“Every sha-la-la-la, every wo-o-wo-o still shines,” sang the Carpenters’ in Yesterday again, their hit 1973 tribute to the songs of the past.
It could be the tagline of a new book on the work of Richard and Karen Carpenter, which aims to put aside the noise surrounding the duo and focus on their harmonic creations.
Carpenters: The Musical Legacy (Princeton University Press), 50 years after the duo’s first hits, was co-written by Richard Carpenter, along with Associated Press journalist Mike Cidoni Lennox and Chris May.
Carpenter has passed on many retrospective projects, after decades of questioning his sister’s inner life and her 1983 death from heart failure, a complication of anorexia, at age 32. This was an opportunity to do something different.
“It was the focus on the music itself, it mostly is,” said Carpenter as he sat at his piano in his Southern California home. ignored.”
It has the weight and visual history of a coffee table book, but it’s also an almost note-for-note musical biography of the couple harking back to their childhood in New Haven, Connecticut, where Richard Carpenter found the seeds of the group’s sound in his father’s records and a toy jukebox.
He cites some unexpected influences, including another husband-and-wife duo, Les Paul and Mary Ford, whose early experiments with vocal overdubs and layered harmonies entranced him.
“It made a deep impression on me, that ooh-ah, ooh-ah. I was maybe 5 or 6,” said Carpenter.
“I had no idea how this was all going to work. I just knew it was different and I really liked it. And many years later it naturally came to my mind as I was arranging a lot of things that I was for the harmonies.”
He attributes a lesser-known name to a familiar sound, choral arranger Judd Conlon, whose work appeared in Disney’s Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland.
“His multi-vocal arranging style was tight,” said Carpenter. “They were very close harmonies, which had a great effect on me.”
The book makes it clear that their extensive, layered recordings were made as the young duo maintained a dizzying schedule of touring and television appearances.
It lists almost every rainy day and Monday they spent in a hectic 1970, the year (They long to be) Near you became their breakthrough hit. Somehow in the midst of it all, they recorded their second album, 1971’s carpenters, known to fans as the brown album and considered by many to be their best.
The Carpenters were often mocked as creators of schmaltzy throwaway hits. But the book states that they were great makers of fully formed albums, with an incredible set of records between the 70s Close to you and 1973’s Now & Then, the concept album that cemented their worldwide stardom.
“We had so many hit singles, and usually right after each other, that we tended to be dismissed as singles again by our opponents,” said Carpenter. “We’ve sold millions of albums.”
Carpenter’s ear for finding hits, often in unlikely places, was as essential as his ear for making them.
He found superstar, the Carpenters song probably most loved by younger generations when he heard Bette Midler sing it The Tonight Show. He came across We’ve only just begun in a bank commercial before they turned it into a hit.
When he heard them, he knew exactly what to do with them.
“If the song touched me, whether it was mine or a song I had heard, like” We’ve only just begun or Rainy days and Mondays or superstar, if the song had it, my arrangement took place right away,” said Carpenter.
And he knew a song was useless if it didn’t match his sister’s stunning alto voice.
“I could give you a list of songs that I heard on the radio and bought right away that I knew wouldn’t work for Karen and me,” he said. “Being brother and sister just had a lot to do with it.”
He has also reconsidered his music catalog on the upcoming Richard Carpenter’s Piano Songbook. It commemorates some of the band’s biggest hits for solo piano on the album slated for release in January.
Amidst all the looking back, Carpenter recently made his first visit in some 30 years back to what was once the A&M Records studios in Hollywood. It is now owned by the Jim Henson Company and the Muppets, who have changed little of it.
It was an emotional journey.
“We spent so much of our lives there that it was like returning home,” he said. – AP