I was surprised at how many requests I received to do an analysis of Karen Carpenter.
Karen was an extremely unique individual and artist. With her brother Richard at the helm they produced some of the most timeless pieces of 70s Pop music ever written.
Karen was known as “one take Karen.” She would walk into the studio and literally pull off these stunning epic pieces in one take and usually the first take. What makes that so extraordinary is her impeccable pitch and intonation. This pitch and intonation was no easy feat given the kinds of key changes and different modalities that Richard wrote some of these pieces in.
But wait, there’s more!
Karen did not start out as a singer. She started out wanting to play drums (and idolized Ringo Starr) and was stifled by her mother who heavily favored her brother Richard. Being children of missionary parents from China, Karen and her brother Richard moved to Southern California for Richard’s career, not Karen’s.
Out of abject frustration, Karen quit working with her brother and started her own band which failed fairly quickly. She re-joined forces with her brother Richard, but again not to sing, but play drums. No one knew of her incredible range and velvety vocals that became their signature sound.
Karen had formed another band called Spectrum that played for Disneyland theme park, but started playing songs by bands like The Doors and was fired from the theme park immediately.
Ironically, Karen wound up recording “Ticket to Ride” as a cover song from the Beatles when Paul McCartney himself claimed that Karen was one of the greatest (if not the greatest) female vocalists in the world.
This helped launch her career with incredible songs such as “Top Of The World,” “Close to You” and “We’ve Only Just Begun”. Ironically, one of their greatest singles, “We’ve Only Just Begun,” was a TV jingle from a local bank that Richard turned into the epic song we now know as “We’ve Only Just Begun.”
But there was still another problem. Karen was only 5 ft 4 and completely swollen up with the drum kit she was playing and singing behind. People wanted to come see Karen, but she was not actually “fronting” the band. Richard was and people didn’t want to see Richard, they came to see Karen.
Riding high with extraordinary success, Karen still struggled deeply with wanting affirmation from her mother Agnes. Many believe that it was from this shunning of her mom and the favoritism of her brother that spiraled her into insecurities into weight loss issues which eventually cost her her life to anorexia.
I personally will always think of Karen On Top Of The World, with a reminder that we all have struggles. And neither fame, fortune nor power can conquer the demons inside if we don’t face them head on.
I realize this is a somewhat sobering blurb, but I thought it was necessary.
Ken Tamplin Vocal Academy – Where the PROOF is in the SINGING!