Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.
A few months ago a regular reader suggested I do a weekly feature on Karen Carpenter, and I agreed it was a good idea. I now have a perfect tie-in.
A couple of weeks back I focused on women who deserve to be but aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The Carpenters are NOT in the hall. Some would argue they weren’t “rock” enough, and maybe not at all.
This blogger wrote the brother-sister group’s place in the hall is a no-brainer:
“The Carpenters have a solid record of successful albums and singles, including six multiplatinum albums, two additional platinum albums, and six additional gold albums–a solid body of work. In addition, the band had fifteen #1 hits on the Adult Contemporary charts, three #1’s, twelve top ten hits, and nineteen top 40 hits on the Hot 100 over a period of more than a decade . They have immense influence on modern music, they had immense popularity, and were major innovators in music, aside from having a key role in bringing the issue of eating disorders to public attention. That sort of massive social and musical importance should mean a place in Cleveland for this band without question.”
And what about Karen? Should she be inducted just on her own? From National Public Radio:
“The queen of contemplative pop, whose reputation has been rehabilitated by young critics and musicians who understand the power in her soft approach, is as influential on current pop as any screaming rocker.”
This week, some of Karen’s lesser known songs featuring that one-of-a-kind, sweet angelic voice.
Listen carefully to our opener. Many people thought they heard Karen singing “Because the best love songs are written with a broken arm.” Not true. The lyric goes “Because the best love songs are written with a broken heart.”
From 1977, the single reached #35 on the Billboard chart.
That nice tenor sax solo was by one of the best in the business, Tom Scott.
Karen Carpenter was starved for love, but never really found it.
Randy Schmidt wrote a best-selling biography in 2011, “Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter.” This is from an extract published in the Guardian:
Thirty-nine-year-old Tom Burris met a number of Karen’s requirements in a potential husband. “He was very attractive, very nice, and he seemed very generous,” said Carole Curb. Two months into their relationship, Burris told Karen he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. The couple’s plan for a year-long engagement was ditched when they announced in July their plans for an August ceremony. The push to be married alarmed Karen’s friends. According to Karen ‘Itchie’ Ramone, Karen’s friend and the wife of producer Phil Ramone, “That’s when everybody’s antennas went up.” Days before the wedding rehearsal Burris dropped a bombshell: he had undergone a vasectomy prior to their meeting. Karen was dumbfounded. He offered to reverse the procedure but their chances at a family would be significantly lessened.
Karen felt betrayed. Burris had lied to her; he had withheld this information for the duration of their courtship and engagement, knowing full well that starting a family was at the top of Karen’s list of priorities. This was a deal breaker. The wedding was off. Karen picked up the phone and called her mother. She cried to Agnes (her mother, who clearly favored son Richard) as she explained the deceit that left her with no choice but to cancel the ceremony. But Agnes told her she would do no such thing. Family and friends were travelling from all over the country to attend the event. Moreover, the wedding expenses had already cost what Agnes considered to be a small fortune. “The invitations have gone out. There are reporters and photographers coming. People magazine is going to be there. The wedding is on, and you will walk down that aisle. You made your bed, Karen,” she told her. “Now you’ll have to lay in it.”
Karen’s marriage ended after 14 months.
Very pretty, albeit sad song. In 1935 Richard Rodgers did the composing and Lorenz Hart wrote the lyrics for the Broadway musical “Jumbo.”
The Carpenters version was released in 1989 in an album of unreleased Carpenters tracks along with selected solo tracks by Karen.
In the summer of 1981 the Carpenters hadn’t cracked the top 40 in three years. Then came this single.
Once again, Tom Scott is on tenor sax. The drummer is Ronnie Tutt who prior to playing with the Carpenters was Elvis’ in studio and concert drummer.
Between 1979 and 1980 Karen actually recorded two versions of this next song. One was for a solo album. The other was for the Carpenters and that recording wasn’t released until 1983, after she died. As always, a marvelous arrangement by Richard.
That’s it for this week.
Have a great weekend.
We return to Randy Schmidt’s biography extract in the Guardian. It’s early 1983.
Richard did not believe she was well, and he told her so. On Thursday 27 January Florine Elie drove to Century City for her weekly cleaning of Karen’s apartment at Century Towers. There the housekeeper made an unnerving discovery. “When I was working up there I found Karen,” Elie says. “She was lying on the floor of her closet.” She gently shook Karen who awoke but was groggy. “Karen, is there something wrong?” she asked.
“No, I am just so tired,” she replied.
“Maybe you better go lie on your bed,” she said, helping Karen up and tucking her into bed.
Florine checked on Karen again before leaving. By then she was awake and adamant she was OK.
Tuesday 1 February found Karen dining with her brother, this time at Scandia on Sunset Boulevard. They were joined by stage producer Joe Layton, and the trio discussed plans for the Carpenters’ return to touring. Karen ate with enthusiasm and after dinner returned to Century Towers. This was the last time Richard would see his sister alive.
On Friday morning, 4 February, Karen awoke and went downstairs to the kitchen, where she turned on the coffeepot her mother had prepared the night before. She went back upstairs to get dressed. When the coffee was ready, Agnes dialed the upstairs bedroom phone, but its ring, heard faintly in the distance, went unanswered. Agnes went to the foot of the stairs and called to her daughter but there was no response. Entering the room, Agnes found Karen’s motionless, nude body lying face down on the floor of the walk-in wardrobe. Her eyes were open but rolled back. She was lying in a straight line and did not appear to have fallen. “She had just laid down on the floor and that was it,” Agnes recalled.
The autopsy report listed the cause of death as “emetine cardiotoxicity due to or as a consequence of anorexia nervosa.” The finding of emetine cardiotoxicity (ipecac poisoning) revealed that Karen had poisoned herself with ipecac syrup, a well-known emetic commonly recommended to induce vomiting in cases of overdose or poisoning.
Karen Carpenter was 32.
In 1980 the Carpenters paid tribute to American popular music and composers in an ABC-TV special, “Music Music Music.” Karen sings solo and then with John Davidson.