Sabar Member Thread Starter

    Some good suggestions, and thanks for introducing the mid tempo idea. I really didn't really intend to exclude those in my initial post, but I just didn't think of the proper verbiage.
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  19. John Adam

    John Adam Well-Known Member

    Good luck and I hope this is a successful thread and discussion. Looking forward to it.
  20. Sabar

    Sabar Member Thread Starter

    You are no doubt correct that some of the songs I called uptempo are really mid tempo. If the time limit hadn't expired on editing my initial post, I would edit it. Thanks.
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  21. Jarred

    Jarred Active Member

    A great discussion. I'm in the camp that Karen's voice sounded far more at home on lush, slower ballads than the uptempo songs, partly to do with the dark, emotional quality of her voice and that it was a more languid instrument that had its best effect when given time to wrap around the lyric. She worked best through steady accumulation, not sharp, quick flashes which often upbeat songs of the late 70s were. I consider Sing a semi-ballad because of her vocal performance - give that song to any other singer and I probably wouldn't ever think that. Her voice (fascinatingly) would often undermine the sprightly positivity of a lyric, and create crazy contrasts of feeling. It was in her soul, it wasn't something that would go away no matter what song or arranger she worked with.

    Richard understood this contraction. In a song Mr. Guder, which starts off breezy and jazzy ends up reflective and mournful with the overdubs, instrumentals, and Karen's voice. Richard calibrated the music of whatever song around Karen so that it brought out the pathos in her voice, no matter what the lyric was. An exception might be "Postman" which has Karen's lead doubled and therefore we don't get a close grasp of melancholy, making way for sunny radiance.
  22. Mark-T

    Mark-T Well-Known Member

    I like this discussion. I have often thought about it. Barbra Streisand followed the trends of the day to sell albums with a hit and keep her on the radio. K&R should have done the same. Those records by Barbra may not be as well thought of now, but it did allow for the rest of her material to be heard and stretch out an already enviable career.

    Of so many I could them of them doing well, I would have been thrilled to hear a R&B edged version of the Hues Corporation's "Rock the Boat". It has it all- upbeat tempo, backing vocals, horn section, fun lyrics. For remake territory, what about "I Only Want to be with You". When I hear the Bay City Rollers, I can hear Karen a la the oldies on Now&Then that seemed to really rock (Da Doo Ron Ron).

    I do wish Richard had encouraged an occasional duet- and chose someone not in the clear MOR pool. Thinking here of Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville for example. Producer Thom Bell's sound (of Spinners fame) would have made a great style for them to fall into.

    Of course, working with Barry Gibb could have been magic.
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  23. Brian

    Brian Well-Known Member

    I never would have thought of ‘Rock the Boat’. It might have worked.

    A duet with someone soulful like Aaron Neville, or maybe someone soul with a deeper or huskier / rougher voice, might have gone well. Anne Murray also used Aaron Neville to contrast with her deeper more velvety voice.

    Barry Gibb, in his late 1960s / early 1970s days, could have done something interesting with Karen. I don’t like the thought of his 1975 to 1982 Bee Gees disco stuff for Karen. And, please, definitely not ‘Islands In the Stream’!!, (although I like quite a bit of Dolly’s self-penned country material).

    Some of Barry Gibb’s slow melodic compositions, like Andy Gibb’s ‘(Our Love) Don’t Throw It All Away’, might have turned out well with Karen - but then I’m back at choosing slow, mellow ballads over uptempo.
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  24. David A

    David A Well-Known Member

    A fun discussion thread. I think there's a number of artists they might have brought in for a duo, or even guest vocals on another popular group's album (as Toni Tennille did on some of Elton Johns song's, for example "don't let the sun go down on me"). Of course there's always label issues and royalty questions.

    As to songs, someone mentioned Toni Basil's "Mickey" and I am hearing that in my head now, with Karen's voice. It might have worked, or it might have been a disaster, I can't tell yet :wink:

    I know Karen admired Donna Summer, not sure how their voices would blend. Donna had that powerful "gospel" voice, Karen's more subtle.

    This is fun to muse on, more later :)
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  25. Harry

    Harry Charter A&M Corner Member Moderator

    Right in Carpenters backyard at A&M in 1977, Michelle Phillips recorded her one solo LP - and it flopped. Nevertheless it had two killer tracks that Carpenters could have scooped up.

    The first was the title track "Victim Of Romance". Can't you just hear Richard on the "pow-pow-pow-pow" backing vocals while Karen would have done the harmony lead vocals:

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