Joel Goldenberg: The 1970s top-10 hits review part 9

Karen Carpenter on The Tonight Show in 1978.

We now resume with Retro Roundup's evaluation of the top-10 hits of the Billboard U.S. charts from the 1970s with groups and artists starting with the letter C.

Eric Carmen: As a pioneer of power pop and a master of balladry and pop rock, Carmen deserves a box set of his entire career. He had two top-10 hits in the 1970s, but we will tackle the Raspberries' Go All the Way when we get to the letter R. His one solo top-10 hit, All By Myself, is beautifully haunting and is best heard in its full-length LP version, with the piano sequence in the middle taken from Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Opus 18. Other worthy tunes that should have hit the top-10 include Never Gonna Fall in Love Again (which came close at #11), She Did It and especially Change of Heart.

Carpenters: I'm fully convinced that just as Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and the multi-talented Burt Bacharach were the greatest music arrangers of the 1960s, in terms of transforming a song into an emotional experience; Thom Bell of Spinners/Stylistics/Delfonics/Philadelphia Sound fame and Richard Carpenter should hold that title for the 1970s. We'll get to Bell when we tackle the Stylistics and Spinners in the S list, but now it's time for the Carpenters — siblings Richard and vocalist Karen, who perhaps had the warmest singing style in pop music history. They had so many top-10 1970s hits I'll tackle them one and a few at a time.

(They Long To Be) Close To You: While Richard rearranged the Beatles' Ticket to Ride to interesting effect as a ballad on an earlier single, this song really showed what he could do. Close To You had been sung by Dionne Warwick in a version produced and arranged by its co-writer Burt Bacharach, and was also done by actor Richard Chamberlain. A&M Records co-creator Herb Alpert was offered the song to sing (his songs were usually instrumentals), but balked at the lyric, "so they sprinkled moondust in your hair of gold and starlight in your eyes of blue," so he offered it to Carpenters. Richard and Karen transformed the song into a tour de force, with Karen's wistful vocal, and extremely effective piano playing, strings and Beach Boys-worthy backing vocals performed by just Richard and Karen, multi-tracked. The song deservedly shot to #1.

We've Only Just Begun: As great an achievement as Close To You was, this one's even more astounding, and is probably my favourite Carpenters song. This started life as a fairly routine song used for a bank commercial directed at young marrieds. Richard saw its potential and the result was the Carpenters song that has the biggest emotional effect on me, not only with Karen's intimate vocals, but the soaring harmonies. This song demonstrates what arranging talent is all about. This song hit #2, but it should have hit the top spot and stayed there for weeks.

For All We Know, Rainy Days and Mondays and Superstar: All three of these songs are more understated than the previous two entries, which has the effect of highlighting Karen's stark and emotional vocals. Even more astounding, these songs (#3, #2 and #2) were all on one album, 1971's Carpenters.

Hurting Each Other and Goodbye to Love: These songs are from 1972's A Song For You album, and why the Leon Russell-written title track was not a single itself I'll never know. Hurting Each Other is bouncy and cute, and doesn't quite have the emotional effect of the group's other hits. Goodbye To Love is not only highly emotional, but has a bruising rock guitar solo by band member Tony Peluso that apparently raised controversy at the time. Carpenters may have created one of the first power ballads.

• Sing and Yesterday Once More: Both are from the 1973 LP Now and Then, a sort of concept album with new songs on Side 1 and, mostly, a medley of redone oldies on Side 2. The former song, first featured on Sesame Street, is nice but hasn't aged all that well, while Yesterday Once More is my second favourite Carpenters song, not so much because of the emotion expressed but because of the confidence in the overall performance — you can tell the group is at the top of their game.

Top of the World: This song is a major milestone in the career of Carpenters. Not because it hit #1, and not because of the song itself, which is a bit on the overly cute side. The song is supremely important because it showed the wisdom of Richard revising already recorded songs. Top of the World was originally a more country-flavoured LP track, and when artist Lynn Anderson had a big country hit with it, Richard was inspired to release it as a 45, with a more pop-friendly mix, not only as a single but as part of the massive selling Singles 1969-73 album. That same album had a new version of Ticket To Ride with a much improved mix and Karen vocal, and the single mix of Yesterday Once More with crucial added guitar stabs — as important to that song as the added horn stabs were to the single mix of Stevie Wonder's You Are the Sunshine Of My Life.

Please Mr. Postman and Only Yesterday: Both are from the 1975 album Horizon, which overall was a peak in terms of sophistication in terms of arrangements and a peak of maturity in Karen's singing. Unfortunately, while their cover of the Marvelletes' Motown hit hit #1, as did the original, it was just too cute and jarred with the overall tone of the LP. The song was actually released as a 45 in late 1974 and should have been a standalone single. As for Only Yesterday, it's another supremely confident and soaring performance from all concerned.

Next time: Clarence Carter and others.

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