Discussion in 'A Song For You: The Carpenters Forum' started by Sabar, Mar 8, 2019.
Would have been a smash!
I agree with Karen's rejection of both tunes. Neither suited Karen, IMHO. She's not a soul vocalist and both tunes require that to get them over. MJ was the artist who should have gotten those tunes and he did. He was right at home in those Rod vocal arrangements. "Off the Wall" would have been an especially rough fit for her. I honestly can't imagine Richard knowing what to do with disco either. He'd have been completely lost. Look at what happened to "(Want You) Back in My Life Again". He had no clue what to do with that one. He tried to go the synth route that the song demanded but ended up in elevator-land with the horrible strings. He was lost at sea. Can you imagine how lost he'd have been had they tried disco?
As for song types, Richard is the "everything and the kitchen sink" guy. Think a quieter Jim Steinman. He over-arranges and over-produces just about everything. Ballads suit his approach far better than uptempo things do. When they'd go uptempo (especially later), the songs would nearly crumble under the weight of all he'd put into them. I'm sure he's quite grateful to have had Karen. It really was Karen who got many of those tunes over.
Another song Karen might have done by Temperton that Jackson did was "I Can't Help it" she could have knocked that one out of the park as it was in a key she could sing just my opinion.
Karen and Richard needed to step away from each other's careers at the beginning of the 80s. "The Carpenters" as an act, should've went on a semi-permanent sabbatical. Richard could record classical piano CDs and work on television & movie scores and become another Marvin Hamlisch. Karen would then be free of all creative restraints and pursue her vocal career gaining valuable experience and expertise in the studio, exploring different musical styles. She might've even enjoyed writing some of her own material and being the sole producer of her own albums. This would've all depended on her health, of course.
In an interview when asked whether she’d ever written a song, Karen’s reply was, “I’ve tried, but nothing’s come out”. In another life, different experiences might have inspired her somewhere along the way.
I wonder if the Carpenters instead of sticking with soft pop music in 81 instead decided to record a jazz flavored album would the fans who had followed their career up to that point be open to a jazz album? Maybe they were afraid to change so they wouldn't lose their fan base? I still think they needed some change especially back then artists had to keep on top of their game and not be afraid to try new material.
Olivia did that with Grease and then Totally Hot which was so unlike her earlier music career and then her Physical album was a huge success...change was good for her...she was always in control of her career. She was hesitant about what would happen once her single Physical went out to radio but making a fun video to counteract what she felt might have been too much worked out perfectly to her benefit. I commend her for taking risks.
I thought I read once that she did write something, which she told her hairdresser. Karen could have been just a profound a songwriter as she was a songstress; yet at the same time her (family) environment/upbringing/self-image would have held her back in being as truthful as she wanted to. Her pain could be expressed at a distance in songs she ended up singing because people knew she didn't write them, only interpreted them vocally. Many of them reflected her inner life and everyone understands that know, but at the time she felt safe with that remove, and that might be one of the saddest things I've ever written.
"I wonder if the Carpenters instead of sticking with soft pop music in 81 instead decided to record a jazz flavored album would the fans who had followed their career up to that point be open to a jazz album?"
Excellent idea! Karen trained herself to be primarily a jazz drummer and Richard with his keyboard talents, could easily adapt his style to it. If Karen's vocals graced most of the tracks and she was drumming on all the material, the fans would definitely be there! I could even see a double-album they could've put out in this genre. Invite some guest vocalists and instrumentalists to perform on it also...
What I think was missing were original compositions. Add one or two Passage and it would have helped. Hush also needed a good one. Plus, there was good soft jazz rhythm and blues material on Karen’s solo album that was ignored. It’s sad that as album sales lost traction so did their energy. They both needed recharged but how do you do that when there is a team of people who count on you! I’m sure even Richard knows now what should have happened.
Information from Carpenters Fan Club Newsletter #83, February 1985,
Q: "People Magazine quotes Karen's hairdresser, Arthur John, as saying Karen had started writing songs.
What has become of them ? "
A: "People Magazine was mistaken, Karen had never written any songs."
Barry recorded 2 am Paradise Cafe while he was being shunned as this dorky 70s Copa guy during the mid 80s. He did what he wanted and needed to do for his own satisfaction. Tried to get Harmony produced on Broadway and didn't get that done but has spent his LIFE being the musician HE wanted to be while making the big bucks doing the "Barry Manilow" thing on stage. It's all a journey at that level. The pressures of getting those commercial smashes is tough in their positions during different decades and what the masses want. And yet look at the vast catalogue Barry will leave behind one day.
Im not sure Richard and Karen needed more uptempo sounds. Rather they could have explored more current genres of the time within the confines of their own smooth, melodic sound. For example, the Bee Gees album for Streisand is a lovely example of an album that showcases what an artist does best while fully energizing their sound with fresh and current influence.
For me Carpenters could have played much more with R&B, latin and mid tempo dance sounds from '77 onwards - we see glimpses of this on All You Get From Love, Touch Me When We're Dancing and the verses of Strengh of a Woman, but I think they could have taken it much further.
