When family performs together, there’s something quite magical about it that isn’t captured in other kinds of partnership. The Carpenters were one of the most popular acts of this kind in their time, and for good reason. Siblings Karen and Richard Carpenter worked together to create distinctly soft music that continues to be critically acclaimed and enjoyed even to this day.
Where It All Began
Just before their nonstop leaps of successful albums, Karen had seen a doctor regarding her weight. Karen was given the Stillman diet, which meant she’d be drinking 8 glasses of water a day, avoiding fatty foods and taking vitamins. She didn’t particularly enjoy it, but she adopted it in hopes of slimming down.
“Offering” released in 1969. The debut album of the siblings that had proclaimed themselves The Carpenters. However, initially, the only track on the album to pick up traction was the ballad reimagining of John Lennon’s “Ticket to Ride”. Though the album was repackaged with a new cover and the title of the hit cover song, which soon picked up lost sales.
Working from their previous outings thanks to A&M deciding to keep them on, the siblings and their team produced “(They Long to be) Closer to You” shortly into 1970. Their next successful single to follow was “We’ve Only Just Begun”, which Richard had spotted on a commercial and had decided that covering it would make for a great single.
Both of these singles were featured on the Carpenter’s second and very successful album, “Close To You”. These singles made their mark on an entire generation, “We’ve Only Just Begun” especially having made itself the wedding song of many a couple at the time. Not even just weddings, but even graduates would use the song to celebrate. “Mr. Guder”, “Help!” and several more songs also garnered attention for the record.
The end of 1970 also brought about the first recording of “Merry Christmas, Darling”. A song that is still immensely beloved as a Christmas classic today, and it had a remastered version in 1978 as Karen believed she could bring more maturity to her performance by then.
More singles swept onto the scene with success, those being “For All We Know”, “Rainy Days and Mondays” and “Superstar” would all dominate the charts in 1971. They would all be featured on their next studio album, “Carpenters”, which seized the charts once again. This album was also the first instance of their logo, which would be used for every new album release after this one.
With even more success in single releases such as “Goodbye to Love”, “Top of the World”, “Bless the Beasts and Children”, their fifth album “Now & Then” came packed with these singles as well as a few more standout tracks to once again place it pleasantly in the charts.
“Sing” performed spectacularly in America in 1973, the single sold millions of copies. However, much like most of their previous singles, they weren’t finding this same success in the UK. “Yesterday Once More” finally earned the Carpenters the millions of sales they had been searching for in the UK.
At the back end of 1973, in place of what would have been a new album recording was replaced by the first Carpenters greatest hits record. “The Singles: 1969 - 1973” would go on to top both US and UK charts, and became one of the best-selling records of its decade. Around seven-million copies sold in the US alone!
In this time, Karen found herself distraught at watching back images and footage of herself. Her body had returned to a shape she hated, she desperately tried to do something about it. She hired a “workout guru” to assist her weight-loss journey, however the workouts only added to her weight by giving her more muscle. She stopped performing the exercises, instead opting for a “normal” diet in her eyes.
However, things took a turn for the worse.
During 1975, Karen’s weight had dropped to just 91 pounds, or roughly 14 stone. Her usual boundless energy had left her, she couldn’t function properly and needed about two months to get back on her feet.
After Richard had handled press meetings and interviews during Karen’s rest period, the two got back to work with their previous recordings and “Horizon” was put out in September 1975. It received glowing praise as usual, especially the single “Please Mr. Postman” which would go on to be one of their most successful tracks, however it unfortunately broke their impressive streak of top 10s, only landing at 13 in the charts.
“A Kind of Hush” followed in 1976. “There’s A Kind Of Hush (All Over The World)”, their cover of a Herman’s Hermits’ hit as well as “I Need to be in Love”, a song Karen favored, were the best performing singles of this particular album. The album itself did not perform as well as their previous releases, however, as people had grown too used to their sound.
1976 also saw a deal between the Carpenters and ABC Network, “The Carpenter’s Very First Television Special”. The siblings ended up with 5 specials in total, they featured some comedy sketches, some very special guests such as John Denver, and of course, music.
