From the Cutting Room Floor: The Carpenters

posted by Tom Moon on August 12, 2009 at 6:38 pm
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Researching 1000 Recordings, I went back to and considered well more than 1000 great records. Sometimes, I fell in love and wrote them up intending to include them -- only to fall out of love later. Below is one of those entries, on the Carpenters' surprisingly great A Song For You. Flame away, rock snobs, but do me a favor: At least give this record a fair listen first.

Prepare for an Easy Listening Conversion Experience

A Song For You

The Carpenters


Oh, how the options have multiplied. Consider, for a moment, what car travel was like before satellite radio, before the iPod, before the 6-disc CD changer, before even the cassette deck. Back then, if you found yourself on a boring stretch of rural highway with just a few FM stations for company, you were stuck. You had to take four solid minutes of Christopher Cross or whatever corn pudding it was those stations were dishing out. (That, or fire up the CB radio….).

As dire as those conditions might sound to today’s gadgetheads who never leave home without a loaded hard drive, there were some benefits. You had to listen differently, and tolerate what you’d never stand for on your own home stereo. It was in precisely these situations where many of the pop jaded had what might be called the Carpenters conversion experience. Which usually went like this: One of those too-darned-chipper singles (“Top of the World”) came on, and your instinctive response to such obvious middlebrow treacle was to flee. You’d reflexively reach for the deal, but something in the distant, forlorn voice of Karen Carpenter froze you. Froze time. You’d decide, OK, this isn’t that terrible. You’d listen as Karen sashayed through the trembling oboes (always there were oboes), and studio-orchestra cushioning, and before long, you were inside the song. First snagged by the gentle, lovingly sung melody, then by the utter clarity and the absence of contrivance, you found yourself at the very least impressed. This music didn’t abide snarky cynicism. It obliterated it in the first verse – and then, by the chorus, spread wonderful sunshine across the globe.

Virtually all the songs on this, the last great Carpenters album, begin and end at pretty. And the goodie-two-shoes duo, drummer Karen and her keyboard-playing brother Richard, never apologize for that. The album contains the gorgeously resigned “Goodybe To Love,” and the underloved Carole King lament “It’s Going To Take Some Time,” as well as “Top of the World” and several other high-charting singles besides. Go ahead, take them apart. Look deeply from any angle – at the production, the songwriting, the performances – and you may discover that considerations of hipness seem small next to these ornately sculpted, sublimely plaintive odes. Which are, in their way, the very essence of pop bliss.

Released: A&M, 1972.

Genre: Pop.

Key Tracks: “A Song For You,” “It’s Going To Take Some Time.”

Catalog Choice: Greatest Hits.

Next Stop: Dionne Warwick: The Dionne Warwick Collection (see pg. 846-847).

After That: Aluminum Group: Pedals.

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#1 from frankenslade - 08/23/2009 10:10

Good point about the occasional benefits of being stuck with few options!

#2 from Neil Bostock - 08/28/2009 3:34

Not to mention the stupendous and totally underrated (totally ignored?!) guitar solo on Goodbye to Love.  It’s a gem.

#3 from Neil Bostock - 08/28/2009 3:40

England in the seventies, with only BBC Radio 1 and few other choices, also personified the “limited options” scenario.  Every housewife in 1977 knew why she hated the Sex Pistols, because they played “Pretty Vacant” alongside Cliff Richard and Donna Summer on daytime radio.  But every punk like myself also discovered “Behind Closed Doors” and “I Feel Love”.  The American FM radio format makes it very hard to broaden your horizons. And some of those housewives learned to love Johnny Rotten.

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