Karen Carpenter remembered, 30 years later

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Thirty years ago today pop singer Karen Carpenter died at the age of 32, her warm, mellow alto voice stilled too soon. An NPR tribute quotes Paul McCartney as saying that she had "the best female voice in the world: melodic, tuneful and distinctive."

Karen Carpenter's voice was part of the soundtrack of my childhood. KRMG was our family's radio station when I was growing up, and in the early '70s KRMG was a mix of local news and "middle-of-the-road" pop music, featuring groups like The Carpenters. Now and Then and The Singles albums were among Mom's picks in the Columbia Record Club 12-for-a-penny deal. (I picked Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits, Switched On Bach, and Everything You Always Wanted to Hear on the Moog.) The first time I heard "Ticket to Ride," "Jambalaya," "This Masquerade," "Dead Man's Curve," and "Fun, Fun, Fun," Karen Carpenter was singing them. And no early-'70s wedding was complete without "We've Only Just Begun" as the recessional.

The Carpenters were on TV, too. Their series, called "Make Your Own Kind of Music," aired for only eight weeks as a "summer replacement series" on Tuesday nights in 1971, but it stuck in my memory. I can recall being put out that we had to turn off the show to go hear live music -- the Starlight Concert at Skelly Stadium, which turned out to be as good as Dad said it would be.

David Kenny, commenting on the NPR piece, opined that The Carpenters' choice of material, "which -- at least in the songs that got radio play -- tended to wallow in the slough between saccharine, maudlin, and treacly," was the limiting factor in the group's popularity. "Her voice deserved better songs," he concludes.

That assessment owed as much to the lush strings and vocal wahhhhhhs that typified The Carpenters' biggest hits. So it's interesting to listen to Pedro Andrade's remixes featuring only Karen's voice backed by bass and drums. Here's his version of "Goodbye to Love":

And here's his remix of "Ticket to Ride":

Finally, here's some video of Karen singing and drumming "Top of the World," part of a White House performance in 1973 for West German chancellor Willy Brandt.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on February 4, 2013 11:59 PM.

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