The nucleus of the Carpenters was sister and brother Karen and Richard Carpenter, both born in New Haven, Connecticut; Richard in 1946 and Karen in 1950.
Richard began playing piano at the age of nine. Karen wouldn’t realize her music ability until the family moved to Downey, California in 1963 and she took up the drums, while in high school. By then, Richard had formed The Richard Carpenter Trio with Frank Pooler and Wes Jacobs. The trio was signed to RCA Records in 1966, but failed to produce any hits.
In 1966, Karen tagged along with her brother Richard, who was auditioning a trumpet player at a studio owned by bassist Joe Osborn. Osborn asked Karen to sing and he was so impressed, he signed her to his Magic Lamp Records label. The label folded before Karen had a hit.
A year later, Karen and Richard joined a band called Spectrum. They performed at the famed Whiskey A Go-Go, but they disbanded in 1968.
After sending out many demo tapes, A&M Records co-owner and family friend, Herb Alpert (of Tijuana Brass fame) signed the duo under the name “Carpenters” in 1969. Their first album, “Offering”, produced a minor hit with a slow version of The Beatles “Ticket To Ride.” It was their second album, “Close To You” that put Karen and Richard “on the map.”
On the charts, the Carpenters had twenty Top 40 hits on the weekly Billboard charts, with three going to number one. Here’s a look at the Carpenters twenty biggest hits, according to Billboard’s Weekly Top 40 Charts.
1. (They Long To Be) Close To You – 1970 – Originally recorded by Richard Chamberlain in 1963, the Carpenters first hit went to number one for four weeks.
2. Top Of The World – 1973 – When Lynn Anderson went to #3 on the country charts, this version was released from the “A Song For You” album.
3. Please Mr. Postman – 1975 – A number one single for The Marvellettes in 1961, the Carpenters also went to number one.
4. We’ve Only Just Begun – 1970 – Richard heard this song on a TV commercial for Crocker Bank in California and decided it would be a good song for them to record. It turned out to be their signature song.
5. Superstar – 1971 – Written by Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett, Richard heard Bette Midler perform the song on “The Tonight Show” and he couldn’t wait to arrange and record it.
6. Rainy Days And Mondays – 1971 – Composed by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams, this song appeared on their album “Carpenters.”
7. Hurting Each Other – 1972 – Originally recorded by Jimmy Clanton, Chad Allen and The Expressions (Guess Who) and the Walker Brothers, before the Carpenters got a hold of it.
8. Yesterday Once More – 1973 – Written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis for the “Now And Then” album.
9. For All We Know – 1971 – From the film “Lovers And Other Strangers.”
10. Sing – 1973 – The Carpenters version of this song helped popularize a song written for “Sesame Street.”
11. Only Yesterday – 1975 – Their last Top 10 hit came from the “Horizon” album.
12. Goodbye To Love – 1972 – Renowned electric guitarist Tony Peluso contributes the funky guitar work on this song.
13. I Won’t Last A Day Without You – Co-written by Paul Williams, it was also recorded by Maureen McGovern.
14. It’s Going To Take Some Time – 1972 – Written and recorded by Carole King in 1971.
15. There’s A Kind Of Hush (All Over The World) – 1976 – A #4 hit for Herman’s Hermits in 1967, the Carpenters took it to #12.
16. Touch Me When We’re Dancing – 1981 – Officially, the Carpenters last Top 20 single, following a three year hiatus from the charts.
17. Solitaire – 1975 – Written and recorded by Neil Sedaka in 1972.
18. I Need To Be In Love – 1976 – Richard has reported that this was Karen’s favorite song.
19. Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft (The Recognized Anthem of World Contact Day) – 1977 – Originally recorded by Klaatu in 1976, the Carpenters version boasts using a 160 member musical crew.
20. All You Get From Love Is A Love Song – 1977 – From the “Passage” album, Tom Scott, the saxophonist on the Carole King hit “Jazzman”, can be heard here.
Although Karen and Richard projected a squeaky clean image, both had their share of personal problems. Richard had to take a break in 1979 to be treated for his addiction to Quaaludes. Karen, who had been battling her weight for years, suffered from anorexia nervosa, since 1975, and refused to seek treatment.
Karen’s whirlwind romance and marriage to real estate developer, Thomas Burris, in 1980, only lasted a year, before the couple separated. Karen finally sought treatment for her anorexia, in 1981, where it was discovered that she had been taking ten times her daily dosage of thyroid medication.
In 1983, Karen returned home to her mother, in Downey, following an argument with Richard about her deteriorating condition. Two days later, Karen suffered cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead on February 4, 1983 at the age of 32.
During their reign, the Carpenters were the number one selling music artists of the 1970’s. They won three Grammy Awards, including, Best New Artist in 1970. They also hosted several TV specials and they had their own variety series, “Make Your Own Kind Of Music” in 1971.
There have been a number of documentaries done about the Carpenters. “The Karen Carpenter Story”, a 1988 TV movie, was based on her life.
Richard continues to make concert appearances and he raises funds for the Carpenter Performing Arts Center located at California State University.
SOURCE: Joel Whitburn – The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits – Billobard Publishing