• Two exciting new Carpenters releases are now available. The new book Carpenters: The Musical Legacy can be ordered here. A big thanks to the authors and Richard Carpenter for their tremendous effort in compiling this book! Also, the new solo piano album Richard Carpenter's Piano Songbook is available for ordering here.

🎤 Interview The "Third" Carpenter: A Conversation with John Bettis, Part 2

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Chris May

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We continue in our discussion with John Bettis regarding many of the songs he's contributed to the Carpenters' catalogue via his songwriting partnership with Richard Carpenter. John also shares some of his own personal thoughts on the shelving of Karen's solo album from 1980, along with his overall feelings about the recent biography Little Girl Blue: The Life Of Karen Carpenter written by author Randy Schmidt. We also discuss the rumored song from Christmas of 1982 that was written for Karen shortly before her sudden death that she never had the opportunity to hear. **This segment includes additional discussion not included in the original 28-minute broadcast.
 

byline

Well-Known Member
Yup, I agree. I really appreciate John's re-balancing of the scales and adding to the historical record ... and doing it with much humor and fire. Thank you, Chris!

There is one point on which I disagree with John, though. He described Little Girl Blue as more of a compendium of previously released material, with nothing new. While Randy certainly did quote from other articles, where I felt he did add a new dimension to Karen's life was with information on Karen's solo album – which, as I recall, was barely mentioned in the Ray Coleman bio – and also her short-lived marriage, which fell into a sort of black hole, in terms of the lack of public information about it. There's a lot more detail about those two episodes in Karen's life than anything I had read previously, so Randy's book offers an especially valuable addition there. John is so right about how it leaves the reader with a sense of melancholy, and that was one important aspect of Karen's personality.
 
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arthowson

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Wow! Thanks for such a great interview!

Makes me wonder about the solo album. Did A&M actually think there was a 3 Million seller on Time?

Karen should have just insisted that they release a single to test the waters. Also, I wonder what John's insights were about Tom Burris?
 

byline

Well-Known Member
While I agree with John about his overall opinion of Karen's album (for me, it just isn't very satisfying, though there are a few gems in it), I also agree with Art. I think there was a bit of a sliding scale, first with Karen and then Richard, in their respective solo efforts. Richard was given more leeway, but why? Whereas Karen was the voice, and they apparently felt (as John said it) that she was put in the wrong car, one that was too derivative of others rather than carving out a unique style for Karen. Personally, I agree with that assessment. But it's also interesting to consider why Richard was given the go-ahead, but Karen wasn't. Were prospective sales the criteria (as one would think, in the music business)? When he says Karen's album wasn't good enough, was that in terms of quality, or in terms of how they wanted it to do, sales-wise? And does John believe that Made in America was a superior album? I don't, but that's just my opinion.
 

Chris

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Great work, Chris! It's good to hear from John on a number of subjects that have been important to us. Very interesting. Thanks.
 

Rick-An Ordinary Fool

Well-Known Member
"Karen and I were very much alike emotionally"
Wow, spot on....this is what I have always felt deep inside me and to hear him say this just reconfirms it all. Amazing stuff to hear how songwriter and singer are joined into one.

Thanks Chris!!!
 

Jeff

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Chris,
I'm left breathless. So much to consume. I feel like the fly on the wall. This leaves me with the notion that John Bettis being a fluid lyricist, should/could pen the final read. His insight and accounting is vivid. I've heard that Karen was no shrinking violet. Upgrade to aggressive. The dichotomy boggles me. Fascinating. I feel as tho a new C's record was just released. This interview has me questioning more of this n that and balming that n this. I appreciate your having broached some of the sensitive topics. Edge of my seat. Nail biting. Teeth grinding. The intimacy, honesty and candor spellbinding. Almost feel guilty for listening to the inside take. Like a car wreck and ambulance on scene it's hard to turn away. Astute as Mr. Bettis is something tells me he's well aware of the Xmas '82 song title in question. The angst. Hell, that coulda been the title. I'm finding here especially the music Carpenter(S) and Bettis collaboration coupled with real defined personalities add a new dimension the dynamic duo. As tho the people and music are morphed, intertwined. Perhaps that is why it is difficult here at the forum to negotiate topic political correctness. The music is indelibly linked to the people. A blurry line where the creative force crosses into too personal. It's a beast. It's a beast that I continually strive to comprehend. One more clue into the 'melancholy' I so relate to. A boy of 7 riddled with the stuff finds a voice that sooths the that savage beast. Simpatico. Bettis states the melancholia sings thru-out. Indeedy-do! I suppose the full spectrum forthcoming will offer further insight to the questions buzzin me for years n years. Understanding how and why the music connects, communicates and it's inherent reverberations is what I'm all about. Consequently, I suppose in my eyes the fact that this forum allows latitude for exploration with 'integrity' lives up to it's claim as The Complete Resource and A SONG FOR YOU. When I joined here sometime ago the focus was often redirected to specifics pertaining to recordings. I find in this most enlightening Bettis pt.2 that with the spark of creativity, each member laden with god given talents and plagued by earth bound torment made CarpenterS.

