Richard and Karen Carpenter (1950 - 1983) were both born in New Haven, Connecticut. Richard Lynn was born in 1946 and Karen Anne followed in 1950. From an early age they both loved to listen to music and because Richard had shown an aptitude his parent moved to LA to be closer to the industry. Richard was a talented pianist and when he went on to Californian State University he befriended John Bettis who he would later collaborate with on several Carpenter hits. Karen meantime was keen on physical education but also she liked playing the drums in her spare time. In 1965 Richard formed the Richard Carpenter (Jazz) Trio with Karen (drums) and Wes Jacobs (bass/tuba). The trio was originally instrumental and after winning a Battle of the Bands competition in 1966, signed for RCA. Although they recorded several tracks these were not released and the Richard Carpenter Trio was dropped by the company.
Richard and Karen would gig around LA and she became better known as a vocalist and landed a short-lived recording contract as a solo artist. The label folded before the full potential of her voice and Richard’s compositions were realised. Richard joined several bands and gained valuable experience playing in the LA and Hollywood clubs. In 1969 they both signed with A&M Records (owned by Herp Alpert) under the name Carpenters. At first their soft sound was not particularly popular especially at a time when the Beatles, Booker T and the MGs and The Rolling Stones were at their peak. Carpenters stood in direct contrast with the excessive, gaudy pop/rock of the '70s, yet they became one of the most popular artists of the decade, scoring 12 Top Ten hits, including three number one singles. Their first album from A&R Records contained the Beatles cover Ticket to Ride which sold well enough to become a minor hit.
In 1970, Carpenters released a Burt Bacharach/Hal David song "(They Long to Be) Close to You", which gave them their first number one US hit.
The follow up single We've Only Just Begun was written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols reached #2 in the US charts.
1969 finished the year with Merry Christmas Darling.
For All We Know was a hit single in 1971 and gave the duo their third gold disc.
Rainy Days and Mondays another Paul Williams and Roger Nichols composition saw them continue their run at the top of the charts.
Superstar which was another hit features Karen's "haunting" vocals.
The music of the Carpenters was distinct because Karen's register was relatively low for a female singer. Karen had a wide vocal range that spanned about three octaves. Richard's voice was very complementary to Karen's voice. While Karen's melodic voice was great for a song, Richard's voice (as well as Karen's) nicely complemented her voice when doing harmonies. "Goodbye to Love" was released in 1972 and was written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis.
Top of the World (1973) gave the Carpenters their first country hit and went to the top position in the US charts.
This was followed by Yesterday Once More (1973), and then a year later I Won't Last a Day Without You (1974).
Carpenters could not go wrong and when they recorded an up-tempo remake of Hank Williams' "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)", it gave them another International hit.
Their biggest selling success came with a remake of the Marvelettes' chart-topping Motown classic, Please Mr Postman and this was followed by a Richard Carpenter and John Bettis' song called Only Yesterday.
Another major hit came with another cover version, this time Herman's Hermits' "There's a Kind of Hush (All Over the World). By this time Karen was concentrating on her vocals and did not play the drums at all.
By 1977 the disco craze was in full swing and adult-appeal for "easy listening" was losing its appeal. Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft sold well, particularly in the UK but in the US, Carpenters album sales were down.
The duo continued to enjoy popularity and had a surprise return to the charts with Sweet, sweet smile in 1978.
By the mid-1970s however extensive touring and lengthy recording sessions had begun to take its toll on the duo and contributed to their professional and personal difficulties during the latter half of the decade. Richard had become addicted to prescription drugs i.e. Quaaludes (Mandrax) and in 1978 he entered a recovery clinic to kick the habit. Karen undertook a solo recording project meantime which although amounted to nothing met with critical acclaim. The duo got back together again after Derek recovered but by now Karen was ill. She had became afflicted with anorexia nervosa in 1975 and despite all efforts to overcome the malady it eventually contributed to her sad demise. Exhausted they had to stop performing live and their record sales suffered and after 1978 their records no longer reached the charts. The 1981 album flopped but the single Touch Me When We're Dancing sold well.
In 1982, Karen sought therapy but years of over self medication had caused fatal changes to her heart. Karen died on February 4th, 1983. She was 32. Karen's death brought media attention to anorexia nervosa and also to bulimia and encouraged other celebrities to go public about their eating disorders. After Karen’s death, Richard Carpenter continued to produce various compilations of the duo's music. In 1987, he released a solo album called Time, which featured guest appearances by Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick.
Worth a listen
Ticket to ride (1969)
Close to you (1970)
We’ve only just begun (1970)
For All We Know (1971)
Rainy Days And Mondays (1971)
Goodbye to Love (1972)
Yesterday once more (1973)
Top of the world (1973)
Please Mr. Postman (1974)
Only yesterday (1974)
There's a Kind of Hush (All Over the World) (1976)
Callin occupants of interplantery craft (1977)