In 1977, they tackled more musical genres to reignite their image in the eyes of the public. Country, jazz, ballads, all of them found experimental success in particular with the singles “All You Get From Love is a Love Song”, “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” and “Sweet, Sweet Smile” which were all featured on their 1977 album release, “Passage”.
As 1978 was dedicated to touring, it saw another compilation album release “The Singles: 1974 - 1978”. Much like its predecessor years ago, it topped charts on release as it highlighted singles that had been critically acclaimed. They also released their first Christmas album, “Christmas Portrait”, which became an instant seasonal classic and quickly earned a platinum. This album was also followed by the TV special, “The Carpenters: A Christmas Portrait”.
During their grand return to success, Karen wasn’t the only one facing addictive problems. Since 1971, Richard had been taking a sleeping pill, Quaalude, prescribed to him by their family doctor. He never had issues with it for years, he would take one every now and then to help him sleep. With a side effect of euphoria, Richard found release after hard days during the first few years of his prescription.
But eventually, his tolerance built up. He no longer felt the euphoric side effect of his medication, and to combat that he took more than he was supposed to and quickly became addicted. This started in 1976 and he felt it affecting him, but he never stepped down to do anything about it until late 1979.
He spend six weeks in rehabilitation therapy, while Karen set her eyes on the prospect of a solo album, despite her poor health. It never came to be though, and in 1980, the siblings reunited to produce their next album as the Carpenters.
Released in 1981, “Made In America” was the last time the Carpenters would record an album together. Featuring the successful singles “Back In My Life Again”, “Because we are in Love”, “Those Good Old Dreams” and more, the album performed well despite their hiatus prior to its release, at least proving there was still a market for this duet of siblings.
Karen attempted to go into therapy during 1982. It did her no good though, she ended up returning to hospital due to getting nowhere via therapy and dropping to a frighteningly light 80 pounds. She was given the hyperalimentation procedure, which did increase her weight again. However, despite “looking” healthier, she wasn’t.
Richard knew it too well. Her warm, boundless energy was gone. Her eyes devoid of the life and hope they were once full of, she still wasn’t well. She still wasn’t herself.
“You’re Enough” and “Now” were produced as singles, the last she would ever be a part of.
February 4th 1983 marks the day that Karen was found unconscious in her parents’ home. Admitted to hospital, she was declared dead down to a heart attack, in consequence of her anorexia nervosa.
While this is technically where the story of the Carpenters ended, Richard did go on to a solo career. On top of this, some of Karen’s singles from her solo album were released following her death, “Make Believe it’s Your First Time” and “Your Baby Doesn’t Love You Anymore”.
Richard went on to work with old material from “Christmas Portrait” to produce a new Carpenters Christmas album, “An Old-Fashioned Christmas”. He also released his own solo album “Time” in 1987, featuring the track “When Time Was All We Had”, which was a direct tribute to his late sister.
To this day Richard supports the arts. He pledged $3 million with his wife to the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza Foundation and continues to actively support Carpenter Performing Arts Center. He still makes concert appearances there to this very day.
The Carpenters Made a Mark on Music History
They brought a brand new sound to rock, something the genre was vastly unfamiliar with for a very long time. They brought the same softness to pop, reinventing how people would view and approach the genre. They brought a warm energy to music and to the world as a whole that can never go underappreciated, while they dominated within the adult contemporary music genre, their music was never vulgar or unpleasant. It had a mature but welcoming air about it that made it easy to listen to for anyone.
With 10 albums under their name, there are plenty of great hits to choose from from their endless supply of high quality, popular, chart-smashing singles. Not only that, but Karen’s unfortunate passing painted a serious light on the ferocity of eating disorders, while Richard fought with addiction for a time.
The mark these siblings left on music is a big one. It’s not uncommon for artists to cite them for inspiration, and “Merry Christmas Darling” makes plenty of rounds around December time every year.
With this overview of their career and their vast album and single collection, make sure to check out any Carpenters records we happen to have in stock right now!