story is one filled with great international success and elegant contributions to popular music that resonate to this day. It was their remarkable succession of radio-friendly singles for which many millions of fans worldwide will chiefly remember the Carpenters in the 21st Century: “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Rainy Days And Mondays,” “Goodbye To Love,” “Yesterday Once More,” “Hurting Each Other,” “Only Yesterday,” and “Top Of The World,” are just some of them.
Richard Carpenter was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on October 15th, 1946, and his sister, Karen, also was born in New Haven on March 2nd, 1950. By 1965, they were working in a jazz trio (Richard playing keyboards, Karen playing drums, and Wes Jacobs on bass and tuba), and were living in Downey, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. It was quite clear that Richard was destined to make music his career, and his mastery not only of the piano, but also of arrangement, composition, production, and vocal harmonies made it obvious that he possessed extremely impressive musical talents. Younger sister Karen was only persuaded to become a lead vocalist after Richard’s encouragement and his obvious approval of her efforts. By seventeen years of age, that voice was a remarkable instrument, and, like her brother’s, there also was nothing but a future in music in Karen’s mind.
Richard and Karen worked with West Coast studio bassist non pareil Joe Osborn, whom they had met in 1966. Osborn strongly believed in the Carpenters and allowed them to record a demo in his studio, acting as engineer and even playing bass on several of the tracks. As Richard had created the arrangements, he decided that now he and Karen should overdub all of the vocal parts themselves. One copy of the finished demo reel found its way to Herb Alpert, who signed the Carpenters to A&M Records in April of 1969. Less than a year later, began an impressive string of Top Tens that more than validated the A&M chief’s belief in them.
One of the reasons for the Carpenters’ meteoric rise to fame was because their recordings had a “sound” that employed a process known as “multi-tracking,” wherein an artist could “overdub” additional musical parts, while listening to the original or “prime” performance. Richard’s love of the overdubbing process eventually influenced the way in which Karen and he recorded their vocal parts, the two having been able to add harmony after harmony while building their “choral” sound. In addition to their trademark harmonies, the main ingredients were Karen’s marvelous made-to-be-recorded voice, her skills as a drummer, plus Richard’s arranging talents and piano chops that reflected his extensive knowledge of generations of pop, jazz and music history. His musical vocabulary combined with his “ear” for potential hits turned Richard into the group’s A&R (artists and repertoire) guru, choosing almost every single and virtually all the material he and Karen ever recorded.
Over the years, the Carpenters not only have racked-up many #1 and Top Ten singles, but their albums also became top-of-the-chart fixtures, and virtually all of their early LPs and 45s were multi-million sellers and awarded platinum and gold plaques by the RIAA. The national Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences acknowledged the team by handing Karen and Richard Grammy awards for Best New Artist and Best Contemporary Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group, or Chorus in1970, plus Best Contemporary Performance by a Duo or Group in 1971, and they were nominated fifteen additional times.
Through their many albums of classic recordings and hit singles, the Carpenters’ legacy carries on. They continue to attract listeners in search of quality music, and their millions of loyal fans even include famous devotees who have been quite vocal about their love of the duo’s work. The Carpenters’ music has spent forty years entertaining the world, the cultural influence of their classics recordings is historic, and the outstanding quality of their body of work will be appreciated for generations to come.