The Singles 1969-1973
Released: December 1973
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 49
Certified Gold: 12/11/73
Although they still strike me, depressingly, as the fictive offspring of a screen marriage between Robert Young and Doris Day (and about as representative of young people in 1974, or want to be, as Andy Hardy), I must admit, after listening to this survey of their single chart-poppers from 1969 to 1973, that Richard and Karen Carpenter have something besides chutzpah.
What they have (and oh boy, do they ever) is a brand of complete professionalism that would daunt General Motors, abash Streisand, and probably awe even my friend Herr Doktor Üwe Undsoweiter, who, in his Black Forest laboratory, makes ball bearings so small that they are invisible to the naked eye. Invisible to my naked ear is the difference between one track and another here; the songs become only banter for the waffle iron of the Carpenters' performances. In the five years covered there is almost no sign of growth, nor even any apparent search for it. Relentlessly cheerful, relentlessly upbeat, relentlessly clean-cut, they barge through the speakers like a pair of unwelcome Rotarian conventioneers. Surely this deodorized parody of what older people would like to think younger people are must offend some of the kids who are trying to get someone to listen to them and to stop sneering at the way they choose to dress or to conduct their sexual lives.
In themselves there is nothing malignant about the Carpenters; they are, after all, only performers (and I say "only" because of what I hear in this album -- the stasis is that of people far beyond their years, and so I can only account for it as don't-mess-around-with-a-good-thing) and are wise enough, in the show-biz sense, to follow the arc of a big-money career.
What I do object to is equating any performer with God, Flag, and Country. It was ridiculous when it was done with Kate Smith and Bing Crosby, and it is ridiculous now. The Carpenters and their performances are not really the point. The point is that entertainment is entertainment, and no more should be read into it than the degree to which it entertains you. As you may have gathered, I don't much care for the Carpenters, but my saying that doesn't mean I'm out to corrupt anyone. It is very sad that people so often confuse issues in an attempt to project their own identities through performers. Dylan's recent gallop through a series of sold-out concerts and his incredible to recording deal with Asylum-Elektra show that the older, middle and upper-middle brows are quite as gullible as Osmond Brothers fans, Carpenters fans, or Bobby Vinton fans. To me, it all seems a bit foolish. But that's show-biz.
The Carpenters' greatest hits are assembled here in no predictable order, connected by a set of innocuous links. No damage is done to the body of the singles, meaning that Tony Peluso's exquisite guitar solo on "Goodbye To Love" and Karen Carpenter's exaggerated breaths on "Top of the World" are still present. Heard together, the duo's hits prove that Richard Carpenter didn't study music at Yale for nothing. His clean arrangements, delicate piano turns and conservatively employed strings enhance almost every cut, and after a few tracks it becomes obvious his contributions have been grossly underestimated. "Ticket To Ride," the group's first and only dud, is included for historical reasons, but it's still as tedious as it was four years ago. Outside of "Sing," which is ruined by the children's chorus, it is the only duff tune on a surprisingly strong collection.
- Paul Gambaccini, Rolling Stone, 2/14/73.
This greatest hits package of 13 songs affirms the Carpenters' fine talent. Karen's clear, clean, pristine tones have a glisten whether it's heard on "We've Only Just Begun" or "Top Of The World." Placed end-to-end, the group's music has a compelling quality that stands the test of time. They are capable of making "Ticket To Ride" by Lennon/McCartney their own special vehicle, principally because of Karen's slow, involving vocal. Brother Richard's orchestrations and arrangements, plus his own sweet harmonizing on this and the other cuts, add the middle and bottom ranges to Karen's top levels.
- Billboard, 1973.
Thinking about the perfect present to buy your dead grandmother? How about an album full of dead wood?
- Ed Naha, Circus, 3/74.
The combination of Karen Carpenter's ductile, dispassionate contralto and Richard Carpenter's meticulous studio technique is admittedly more musical than the clatter of voices and silverware in the cafeteria, but it's just as impervious to criticism. That is, the duo's success is essentially statistical: I'll tell you that I very much like "We've Only Just Begun" and detest "Sing," but those aren't so much aesthetic judgements as points on a graph. C+
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Now and Then: The Singles 1969-1973 is from the group's most listenable period, but it overlaps the songs in a no-gap flow and has been superseded by Yesterday Once More. *
- Bruce Eder, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
It's yesterday once more with the early best of the sibling duo. Dismissed by critics as saccharine pop, it isn't cutting edge, no -- it's bubblegum but delicious, with Richard's outstanding production backing his sister's heavenly voice on fireplace love songs like "We've Only Just Begun." Optimistic with a tad of sadness, Karen's vocals are even more moving in light of her death due to anorexia. Swallow the lump in your throat, sing along and it'll put you on top of the world. * * * * *
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
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