Now on to that solo album....

juz kiddin?

Jeff
 

CraigGA

Well-Known Member
I am left speechless after listening to this, yet I am left with so many thoughts that I am having a difficult time collecting words in my head to write. So, here goes. Of all the things I have watched or read over the past fourth years describing Karen and Richard, I am left with the resolve of FINALLY! Finally, the feelings I feel through the artistry of their recordings created through their immense talent and delivered by Karen's interpretation was framed by the words of John Bettis perfectly. His honesty and open candor reflects an inside look at the Carpenters for all of us to see. Thank you, Chris May, for keeping it intact, concise and clear. Tears still collect in my eyes as I remember John's words as he describes and helps us picture his personal walk with Karen and Richard that continues to this day.

Craig
 

Rick-An Ordinary Fool

Well-Known Member
I think with regard to the book "Little Girl Blue" I'm sure that to those who knew Karen the book contained nothing new but to the millions of readers around the world, this book brought a fresh inside look into Karen by accounts of those friends closest to her. I certainly read things I never knew about and after the book was closed, I felt closer to the singer. I agree with John that the book was probably not a "complete look" at who she was and he is right that it did bring about a melancholy at reads ends. I don't think anyone on this earth could ever "write a complete look" of Karen Carpenter in written form except Karen herself. I'm glad to hear John feels this book should stand on bookshelves that means a lot coming from him.
 
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Toolman

Simple Man, Simple Dream
By far my favorite parts are the discussion of his craft...how/why certain phonetic sounds in the lyrics were chosen ("high threw my sadness away"...) The stuff on the solo album...well, again, we're back to Karen needing to reach a nearly impossible standard, higher than most Carpenters albums, in order for it to be "releasable". No problem, just cut something of "Saturday Night Fever" sales potential, and by the way, "don't do disco". Pity that "I Need to Be in Love" wasn't a bigger hit in the U.S. at the time; sounds like that song was very dear to all of them.
 

ullalume

Well-Known Member
Thank you, Chris. That's the best interview I've heard since Richard 2 hour BBC radio epic back in '93.

I must admit when you brought up TGOD I almost expected you to say "to keep this guy in the UK happy".

Great stuff.

neil
 

GaryAlan

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Great! Great! and Great!
I am only 20 minutes into this interview, but I am enjoying it immensely.
Thanks again, Chris.
And, thanks John Bettis for reiterating what I have always felt regarding the Horizon album. Great.
 

JAZZ4JEFF

Active Member
Great job Chris!. You & John had a great chemistry. Do you think he would be open to a 2nd interview? There is so much pass the "time" album I'd love to know about.
 

newvillefan

I Know My First Name Is Stephen
The most exciting part of this whole episode was his revelations about Karen's album. His observation that Richard thought of her as the greatest singer of a generation who then just went and imitated other people [on the solo album] really struck home to me for the first time today. Equally stunning is that Karen asked him to come up with potential names for the album but then his comment that Karen wished she'd made a better record?! Wow. And it's funny you know, hearing him explain why the album was really shelved? For the first time, I really do think his take on it is the right one.

Thank you so much Chris (and John) for this listening experience. The fastest ever 45 mins I spent, I wanted it to keep going! :tiphat:
 
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Rudy

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By far my favorite parts are the discussion of his craft...how/why certain phonetic sounds in the lyrics were chosen ("high threw my sadness away"...)