I also wonder if Karen had had more input in the later song selection and being more free to push her own wishes for the band if this could have been a huge part of the key. After all, the solo album had some sterling and bold selections that maybe fell sometimes flat due to the lacklustre production and lack of solid guidance. But imagine Richard producing tracks like If I had You, If We Try or Lovelines? I think Karen had a real flair for fashion and trends and with more guidance and support I think she could have provided an invaluable input.
(Just to note, I like the solo album a great deal, for me If I Had You is especially a truly great track and better than most of MIA, but IMO no one understood showcasing Karen's voice better than Richard.)
It's been a while since I've heard it but I look to Akiko's album as maybe the kind of sound that's the C's would have used in the 80s - a contemporary sound but still mixed with their classical, timeless sound. I think it's amazing that Richard could look ahead and craft arrangements that really transcend time (yes, some instruments are rooted in the early 70s sound but it sounds much fresher now than drum machines and synths) and work in any era emotionally and aesthetically. I know we give him flak for MIA but the album still retains that timeless tone that sounds great today; they should have been more adventurous at this time and somewhat more contemporary but it holds up much better than many pop albums from 1981.
This thread makes me realize how A&M needed to release Karen's solo album when it was originally recorded. Coming after Passage (Christmas Portrait was a "holiday release"), it would have solidified that the DUO and not just Karen had new things up their sleeves to share.
Agreed. I think from a family and career perspective, they needed to work separately and together at the same time.
As a Brother/Sister duo they struggled to find material in general.
Richard admitted "it's hard coming up with these things" (in reference to LPs).
It has to do with being perfectionistic and rigid in their thinking.
And wanting to please Mom and Dad, and stay "middle-of-the-road."
I don't think they did that bad of a job as this thread is indicating.
The reason we got to know "Fun Karen" is from their mid-tempo songs.
Save for criticism on "Man Smart" and "Beechwood" ...and differing opinions about "Goofus" and "Hush."
We all know Karen wanted to explore more of "Fun Karen" on her solo album.
And that's what it would've took for us to see something more upbeat.
They struggled to break out of the "Close to you" mould cause it worked.
We know it infuriates Richard to this day that he didn't record more with her with her short time here. He had no way of knowing but like the fans he's aware that it's the studio recordings that will live on forever, not the live touring shows which are only in the memories of those who saw them years ago. We fantasize over that lost 1974 album, perhaps doing more than one album a year and cutting back on touring, etc.
In fairness, they were pretty prolific at recording during Karen's lifetime - 10 studio albums, plus enough outtakes to fill up a couple more and Karen's unreleased solo album is quite a tally of work. I suspect the bigger issue is that perhaps feels that they should have recorded specific songs that they didn't or in a wider range of genres, as I think it's fair to say that, some of Passage aside, they were starting to tread water creatively for the last few albums released when Karen was alive - albums like A Kind of Hush and Made in America didn't add anything to their legacy really.
Interestingly enough, it took three -to- four years for the album
Christmas Portrait to get certified Gold--for 500,000 units sold.
Now, that is a great album (that is, the 1978 LP incarnation).
My point is this:
If an album that is that great fails to ignite their fan base and the general public
--AT THAT TIME--then, there is more to this story than merely a lack of strong material.
In other words, I am not sure that ANY album released would have been good enough creatively,
even had it been an album comprised of great material !
I wish Kiss Me The Way You Did Last Night
had gotten a 1981 release. I love that song !
Uninvited Guest is another (although, not uptempo)......
I think the Carpenters, like any artists, could have benefitted from collaboration at some point. For example, Olivia Newton-John’s subtle guesting on background vocals for John Denver’s “Fly Away”. Growth for Karen could have started with something that simple, as it continued to do for Olivia.
Because they're a niche product that's only really going to rack up sales in two or three months of the year, in order ot maximise their sales, Christmas albums need to be released when an artist is red-hot commerically. Unfortunately Christmas Portrait was released when their commercial fortunes were at a pretty low ebb, hence its initally sluggish sales. I'm sure if it had come out in say 1974, it would have racked up much better numbers.
So I'd agree that the market was tough, but I think Christmas Portrait is a bit of a special case compared to say a regular studio album. Had they released a studio album in 1978 of the same high standard, then it would be a better case study of whether it was the market or the quality of the product that was the chief factor behind their fall from grace commerically.
Even though they racked up a solid amount of albums in their limited time, the fact that it was so limited makes one wish that we had even more recordings to treasure because of her limited time here. It's the genre thing but also I think many fans would have been happy with the standard Carpenter's ballad being in more supply. It's being greedy, but Karen's voice mixed with Richard's music makes one a glutton for more of that rich sound.
I largely agree with Rumbahbah regarding LP Christmas Portrait.
But, I do note that Billboard ran (at least) two full-page Advertisements for that album,
issues November 11, 1978 and December 23, 1978. Both ads touted the upcoming TV Special,
a special entitled Christmas Portrait.
Now, perusal of Billboard Charts for the beginning of Jan 1979, shows the LP at
#145, after FIVE Weeks ! That is indeed a dismal showing.
I believe there was also a full page ad in Billboard saying that it had just gone gold? Or “Look what just went gold.” Do you have a date for that as well? Thanks Gary.
^^The February 1979 issue of Billboard says this:
"their most recent album, Christmas Portrait, brightened the season with more gold."