This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #78: (They Long To Be) Close To You by The Carpenters.
I had a girl break-up with me once, way back in the day. When she broke it off, it caught me by surprise because I was under the impression that she liked me and that things were going along alright. So, I asked her if I had done something wrong. Her response was that I was too nice. This leads me to wonder if, in my bachelor days, I was to men, as The Carpenters were to other bands….i.e., too nice, too wholesome, too vanilla. The reason I bring all of this up is that during my research, I came across a quote by Richard Carpenter, railing against the wholesomeness of the image foisted upon them by their manager and publicists. In his opinion, having to maintain a sneaky-clean image stopped him and his sister, Karen, from exploring other aspects of their interests and kept them pigeon-holed as Easy Listening artists. I hear ya, man! But, as it turned out for us both, I met my beautiful wife and instantly stopped caring about how I measured up in the eyes of other women. For The Carpenters, 90 million in record sales says a lot about what folks thought of them, too. In both cases, I think having a gentler image worked out for us. I know I wouldn’t have wanted to be any other way.
Richard and Karen Carpenter were brother and sister. Richard was older and, as a child, he showed an interest in music right away. He enjoyed listening to Jazz and Classical music. He worked hard to learn how to become a good piano player and was eventually accepted into a university-level music programme. Karen got to absorb the interests and experiences of her older brother as she grew up after him. But, her passion was for something that not enough girls strive to learn and that was, the drums. Karen Carpenter learned to play the drums by watching and listening to Jazz drummers. Soon enough, as raced through her teenage years, she began to find herself tagging along with her older brother as he went to auditions and/or to play at gigs with his friends in the small bands that they formed. In time, Karen was able to demonstrate her skill with the drums and was invited to join her brother in an official capacity in his first big band called, The Richard Carpenter Trio. It was while a member of The Richard Carpenter Trio that it was discovered that Karen could sing as well as she played the drums. At first, she was reluctant to sing in public, believing that her voice was not exactly up to snuff, as compared to “real singers”. But, with much practise and a few opportunities in situations that mattered (such as a Battle of the Bands contest that they won because of Karen’s singing abilities while singing Frank Sinatra tunes), Karen Carpenter began to move to the front of the stage and became the face of the band. In addition, the group continued to evolve as Richard started writing their own original music, with his sister’s singing style in mind.
Eventually, Richard and Karen became the duo that millions of people worldwide came to know and love. They had a string of memorable, easy-listening hits such as “Calling Occupant of Inter-Planetary Craft”, “A Kind of Hush”, “We’ve Only Just Begun”, “Merry Christmas, Darling”, “Rainy Days and Mondays”, “Yesterday, Once More”, “Top of the World”, “Only Yesterday” and, of course, their very first #1 hit song, “(They Long To Be) Close To You”. Overall, The Carpenters won three Grammy Awards, they had fifteen Gold records and five #1 hit songs in their career.
The song, “(They Long To Be) Close To You” was originally written by the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It was first recorded by actor, Richard Chamberlain and then, singer, Dionne Warwick. Burt Bacharach recorded it, himself, as well. But, this was truly a case of a song searching for its singer because, it wasn’t until The Carpenters recorded “(They Long To Be) Close To You” that it became a hit. In fact, even before The Carpenters released this song, they were gaining a positive reputation among their peers. The evidence of this is that famed trumpet player, Herb Alpert was the one who suggested to Burt Bacharach that, perhaps, this brother-sister duo were the ones to turn his song into music gold. And, he was correct.
After releasing “(They Long To Be) Close To You” and “We’ve Only Just Begun”, The Carpenters toured relentlessly; often performing six nights a week. After a few years of maintaining such a rigorous schedule, Richard became addicted to a form of quaaludes that he had been prescribed and, as a result, he took a year off from performing. Karen continued on her own. While touring as a solo artist, she was given the opportunity to record several songs that ended up going on Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall” album, including, his hit, “Rock With You”. After Karen Carpenter passed on those songs, they were, then, given to Jackson. The connection goes further because Michael Jackson was a big fan of Karen Carpenter’s singing style (as was Paul McCartney) and often stated that he felt she was the best female singer alive as the 1980s began.
However, as most of you are aware, while Richard was rehabilitating himself during his year off, Karen began to experience the side-effects of a disease that was relatively unknown at the time, called Anorexia Nervosa. In fact, one morning she was found slumped on the floor of her bedroom by her mother. Karen Carpenter was rushed to hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival. The autopsy report listed the cause of death as being heart failure brought on by anorexia. It was Karen Carpenter’s death, more than anything else, that brought the disease of Anorexia into the public spotlight. As a direct consequence of her death there is much more attention paid to the topic of eating disorders than ever before. But, even in death, the legacy of Karen Carpenter lives on in the form of Music scholarships given out annually in her name in California, as well as, an Arts Theatre that bears her name as well.
“(They Long To Be) Close To You” was Richard and Karen’s first hit and, as such, our first introduction to them as musicians. That their image was clean-cut and button-down did not detract from their appeal. In fact, it helped draw a devoted audience to them….an audience that didn’t wish to be shocked or challenged but, instead, to be comforted by a beautiful voice, gentle piano stylings and gorgeous harmonies that allowed many to see and hear the influences of The Beach Boys and Everly Brothers that characterized their career. So, without further delay, here are Karen and Richard Carpenter with their lovely hit song, “(They Long To Be) Close To You”. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “(They Long To Be) Close To You” by The Carpenters, can be found here.
The link to the official website for The Carpenters, can be found here.
The link to the (Canadian) National Initiative for Eating Disorders can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.