I liked those parts also. These professional songwriters know their craft. Can you think of any lyricists today who would go to this amount of detail? I certainly can't!
 

byline

Well-Known Member
I agree with so many of the comments here. I will add a few more: I have always felt what John pointed out, that Karen was trying to emulate other singers rather than play to her own greatest strengths. I feel she was playing in a toy box, and that experience may well have been what she needed, from an emotional and professional growth standpoint. But what she needed, emotionally, and what A&M needed, financially, were two different things. It's unfortunate that both interests could not be met. John was very adamant that regardless of how Richard felt about the album, his reaction could not be the overriding factor in whether it was or was not released. I suspect that when Karen's solo album was finally released later on, it wasn't just as a gift to fans who had been asking for it. I'm sure there was the hope that it would generate a certain level of sales. I have always wondered if the actual sales met A&M's expectations.

I've been thinking more about why Richard got a pass on his multiple solo efforts, while Karen got only one (and that was posthumously). It's all about timing. When Karen recorded her solo album, I don't think anyone had any inkling that her time on earth was ending in only a few short years. Everyone would have been thinking about the long game, and the concern would have been, as John stated, "What do we do with a package that does not present Karen, one of the greatest singers of all time, at her best?" The logical answer would have been to shelve the album. It wouldn't mean the door was not open to try again. But this try, deemed not good enough for the voice of a lifetime, was to be put aside. Then Karen passes away, and Richard is left without his artistic and musical partner. But what if he can create the same magic with another singer? I can see A&M, out of respect for all that the Carpenters had achieved for the label, giving him that leeway to try. The ultimate answer, and this is another bit of "tragedy debris" (such an apt phrase by John) for Richard, is that he was never able to recapture the magic he had with Karen. But I think A&M felt honor-bound to at least let him try.

This is the first time I can recall anyone talking about Karen and Richard fighting ... and not just arguing, but fighting epic verbal battles. This reminds me that all too often, we paint Karen as nothing more than a passive victim. It's easy to do, given the circumstances of her premature death. But as John says, people who demonize Richard (and, by extension, victimize Karen) didn't know Karen. For the time being I am avoiding certain groups, because I know the reaction to John's comments will be more emotional than I want to deal with. We all want to be loyal to Karen. I certainly do. But I don't want to do it at the expense of her humanity. She was a human being, not an image that I place on a pedestal. I want to honor and respect her by acknowledging her as the complete human being that she was. What little I know of that, anyway. And what I know is that John knew her (and obviously related to her on an essential level) far better than I. So I respect his thoughts and opinions on this subject, even if I don't agree with every single one of them. I agree with enough of it that it's caused me to pause and reassess my own thoughts and opinions ... something we used to call "Attitude Adjustment Time" (I believe that's a camp phrase). Always a good thing.
 

Rudy

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I didn't feel the solo album was such a failure, but in retrospect I feel it was more like a period piece. Phil Ramone simply went with what was popular at the time, even if KC was copying other singers. (I've always said the track "Lovelines" could have stepped right off of Michael Jackson's Off The Wall, for obvious reasons). Plus, a lot of group artists who go solo often don't "find themselves" until they've had a few solo albums under their belt, although others do nail it right away. A&M should have tested the waters with a single or two to gauge interest. Even if it wasn't the greatest album musically, the right choice of radio-ready single could have at least generated some album sales, and primed the record-buying public for more solo releases. My opinion is that it inevitably would have happened anyway--musically I really see no growth beyond the Horizon album, outside a couple of tracks here and there. KC needed to move on, and even if this solo album weren't all that did, its rejection probably wouldn't have helped inspire her in the future to do more of them.
 

GaryAlan

Well-Known Member
A'las' , John's words, to "Look at the work ", is so very true.
Obviously, Karen and Richard's "work", their legacy of peerless music, is perhaps
all that we will ever truly know about these two unique,talented, human beings.
Regarding the solo effort, Rudy pretty much sums it up.
And, what else was on the Carpenters' musical horizon at that point?
Call the solo album a 'period piece' (Phil Ramone) , or an experiment, or whatever else comes to mind....
but, that album was not intended to emulate the Carpenters' sound,
and within its confines I believe the solo album achieved its goals.
Needless to say, great backstories on the songs.
John Bettis and Richard Carpenter did create some fantastic songs.
Thanks again, for making this interview a reality Chris May.
 

newvillefan

I Know My First Name Is Stephen
This is the first time I can recall anyone talking about Karen and Richard fighting ... and not just arguing, but fighting epic verbal battles. This reminds me that all too often, we paint Karen as nothing more than a passive victim. It's easy to do, given the circumstances of her premature death. But as John says, people who demonize Richard (and, by extension, victimize Karen) didn't know Karen.

