Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Singles

I’m tearing through a terrific new biography of Karen Carpenter, thanks to James Gavin's review in the Times. I was a hu-u-u-u-uge Carpenters fan when I was a kid. Still am. There’s lots of fascinating behind the scenes stuff in it, including recounting individual recording sessions. (They recorded three different versions of "Close To You"? Who knew?) Perhaps the most interesting thing I’ve learned is that the name of the group wasn’t “The Carpenters,” it was simply “Carpenters.” Only took me 40 years to find that out. Of course, knowing the outcome of the story, it’s a poignant read from page 1, but I’m happy to learn that Karen really was as wholesome and unaffected as her public persona.

But that’s not what this post is about.

Each of their albums is gone over in some depth and when I read the chapter about their first compilation album (“The Singles”, released in 1973) I had a flashback to January of '74. Debbie Johnson, who lived on my school bus route, had gotten the album for Christmas. One morning we sat together on the bus and pored over the liner notes. I realized I didn’t need to get “The Singles” because I had all of the songs on their original source albums.

And then it occurred to me: we used to bring record albums to school. We used to bring record albums to school!

To what end? It’s not like we played them in class ever. (Well, except for that stoner guy who somehow got Mr. Berger to let him play “Physical Graffiti” every fucking day during 4th period art.) There was no students’ lounge with a record player. We could only play library records (in their heavy, thick clear vinyl covers) in the library. But I distinctly remember carrying records along with my schoolbooks under my arm throughout the day. Why?

I guess they were like any other prized possession we wanted to show off. And, of course, our music choices defined our personalities, so I guess we were making a passive statement while displaying our record collections, one disc at a time.

That's just a guess. I dunno why we did it. But we did.

Gosh, looking back on how it was in years gone by—and the good times that we had? It makes today seem rather sad. So much has changed.


  1. I'm a HUGE Carpenters fan, too. Always have been. Love this!

  2. Strange how 40 years ago, style was what you listened to; now it's what you listen on.

    We seem to have lost focus somewhere.

  3. I can remember when my sister brought home the "Close to You" album (she was my pop music guru) around the time it was released. Then there was their appearance on "This Is Your Life" pretty early in their career compared to Bette Davis and Ethel Merman who also were on around the same time (side note- my Mom worked for Marchal Jewelers of 5th Avenue who provided the charm bracelets). My own appreciation for their music came later. Better Midler was my idol after all and she was infamous for her Karen Carpenter digs ("I like the way Karen Carpenter sings. It's her drumming that sucks."). So the Carpenters were just not cool. But I did eventually get a Carpenters album into my music collection (in cassette format), the one simply called Carpenters and that was the beginning and the end for me. And I learned that the was room in my music library for both Bette and Karen's versions of Superstar. I just learned that it was Karen who changed the lyric from "to sleep with him" to "to be with him." All this time I thought Bette had trashed it up by changing "be" to "sleep." Go know!

    By the way, I hope you had an opportunity to see the tv film about Karen before it was withdrawn.

  4. every sha la la la, every woe-oh-oh-oh ...

  5. "Carpenters The Singles" was the very first album that I bought with my own money at the age of nine. Groovy music - and a groovy post, Tom.

  6. Hi, Tom, a little nostalgia as far as music is concerned?....For my birthday my friend is going to buy me a pick up on which I can play old's like the past is back:-))
    Lots of success in all that you're doing, man!