Today marks the 25th anniversary of KAREN CARPENTER's death by heart failure at the age of 32. The heart failure, of course, was the consequence of her long struggle with anorexia nervosa. Much like Rock Hudson would come to symbolize (and humanize) AIDS just a few years later, Carpenter would provide a face (and a voice) for a disease that was then little-known and little-understood by the population at large. There can be no doubt that this "fatal flaw" contributes significantly to her legacy today.
Mostly, though, it was her voice. A quarter century after her death, it remains a one-of-a-kind instrument: deep, rich, innocent, intimate. And, even when pitted against her control-freak/lodestar brother's sticky-sweet arrangements, there is a tangible sense of sadness, loneliness, and loss there that serves to both ground and elevate the material. "Soft rock"? Sure. "Easy listening"? Perhaps. But something more as well. Something deeper and more intricately tied to the human condition than, say, the average CAPTAIN & TENNILLE tune.
Perhaps more than any other, Karen Carpenter's is the voice of my childhood. Her first #1 hit ("Close to You") was released the month after I was born; she died two months before I turned 13. "Goodbye to innocence," and all that....
[For me, the Carpenters' most effective (and "affecting") songs tend to be the ballads. Even so, I couldn't resist throwing in their absurdly-titled (and absurdly "over-the-top") opus of 1977 -- "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft (The Recognized Anthem of World Contact Day)." There must have been something in the air back then (so to speak) -- seeing as "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" came out at almost exactly the same time.]
[Finally, any self-respecting BEATLES' fan is likely to find the Carpenters' version of "Ticket to Ride" a slow-motion abomination. It's included here merely to serve as yet another showcase for Karen's aching alto -- and as proof that that voice was already well-in-place when she recorded it at age 18.]
[MP3] "(They Long to Be) Close to You" 
[MP3] "We've Only Just Begun" 
[MP3] "Superstar" 
[MP3] "Rainy Days and Mondays" 
[MP3] "Top of the World" 
[MP3] "I Won't Last a Day Without You" 
[MP3] "Yesterday Once More" 
[MP3] "Solitaire" 
[MP3] "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" 
[MP3] "Ticket to Ride"