• 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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mr J.

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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.
The real issue(as John pointed out in the interview) is that an artist of Karen's stature absolutely does not copy or imitate other artists.

Karen,as a vocalist,was in that elite music industry VIP club along with Sinatra,Streisand,Billie and Ella. Phil Ramone's objective with the solo album was to bring Karen down to the level of a generic pop singer-and this was a concept that A&M absolutely wouldn't consider just to generate a hit single or two.

K&R weren't a "group artist"-Karen was always regarded as a vocalist,and Richard as her producer/arranger.

As far as musical growth beyond Horizon-while there wasn't much of that in terms of generating top-40 hit singles,there was plenty of growth in terms of Karen as a stylist and Richard as a producer/arranger. Karen became much more expressive and sensuous on many of the later sessions-and Richard did some of his best arrangements and production work on the later recordings,also(of course,Peter Knight,Billy May and Nelson Riddle played a big role in crafting the later recordings).
 

Mark-T

Well-Known Member
You may be right, mr J., but even Streisand went contemporary to great success and without damaging her reputation or status as part of the elite vocalist group.
 

Rudy

¡Que siga la fiesta!
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You may be right, mr J., but even Streisand went contemporary to great success and without damaging her reputation or status as part of the elite vocalist group.

Streisand did "Enough Is Enough" with Donna Summer and IMHO, I don't feel it set Streisand down a few notches by doing so. In fact, it added a nice variety to the recording, and hearing her voice gave me the impression that she could branch out in other styles while still retaining her Streisand-ness (if that makes sense). There were also her well-received duets with Barry Gibb in a more contemporary pop music setting. Point is, maybe she was singing in styles of music that she wasn't known for, yet she also did not sing herself into a self-parody or a dead end by singing the same style of album ad nauseum as she did in the 60s through the mid 70s. Many other performers out there get stuck in that rut and never grow, and become fodder for "whatever happened to..." discussions even if they are still actively recording, flying so far under the radar that some of their fans don't even know where a favorite performer has disappeared to.

Yet Streisand did a full about-face and did that classic Broadway Album (far and away my favorite of anything she's ever done), revisiting what she did originally on her albums from the 60s. "This is like your old stuff." She was able to give that a rest for many years, and then came back to it with some fresh ideas and a more modern accompaniment.

Phil Ramone's objective with the solo album was to bring Karen down to the level of a generic pop singer-and this was a concept that A&M absolutely wouldn't consider just to generate a hit single or two.

I don't know, really--A&M at that point was all about churning out hits, no matter who made them. (That is partly what led to the label finally being sold off to Polygram.) I think they just didn't see it as being marketable. I'd even read of KC complaining that A&M wasn't like the old A&M back when they were riding high on success, and cared for and nurtured their artists.

The real issue(as John pointed out in the interview) is that an artist of Karen's stature absolutely does not copy or imitate other artists.

Thing is, she only had that one dicey solo album to her name. The right producer, arranger, etc. could have actually sparked some artistic growth, having her stretch her creativity into other styles, reaching a wider audience. And it would take more than one copycat solo album for any artist to establish themselves. Some don't hit their own stride for a couple of albums, while others can nail it right on the first try. Perhaps the commercial flub on that first album (had it been released) might have paved the way to try something different next time. KC was never outside Richard's cocoon so to speak; it was all new, uncharted territory.

If I could give credit to Ramone for one thing, it appears he did try to make her comfortable with the process. We could also say it was a matter of goals--was Ramone's goal to get her some hits, where hers might have been to record music in a new setting whether or not it had any hits at all? Then again, Richard and John Bettis wrote "Only Yesterday" with the clear purpose of writing a hit (and quite a good one it was!).

I think my point was more like this: I know some fans like what Carpenters did post Horizon, but that style of music was drifting off into something that was so completely out of touch with what the music buying public was after, it was a dead end in terms of recognition and acceptance by those who bought Carpenters recordings for the type of hits they recognized. It's true the diehard fans loved the newer recordings, but nothing more.

Take a look at the charts. I know that charts are for sales and airplay, but the secondary effect of chart performance is gauging how many listeners were "reached" by a recording or, taking it further, it should be clear if an audience is growing or shrinking (especially if you include live performances and the size of the venues and audiences they are selling in). For that matter, an audience doesn't really need to remain constant or grow all the time, but it's nice to see that audience evolving, reaching new listeners while perhaps some more seasoned listeners might tune out. Some artists successfully do that. Even if you look at rock groups like Heart, Jefferson Airplane vs. Starship, etc., you can see two distinct fan bases: one that lives and breathes their earlier recordings, while others want nothing to do with that, preferring these groups' 80s and 90s styles. Even if the newer styles aren't as highly regarded (some who dig Jefferson Airplane and older Heart absolutely hate the later recordings), it's the audience that has changed.

