Top 10 Carpenters Songs

Carpenters Songs

Photo” A&M Records Public Domain Creative Commons

The Carpenters are known primarily for Karen Carpenter’s distinctive vocals. She has an easily identifiable sound that resonates with listeners almost immediately. John Lennon and Paul McCartney thought she was one of the best female vocalists in the world. High praise coming from those musical titans. The close harmonies that her brother Richard arranged are also integral to the Carpenter’s trademark sound. Their smooth background vocals supported the tunes and never detracted from the strong melodies.

In the early 70s, The Carpenters were among the most famous pop acts. Due to their instrumentation (mostly drums, guitar, keyboards, and bass), they have been categorized as a leading proponent in the “soft rock” genre, along with acts like Bread, Carole King, James Taylor, Carly Simon etc… This top ten list centers around the many international hits the duo had. And to this day (although Karen passed away in 1983 from anorexia nervosa), their music still gets broadcast around the world.

Over the last forty years, they have sold over 90 million records. It’s not bad for a brother and sister act from Downey, California. Their recordings have a timeless, comforting sound and just the right medicine for feeling stressed out and lonely.  Here are ten Carpenters songs that define the duo’s sound:

Readers Top Pick!

For All We Know

While this list was originally just 10 songs, we received a lot of emails and comments from readers that we should have had “For All We Know” on the list. Instead of replacing one of these beautiful songs with “For All We Know,” we just added it to the list. In the end, the order is not that important; it’s all about celebrating and remembering all these stunning songs of our youth.

# 10 – I Need To Be In Love

Opening up our Top 10 Carpenters Songs list is the excellent track “I Need To Be In Love.” Richard Carpenter, Albert Hammond, and John Bettis wrote this song. It was released as a single on May 21, 1976, and was featured on the album A Kind of Hush. According to Richard Carpenter, this was Karen’s favorite Carpenter song. The lushly orchestrated piece reached #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976.  It was later re-released as a CD single in Japan, where it went quadruple platinum.

# 9 – Sing

Composer Joe Raposo wrote this song for the children’s TV show Sesame Street. The Carpenters recorded it in 1973 and placed it on their fifth studio album, Now and Then. The song was a smash hit, quickly climbing up the charts to number three on the Billboard Hot 100. The recording features a recorder played by the renowned saxophonist and arranger Tom Scott and a chorus of children singing along with Karen. It is undoubtedly one of the happiest songs since Sammy Davis’ “The Candyman.”

# 8 – Yesterday Once More

Another catchy single pulled from 1973’s Now And Then album. It peaked at number two on The Billboard Hot 100. Richard Carpenter and John Bettis composed it. It opens Side Two on the album and segues into a long medley of eight covers of 1960s tunes incorporated into a simulated oldies radio program. According to Richard Carpenter, it is his favorite Carpenter song, and he still performs an instrumental version of it in concert.

# 7 – Hurting Each Other

Gary Geld and Peter Udell wrote this song in 1965. Many artists, including Rosemary Clooney and Ruby & the Romantics, recorded it before The Carpenters. It was released as a single in December of 1971 from the album A Song for You. It reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The vocal arrangement owes a lot to the Ruby & the Romantics version. L.A. session musicians from the Wrecking Crew performed the backing track. Musically, the way the verse builds melodically to the exploding chorus is very effective. It makes the hook that much more memorable.

# 6 – Superstar

The Carpenters had three hits with Leon Russell compositions. “Superstar” or “Groupie (Superstar),” as it was originally titled, was written in 1969 by Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett. The other two songs “This Masquerade” and “Song For You (minor hits) are also well worth checking out. The lyrics in the intensely melodic verse of “Superstar” speak of the lament of the lonely groupie. The sexual reference in the original lyrics: “And I can hardly wait to sleep with you again,” was changed to the less risqué, “And I can hardly wait to be with you again.” for the Carpenter’s version.

