Two for Tuesday: Karen and Richard Carpenter

A lot of times you don’t realize how much you like a group’s music until many years later. Such is the case with today’s “Two for Tuesday,” Karen and Richard Carpenter, known as “The Carpenters” or simply “Carpenters,” their preferred name for their act. At a time when rock was getting louder and getting a harder edge, the Carpenters seemed out of place on the radio, and they were just a little too clean-cut and pretty for the times. Nonetheless, they sold a lot of records, made a lot of appearances on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, hosted a summer replacement show during the summer of 1971 (Make Your OWn Kind of Music) and toured extensively through the Seventies. This took a toll on the two of them: Richard found himself addicted to Quaaludes, for which he received treatment in 1979, and Karen developed anorexia nervosa, which ultimately caused her death in 1983.

Many people dismissed their musical talent, but in fact Richard developed into a fine music arranger, composer, and performer, and Karen, in addition to being a talented drummer, had a remarkable low-register voice that was not unlike Julie London’s. She was at her best when she sang torchy ballads, such as the two I’ve selected for today. The first, “This Masquerade,” was written by Leon Russell and appeared on his Carney album, and has been covered by jazz guitarist George Benson (on the Breezin’ LP) and others. I hadn’t heard it until a week ago, and it’s perhaps the best version of the song I’ve heard. It’s from 1973’s Now & Then album, and appeared as the B side to their single “Please Mister Postman.” The second, “Superstar,” was written by Bonnie Bramlett and Russell, and was originally done by Delaney and Bonnie and covered by Rita Coolidge on Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen album. Evidently Richard, unaware of the song’s history, heard Bette Midler sing it for Johnny Carson, and arranged it for Karen. It appeared on their 1971 Carpenters LP.

Richard continues to perform, now with his children. Their full story can be found on their website. For now, that’s your two for Tuesday.

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