and Agnes Carpenter did not know what was to become of their son, Richard, when hew was born in 1946. The Carpenter family lived in a small house in New Haven, Connecticut. Richard was just three years old when his baby sister, Karen, was
born in 1950. Years would pass and the two Carpenter siblings would lock themselves
into the basement and “wear out” Harold’s immense collection of 78rpm records. In fact, Richard and Karen loved listening to their father’s collection so much that Harold hung
two swings from the basement ceiling. That way Richard and Karen could “swing”
to the music. Richard showed an almost prodigious talent for the piano and studied
hard to learn how to play. Eventually Richard would regale the family with piano
arrangements of his favourite hit songs. Karen, however, showed no interest in
in the early 60’s the Carpenter family packed up and left the east coast and headed for the west coast. They settled in a small community on the outskirts of Los
Angeles, California. Downey was your typical 1950’s cliché. Cars on the drive, lines of
trees and children playing on street corners.
When the Carpenter
kids started school, Richard met someone who would become his life-long friend and writing partner, John Bettis. He also became friends with Bass and Tuba player, Wesley Jacobs.
Karen, in order not to take gym, decided to join the school band and was given the Glockenspiel. The instrument was heavy and unyielding. She asked a friend
to swap instruments and thus began a life-long affiliation with the drums.
both Harold and Agnes and, despite their reservations of a teenage girl playing drums, they eventually relented and bought
her a set of drums. In fact the drums they bought her would serve her throughout
her entire career.
for hours on her drums and was eventually playing along with all her favourite songs.
She even taught herself to sing along while playing.
piano, Karen’s new-found talent for the drums and Richard’s friend, Wes on the bass, he formed the “Richard
Carpenter Trio” in 1964. The trio would go on to win the 1965 “Hollywood
Bowl: Battle of the Bands”
as the trio, Richard also met with bass player and friend, Joe Osborn. Joe and
a partner had formed “Magic Lamp”. “Magic Lamp” was small
record label with a small garage studio to match. In this studio, Richard and
Karen recorded a single “Looking for Love/I’ll Be Yours”. However,
“Magic Lamp” had neither the budget nor the facility to promote the single and, as a result, the label folded
not long after. By this time, the trio had also disbanded and Richard had formed
a new, six strong group, “Spectrum”.
featured Karen on vocals and recorded many demo tapes to be sent out to various labels.
By 1967, nothing had come to fruit. Richard and John Bettis had been playing
at (and subsequently fired from) “Coke Corner” in Disneyland and Karen was maturing at a lightning pace. Richard formed another
group “Summerchimes”. This group was five strong and they recorded
and released another single “You’ll Love Me/The Parting of Our Ways”.
However, this went the same way as the first single.
In 1968, Richard
and Karen mailed out some more demos. This time they landed on the desk of Herb
Alpert, the ‘A’ in A&M Records. Herb was so enthralled with Karen’s
voice that he had to meet the duo. Richard and Karen travelled to the A&M
lot in LA and met with Alpert and his partner Jerry Moss. Alpert and Moss signed
Richard and Karen, now calling themselves simply “Carpenters”, in a contract for one album. “Offering” was released in mid 1969 but the album failed to chart. The only single from that album, “Ticket to Ride” only peaked at around No.43. Despite requests to drop them, Herb gave them the benefit of the doubt.
Also at the end of ’69, Burt Bacharach had approached Richard to arrange a medley of his songs for a benefit
dinner he was hosting and the Carpenters would play there. He asked Richard to
look at a song, They Long to Be Close to You. Richard didn’t feel it was
right for the medley but decided it would make a nice album cut.
(They Long to
Be) Close to You came out first quarter of 1970. Within 6 weeks the song was
No.1. Within 12 weeks it had gone PLATINUM.
The album “Close to You” came out shortly after and soared to the No.1 spot. As, also, did the second single “We’ve Only Just Begun”.
“Begun” was so popular; it became the Carpenter signature tune.
had become millionaires practically over night. What kid hasn’t dreamed
of this moment!
1971 saw the
release of a third album the self-titled “Carpenters” album. This
album also smashed the No.1 spot. Several more singles were released; “Superstar”,
“Rainy Days and Mondays” and “For All We Know”
With the exception
of 1974, 1979, 1980 and 1982, every year saw a new Carpenters album release.
1976, Karen was starting to show the effects of Anorexia Nervosa, an eating disorder that affects many young women. Richard was also feeling the effects of stardom and had become addicted to sleeping pills.
to recover, Richard had decided to take 1979 off to look at new material while getting treatment for his own illness. Karen, not wanting to remain idle, wanted to record a solo album. So Karen jetted of to New York for a meeting with record producer Phil Ramone.
in 1980 with the finished album and played it for Richard and the other A&M execs.
The result was less than favourable, much to Karen’s disappointment. A&M
requested the album be “shelved” and the duo started work on a new Carpenters album that would eventually become
“Made in America”
By early 1980,
Karen’s weight had dropped to a staggering 78lbs and she was admitted to hospital for emergency treatment and was fed
intravenously. Karen returned from her treatment with a renewed vigour. In mid 1980, she met and fell in love with Tom Burris.
They married in late 1980, this delayed the completion and release of the new album..
However, it was not the fairytale marriage Karen had hoped for and they split in early 1981. Karen’s weight began to drop again and again she was admitted for treatment.
better that ever and threw herself into the new album. “Made in America” was eventually released in the autumn of
1981 and the album went double platinum. This secured Richard and Karen’s
entry into the Rock Hall of Fame as the best selling artist of the DECADE (from 1970 to 1980)
1982 was spent
gathering more material for a new album, “Voice of the Heart”. Karen
had recorded the drums and had also done several work leads of a few songs “Now”, “Sailing on the Tide”,
“Make Believe it’s Your First Time” and “Look to Your Dreams”.
Karen then left
Richard to begin arranging the album.
Karen had decided
in 1983 to begin divorce proceedings as she had finally accepted that it was over between her and Tom. Heartbroken, Karen sent for the papers.
saw her notification of marriage annulment; it arrived on February 4th 1983… the day she died.
Karen was staying
at her parents’ house, following the events of her divorce. Agnes had gone
to call Karen for breakfast and found her unconscious on her bedroom floor. Karen
later died in hospital. Her death certificate stated that the cause of death
was a chemical imbalance brought on through the effects of Anorexia Nervosa… she was 32 years old.
Anorexia had claimed its most famous victim...