New music post by guest blogger Ruddy Adam.
In 2000, when our group voted on the best natural female voice, I knew Karen Carpenter would be the choice, because I knew everyone voting very well—but I didn’t think she would receive all 25 votes. Well, she did, and I would have to say: Deservedly so.
The criteria was that the singer had to have sung Adult Contemporary, Rock & Roll, Soft Rock, or Easy Listening (no opera) for at least two years, and had to have had at least two hit songs. Karen sang for 18-years and had 15 Number One hits. That’ll get it!
Karen and her older brother Richard were child prodigies. The duo started playing music together when they were mere pups, she the drums, he the piano. Many percussion experts say that had Karen kept playing the drums that she would have been one of the greats. When her brother, however, heard her sing when she was very young, he heard perfect tone and realized she had perfect pitch. But being as small a degree a narcissist as I suppose a musician can be, Karen insisted on playing the drums. She was not comfortable out in front singing.
She had such a good ear along with perfect pitch that when she was 12 her drumming was described as “exotic time signatures.” That’s the type of drummer that could play with the likes of Dave Brubeck, in other words one in a million.
She played drums and sang for a while in the back of the group that Richard put together, but fans demanded to hear more of her voice. They put her up front, which was pretty amazing to hear this angel sing and play drums, too. Finally, however, the demand for more of her sweet voice caused her to put the drums away—and sing.
Karen’s voice is naturally on the low end of soprano, and although she did move slightly toward the middle off and on, the theme for which Richard, who became a masterful composer and arranger, designed his songs was for her to sing in that low range. When asked why he didn’t have her stretching that amazing voice of hers out as many octaves as possible, he said, “Because the money is in the basement.”
That comment got me to thinking, and I realized that most people do like females in the middle to lower register of soprano. Richard heard it. I had to learn it from him. That’s the difference in someone with a listening ear like mine, and someone with an innovative composing ear like Richard had. I do wish that he had let her turn loose and hold more notes, but we do have her voice. That’s got to be enough. There’s one song I’ve put in, “Christ is Born,” which is El’s favorite, that we get to hear her hold a note. It’s a wonderful sound!
Karen did not have a powerful voice. I mean she couldn’t belt out lines, and she could not use vibrato. But her voice was so pure that Richard could have her put the mic right up to her mouth, and that allowed listeners to hear how perfect her tone was. The majority of singers, especially the orchestra-backed, talk-singers treated a mic like a steaming hot potato, because the closer a singer gets to the mic, the better you can hear the flaws in their voice. Karen had none. She didn’t have to depend on a producer rubbing and scrubbing her voice in a studio. She was born with a perfect one.
As I said, Richard became a masterful arranger and composer. He leaned toward the classical and therefore usually had and array of different instruments in his songs, such as horns, strings, woodwinds, and one of my favorites, the harmonica. He also placed very soft harmonies in his songs, which he and fellow band members sang—at times. As he said of himself: “I don’t sing. I whisper and listen to Karen sing.”
I want you to notice by listening very carefully to her voice that you will hear Karen harmonizing with herself! Well, think about it. Who the hell else could harmonize with the perfect natural voice that she had except she herself?
I sent these twelve Carpenter songs out to what is left of the group that voted in 2000, asking them to choose five songs. Some chose under duress, but most could not choose among the group they are all so good. So, I’m sending them all. Each one is different, but you get to hear Karen’s voice—which is the central joy of it all.
Karen is a start for some of you who have written in asking about how to recognize a pure tone. Miss Buck taught us that you have to be able to recognize a pure tone—first—to be able to truly enjoy music, because you have a banner to compare everything else to. Karen is your female banner.
Poor Karen was always forlorn and broken hearted, and you can hear that in her voice. I know that now she is with the Lord she has found the peace and love that she searched for while she was here—yet never found!
Take your time—and enjoy! This girl’s voice is a true blessing! Ruddy
Note: I have left two links to a couple of the songs, because sometimes the first one would not come up.
This one holds a special sweet spot in my heart, and I suppose it’s my favorite, though it’s difficult to pick a favorite among her songs.
“Close to You,” Karen Carpenter, 1970
“We’ve Only Just Begun,” Karen Carpenter, 1970 (3:05)
Listening to this one hurts, knowing she was in terrible mental pain from another broken relationship. Makes me cry everytime I hear this one! Poor thing!
“Rainy Days And Mondays,” Karen Carpenter, 1971 (3:30)
Karen doesn’t often hold a note, but she does here at the end hold “Ya.” My Lord, if this girl is not at the head of heaven’s choir, I can’t wait to hear who is. I like to think the Lord loves music so much that He called Karen home early. He does say: “Blessed is the death of His most special ones.”
“Christ is Born,” Karen Carpenter, 1978, (3:55)
“For All We Know,” Karen Carpenter, 1971 (3:10)
“Hurting Each Other,” Karen Carpenter, 1971 (2:25)
“Can’t Smile Without You,” Karen Carpenter, 1976 (3:25)
“Only Yesterday,” Karen Carpenter, 1975 (3:45)
“Ave Maria,” Karen Carpenter, 1978, (2:35)
This song is made for a low register soprano, and the most perfect one ever sings it better than anybody. What do you think?
“Silent Night,” Karen Carpenter, 1978 (3:20)
“Yesterday Once More,” Karen Carpenter, 1973 (4:10)
This is a cover of one done by I think Herman’s Hermits. Karen does it slightly better, I would have to say.
“There’s a Kind of Hush,” Karen Carpenter, 1976 (3:05)
“Superstar,” Karen Carpenter, 1971 (3:45)