I think this is what John was referring to when he was asked about Randy's book - that it didn't capture the whole person. I think he was inferring that Randy chose to speak mainly to Karen's closest non showbiz friends (mostly girlfriends) whose relationships with Karen formed the basis for the most of the previously unheard revelations, whereas there was little coverage of her tenacity in situations he'd obviously witnessed himself first hand. Was that because they didn't want to disclose that side of Karen? I'd say it's more because Karen's close friends loved her and wanted to protect their friend's legacy and b) they probably weren't there when she had most of the blow outs with Richard that are mentioned in this interview. One thing's for sure - Karen was a much tougher cookie than I think any of us give her credit for.
 
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Rumbahbah

Well-Known Member
Very interesting. John makes a good interviewee. I don't really agree with his standpoint on the solo album (I don't hear much imitation of other singers in her performances on it - it all sounds like her, other than the odd inflections on 'Still in Love With You'), if only because his comments don't take into account that the Carpenters were in something of a creative and commercial rut at that time and largely remained there with Made in America (to use his analogy, the Carpenters' racing car was completely out of gas by this point).

His comments on Randy Schmidt's book were a little odd. I couldn't help wondering if, at least initially, he was confusing 'Little Girl Blue' with the 'Yesterday Once More' collection of articles that Randy compiled, which of course *were* all previously published material. Strangely, some reviews on Amazon take the same line of 'there's nothing new in there'. If that's the case, I'd love to know where they'd read the same level of detail on the solo album and the disastrous marriage before it was published... Maybe John, still being close to Richard, isn't comfortable with talking about the non-musical side of the Carpenters' lives too much. He did make some comments in the Ray Coleman biography about the family dynamic being a bit strange, but I'd understand why he wouldn't want to go on record about it again.

John's comment about being emotionally similar to Karen was an interesting one. I wonder what exactly he meant by that?
 

Mark-T

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That John viewed writing a song for Karen as a betrayal to Richard- but being willing to give her album titles- represents the interesting bind he was in.

I love that Karen was tough! Really makes her an even greater and multifaceted artist.
 

Rick-An Ordinary Fool

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I didn't feel the solo album was such a failure, but in retrospect I feel it was more like a period piece.

I have always felt this way, how much of a failure could it have really been and even if it was Karen would have bounced back, this interview proved she was a fighter and stronger than we (the fans) had originally thought.... if it had failed she would have moved on just like any other artist. We really needed this type of interview 10 years ago. I can't remember what it said in the Coleman book but I thought it was A&M that directed Karen to Phil Ramone, I mean Karen didn't seek him out personally right? I don't know what A&M was expecting, we had Karen who had never worked with any other artist and then paired with a huge producer in his own right then he basically let Karen have full rein on what her album was going to become. It is really interesting that Karen wanted John to title her solo album, that's new info to me and it tells me that Karen wanted those around her to share in, help and support her in this new experience of going solo. So I wonder if the self titled album was what Karen decided on at release or was it just released this way.

This interview reminded me of a prior post back in 2007 from Mr J who gave us details of a new music memoir called "Making Records" by record producer Phil Ramone. Mr J had stated this:
"Phil mentions that Richard(not A&M) held up the release of Karen's solo album until 1996,when he felt that enough time had passed.(The fact that Richard was able to include four solo cuts on "Lovelines" in 1989 confirms this fact-He had control over the album since Karen's death."

So in his book he's saying A&M did not hold up the release of her album....It's amazing we get so many different views on this subject, it's like who are we suppose to believe?
 

A&Mguyfromwayback

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Industry Member
This interview reminded me of a prior post back in 2007 from Mr J who gave us details of a new music memoir called "Making Records" by record producer Phil Ramone. Mr J had stated this:
"Phil mentions that Richard(not A&M) held up the release of Karen's solo album until 1996,when he felt that enough time had passed.(The fact that Richard was able to include four solo cuts on "Lovelines" in 1989 confirms this fact-He had control over the album since Karen's death."

So in his book he's saying A&M did not hold up the release of her album....It's amazing we get so many different views on this subject, it's like who are we suppose to believe?

I think John is referring only to the originally intended 1980 release - if A&M thought they had a blockbuster album on their hands, they would have put it out then over anyone's objections....don't think he has even remotely referring to the 1996 release.
 
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