I guess I'm just thinking that even KC would tire of doing the "same old same old" after awhile. It's comfortable but, as an occasional and haphazard artiste myself, I can't be satisfied with sitting still. Even as a music listener, I always move forward. If I had to listen to A&M or jazz or 70s rock or classical all the time I'd go absolutely flippin' nuts. :laugh:
 

GaryAlan

Well-Known Member
Very many varied, and valid, observations, all!
If I may interject with my own slight observation (and, feel free to correct any misgivings):
Karen Carpenter, as a vocal stylist, did, indeed, grow and develop as the years went on. Beautifully so.
On the other hand, Passage and Christmas Portrait did not emphasize Richard Carpenter's arrangements,
as earlier albums did. Instead, he delegated most of those duties to others.
As far as arrangement 'growth' on "Made in America": sorry, in my opinion, here his genius took a nosedive. (Why?)
A. Involving The Carpettes, instead of the usual Carpenters' overdubbed harmonies.
B. In the earlier albums, Richard was accused of over-producing their songs--in this instance, it's true.
Look at the credits: At least three different studio drummers; also, notice, heavy utilization of strings.
It is almost difficult to hear Karen's vocals on this album.
C. If John Bettis and Richard appreciated their premiere vocalist so very much, then, I ask, where are the many
new compositions on that album to highlight Karen's lower register--to which, they aimed their compositions.
Instead, with so much 'time off'---these are the songs selected by Richard for "Made In America" ?

And, in an earlier 1996 documentary ("Close To You:Remembering the Carpenters")
John Bettis says: "it's not surprising that the solo album was disappointing, as it was her first attempt at a solo album."
(Gee, when was the second one supposed to be allowed to occur?).
Not a word about bad songs.
I challenge our members to find a quote from Richard Carpenter, John Bettis, or Herb Alpert,
wherein the claim is made: "The songs chosen for the solo album were bad."

As far as the ever-present Carpenters' image:
If that were so important, then why did Karen and Richard present those presents to the industry executives after the UK tour,
to wit--"one side said 'love' and the other side said 'f___k' " , just to obliterate their anti-septic image". (p.164 Coleman).
So, then, what is the big problem with Karen singing more sensual songs on her solo album?
Yes, Richard said "they are not mature, he should not have had Karen singing that stuff."
Well, giving jewelry to industry executives using the dichotomy of Love and F_-_-k,
how is that mature?


Yikes, sorry folks, I don't know when to stop.
But, I do appreciate all input on my musings.
And, do correct me when I err.
 

BGW

Member
Thank you, Chris, for such a wonderful interview. Of course I feel so much, but the good folks here have already put most of my reactions into words far more eloquently than I could have. I liked him before, and I like him even more now. Seems like a really interesting and down-to-earth guy. This interview really brought that out.


On the other hand, Hal Blaine and Joe Osborn have always rubbed me the wrong way. I think both have more ego than their talent allows for.
 

Chris May

Resident ‘Carpenterologist’
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On the other hand, Hal Blaine and Joe Osborn have always rubbed me the wrong way. I think both have more ego than their talent allows for.

Actually what's funny is, Joe is very down-to-earth. Hal is too, but definitely speaks much more from his ego. Joe may have come across that way but in person he's really not :)
 

BGW

Member
Actually what's funny is, Joe is very down-to-earth. Hal is too, but definitely speaks much more from his ego. Joe may have come across that way but in person he's really not :)


Well you would certainly know better than I, so thanks for clearing that up.
 

Chris May

Resident ‘Carpenterologist’
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Thread Starter
Well you would certainly know better than I, so thanks for clearing that up.

Yeah, unfortunately with Hal - as GREAT of a guy as he is, tends to exaggerate his facts because of this. I mean, he's a wealth of knowledge but tends to cross the line occasionally. This is not new information amongst a few of his fans and colleagues :wink:
 

Guitarmutt

Well-Known Member
To me, the thing that's sad is the need for hits. I mean, I get it, it's a business. Fine. But long term investment is a thing now I wish had existed then. Maybe A&M would still be going?

Maybe Karen would still be here? Never mind! Speculation! But that's what we all do here! We can, but Richard can't. How could he? It's all just too much!

She was his sister.
 

Guitarmutt

Well-Known Member
Yeah, unfortunately with Hal - as GREAT of a guy as he is, tends to exaggerate his facts because of this. I mean, he's a wealth of knowledge but tends to cross the line occasionally. This is not new information amongst a few of his fans and colleagues :wink:
Hal is a good drummer, in his way, and should stick to that! Taking some credit for Karen finding her voice? Maybe. Probably not. History is always foggy, and memory is sketchy at best. Plus, we all want to be seen in the best light possible: close to perfect. Maybe that is why Richard doesn't want to release live stuff. I have some, and the imperfections make it for me! They are human, gasp, and this is enough.
 

A&M Retro

Well-Known Member
Agreed, Guitarmutt. It wasn't necessary to always be so perfect in a 'live' setting. I remember seeing them in '73, and they were spot-on, but also having a lot of fun.
 
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