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A Song For You

A&M 3511
Released: June 1972
Chart Peak: #4
Weeks Charted: 41
Certified Gold: 7/10/72

Richard CarpenterKaren CarpenterWhile the Carpenters' music is not particularly compelling, its lack of pretension lends it a bland integrity that is uncommon for middle-of-the-road pop music. The basis of this integrity is Karen's singing, which grows more assured with each album. She is especially strong in her lower register, and she shows the potential of developing into an interesting stylist. The musical value of Richard's contribution to the Carpenters phenomenon, however, is another matter. The best that can be said for most of his arrangements is that they provide adequate support for Karen's voice and have a recognizable stamp. What they lack is a sense of dramatic structure or interpretive style.

The formula that Richard applies to his own songs, he applies to everyone else's as well. This is a shame, since many of the Carpenters' records begin strikingly but then fail to gather momentum. The most obvious way in which this happens is that, time and again, the clarity of Karen's vocal line is interrupted or joined by multi-tracked "choral filler," which tends to drain a song of its personality. It is the same fault that weakened countless pop records in the Forties and Fifties.

Five songs are authored or co-authored by Richard. They vary in emotional range from cotton candy to ice milk, the best of them being the current single, "Goodbye To Love." Richard sings solo on two cuts -- "Piano Picker" and "Crystal Lullaby." His voice is pleasant enough, but he seems to be afflicted with a very noticeable lisp. One cut, "Flat Baroque," features Richard on the piano playing in a style that can only be described as Peter Neromanque.

The title cut, Leon Russell's "A Song For You" is far and away the album's finest moment. It is a great song that is rapidly achieving the classic status it deserves, and Karen communicates its poignancy with effortless serenity. The Carpenters have done well by Leon in the past, their version of "Superstar" standing as perhaps their finest record to date. Unfortunately, the album doesn't contain any other very strong material. "Hurting Each Other," which preceded "Goodbye to Love" as a hit single, does not approach the level of the Carpenters' first hits. Karen's interpretation of Carole King and Toni Stern's "It's Going To Take Some Time" shows only that the song requires Carole's personal touch in order to work. "Bless the Beasts and Children," title song of the movie, has lavish production values going for it, and nothing else. Mention should be made of Bob Messenger's pleasant flute and tenor sax breaks on "Road Ode" and "A Song For You," respectively.

If the Carpenters are to grow with their audience, they will need more of this sort of instrumentation. But above all, they will need to be more discriminating in their selection of material. Karen is capable of giving us considerably more than tiny sugar valentines.

- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 10/12/72.

Bonus Reviews!

Pop success of the kind achieved by the Carpenters tends to make reviewers (including myself) a bit churlish. Aside from Henry Pleasants' civilized and generous appraisal of them in the February Stereo Review, it would be difficult to cite a wholly approving review of one of their recordings. Part of this is, of course, a certain arrogant streak in reviewers which causes them to resent popular performers who don't particularly care about their reviews as long as the audiences keep coming in large numbers. The other part is a genuine bafflement that the public would prefer a product so transparently (to reviewers) manufactured on a commercial assembly line to something of deeper, or at least more original, quality. Most reviews of the Carpenters run pretty much along these lines -- including my own put-down last time out.

This new album doesn't change my opinion (I don't wear cufflinks embossed with ars gratia arts for nothing, you know), but it does bring into sharp relief why the Carpenters are the most successful brother-sister team in show business since Fred and Adele Astaire. Professionalism and communication are the keys. They are absolutely professional with each other and to the listener. They are excellent instrumentalists -- Richard on keyboards and Karen on drums. They sing honestly and without phony instrumentalists -- Richard on keyboards and Karen on drums. And, of course, they seem to be the kind of kids that the older folks would be proud to claim.

A Song for You is a bright, extremely well-done album which already boasts two hits, "It's Going to Take Some Time" and "Hurting Each Other." My own favorite was "Intermission," a chorale quickie by RIchard Carpenter which promises "We'll be right back/ After we go to the bathroom." "Flat Baroque" is another short goody with excellent and funny work by Richard.

If you are a fan, you no doubt already have this album. If you are like me, you are probably looking at your cufflinks and wondering.

- Peter Reilly, Stereo Review, 11/72.

Here's a super LP which will be another top seller for the Carpenters. Superb Jack Daugherty production and musicianship showcase the fine talent on such tunes as "I Won't Last a Day Without You" (by Paul Williams) and "Crystal Lullaby" (both by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis). Includes "Hurting Each Other" and "It's Going to Take Some Time." Also dynamite readings of the title tune and of "Goodbye to Love" (also by Carpenter and Bettis).

- Billboard, 1972.

Close to You (1970), with "We've Only Just Begun" and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," and A Song for You (1972), with "Hurting Each Other" and the great "Goodbye to Love," with its brilliant outro of fuzz guitar solo over massed oohs-n-aahs, have the same dewy freshness as Carpenters (1971), though with less consistent material. * * *

- Steve Holtje, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

The Carpenters hit such creative form with A Song For You that it ended up being mined for more singles than any other of the brother/sister duo's studio recordings.

By the time of its release in June 1972 the combination of Richard and Karen's wholesome image and their unthreatening yet popular melodies had turned them into major stars, but here the inconsistencies of their earlier albums are replaced by one quality cut after another. One vital contributor to the formula is lyricist John Bettis, who co-wrote with Richard two of the album's most famous tracks, the US Top 10 hit "Goodbye To Love" and "Top Of The World," which Richard only deemed worthy as an album cut but it went on to head the Hot 100 nearly a year and half after the album's release.

Richard's knack of picking the right material for him and Karen to cover is evident on "Hurting Each Other," originally recorded by Ruby & The Romantics, becoming a Number Two US hit and a then new Carole King song, "It's Going To Take Some Time," reaching the Top 20.

"I Won't Last A Day Without You," penned by regular Carpenters' contributors Paul Williams and Roger Nichols, completes the album's quota of hits. The album peaked at Number Four in the US in July 1972, and at Number 13 in the UK.

As of 2004, A Song For You was the #86 best-selling album of the 70s.

- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.

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