The backing track was recorded with members of The Wrecking Crew, and Karen’s one-take vocal was praised for its intensity and emotion.  The song was released as a single in 1971 from the album Carpenters. Like many other Carpenter hits, it only rose to number two on the Billboard Hot 100.  Food for thought: There is a descending motion in the chorus reminiscent of George Harrison’s 1970 song “Awaiting On You All.” Could this song have influenced the ex-Beatle? He was good friends with Leon.

# 5 – (They Long To Be) Close To You

A Burt Bacharach / Hal David masterpiece that first saw the light of day in 1963 with a recording by actor Richard Chamberlain, later in 1964 with vocalist Dionne Warwick and in 1967 with vocalist Dusty Springfield. The version recorded by the Carpenters with instrumental backing by L.A. studio musicians from the Wrecking Crew was the most successful. It appears on their album Close to You. As a single, it reached number one in 1970.

“(They Long To Be) Close To You” was their breakthrough hit.  It earned the Carpenters a Grammy for Best Contemporary Performance by a Duo, Group, or Chorus in 1971. Note: The man who signed The Carpenters to A&M Records, Herb Albert, recorded this track before the Carpenters but was not pleased with his version and consequently never released it. He suggested the duo cover it. In creating the arrangement, Richard composed the flugelhorn solo for Herb to play, but at the time, he was unavailable. Instead, session player Chuck Findley was hired for the task and was coaxed into playing it in the style of Herb Albert.

# 4 – I Won’t Last A Day Without You

This melancholy piece (typical of its writers Roger Nichols and Paul Williams) was released as a single in 1974 and peaked at #11 on The Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the easy listening chart. The song was an album track on the 1972 record A Song For You. Richard Carpenter orchestrated, and famed session player Hal Blaine played the tasty drum part. As usual, Karen delivers a pitch-perfect vocal that slowly builds through the concise verse to the memorable chorus. The song also incorporates a beautiful middle section that weaves in and out of keys but expertly leads us back to the hook: a truly elegantly crafted pop confection.

# 3 – Goodbye To Love

Many original fans were taken back a bit by the memorable, distorted guitar that plays in the solo section and over the outro chords. It seemed out of character with the mellower material the Carpenters were known for. Considering the resigned lyrics about feeling discarded and never finding someone to love (almost an anti-love song), that did not stop the song from climbing up the charts. The song went to number seven on The Billboard Hot 100.

This prototypical power ballad was the first hit written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis. The melody has a very classical edge, and of course, Karen sings it to perfection. The harmonies throughout the song and in the outro especially are very compelling and add to the melancholia of the tune. The song appears on the 1972 album A Song For You.

# 2 – Rainy Days And Mondays

A Roger Nichols and Paul Williams masterpiece of melancholy pop. It was released as the first track on the 1971 album called Carpenters. Karen’s vocal is very immediate sounding (apparently, she sang it in one take), and the simple instrumentation perfectly supports the singer’s lonely mood. L.A. session musician Tommy Morgan plays the sad harmonica licks, and Bob Messenger blows the jazzy, memorable alto saxophone solo.

The descending bass part against the rising melody adds to the existential sadness in Karen’s voice. The upward modulation in the last verse is filled with those trademark Carpenters harmonies. The effect is chilling. And once again, the song peaked at only number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart!

# 1 -We’ve Only Just Begun

The Carpenters first heard an edited version of this song in a television commercial for Crocker National Bank in California in the winter of 1970. Roger Nichols and Paul Williams with Williams singing the commercial, are the composers. As fate would have it Richard Carpenter ran into Williams on the A&M Records lot and asked for a full song demo. He selected the composition for the duo’s third single and included it on the 1970 LP Close to You.

The song features many key modulations and warm harmonies that solidified the Carpenters sound and is considered by Karen and Richard as their signature song. The track rose to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed at number one on the Adult Contemporary chart for seven weeks. The song also helped them to win two Grammy Awards in 1971 for Best New Artist. In 1998, the recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for recordings “of lasting quality or historical significance.”

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