11 of the greatest Carpenters songs ever

28 June 2018, 15:09

Carpenters
Picture: Universal

By Tom Eames

There has never been another group quite like the Carpenters.

Siblings Richard and Karen Carpenter were born to make music together, from their beautiful harmonies, to Karen's incomparable vocals and Richard's amazing arrangements.

Here's 12 of their very best songs to make for a perfect Carpenters playlist...

1. '(They Long to Be) Close to You'

Richard Chamberlain first recorded this Burt Bacharach and Hal David ballad in 1963, but it was not a hit. Dionne Warwick also released it as an album track a year later.

But it wasn't until the Carpenters covered it in 1970 that it became a massive hit, and the duo's breakthrough. Herb Alpert had first been offered it, but he was not a fan of his own version.

2. 'We've Only Just Begun'

Read more: The Story of... 'We've Only Just Begun'

First recorded by co-writer Roger Nichols' friend Smokey Roberds under the name 'Freddie Allen', it was then used in a wedding-themed advert for Crocker National Bank in 1970, with fellow writer Paul Williams singing.

After watching the commercial, Richard Carpenter guessed that Williams was the singer, as they both under contract to A&M Records. He ran into Williams at the record company's office and asked if a full-length version was available. Although at that point it had only two verses and no bridge, Williams said that there was a bridge and an additional verse, forming a complete song. He and Nichols quickly went off to write them, and it became a huge hit.

3. 'Superstar'

This song was originally titled ‘(Groupie) Superstar’, and recorded by Delaney and Bonnie in 1969. The song was the story of a groupie who holds a strong love for a rock musician who left her.

The most famous version is by the Carpenters, after Richard heard Bette Midler’s cover. “I could barely wait to arrange and record it. It remains one of my favourites,” he said. Karen recorded her vocals in just one take, using lyrics scribbled by Richard on a paper napkin.

4. 'Rainy Days and Mondays'

This was another Nichols-Williams composition, and was given to the Carpenters for their self-titled album in 1971.

While it only reached number 63 in the UK upon re-release in 1993, it was a number two smash in the States.

5. 'Yesterday Once More'

Richard Carpenter has said that this is his favourite song that he has written. It became their biggest-selling single in the UK, reaching number two.

On its album Now & Then, the song segues into a long medley, consisting of eight covers of 1960s tunes mixed into a pretend oldies radio show.

6. 'Ticket to Ride'

A massive hit for The Beatles in 1965, the Carpenters released a cover version as one of their first singles four years later.

"I happened to hear [the song] being played as an oldie one day in early 1969, and upon hearing it this particular time, decided the tune would make a nice ballad," said Richard.

7. 'For All We Know'

This song was co-written by two members of Bread, and was used for the 1970 film Lovers and Other Strangers.

A year later, Richard Carpenter heard the song during a relaxing evening at the movies while on tour. He decided it would be ideal for the duo, and he was right.

8. 'Goodbye to Love'

This was the first hit by the duo to have been written by Richard along with John Bettis, who went on to write classics such as Michael Jackson's 'Human Nature' and Madonna's 'Crazy for You'.

The song came about after Richard saw a 1940 Bing Crosby film called Rhythm on the River. He noticed that the characters kept talking about a songwriter's greatest composition, 'Goodbye to Love'. Carpenter said: "You never hear it in the movie, they just keep referring to it," and he began writing a song around it.

9. 'Top of the World'

This catchy song was originally intended to just be an album track. However, country music singer Lynn Anderson covered the song and scored a big hit with it.

The Carpenters later released it themselves, and it gave them a number one hit in the States.

10. 'Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft'

This is a weird one, but we can't help but love it. It was originally by psychedelic group Klaatu, and it ended up being used to open night transmission of the pirate radio station Radio Caroline.

A year later, the Carpenters covered the song, using a crew of 160 musicians. Their version opens with a radio DJ on a request show. When the DJ asks caller Mike for his song request, an alien-sounding voice responds. The DJ is voiced by Carpenters' guitarist Tony Peluso.

11. 'Merry Christmas Darling'

This was the Carpenters’ first attempt at Christmas music. The lyrics were written in 1946 by Frank Pooler, who was the choir director at California State University, where Karen and Richard Carpenter were both part of the choir.

In 1966, at Pooler’s request, Richard composed the music for this ballad, which was first released in 1970. This sparked the interest of a Christmas album by the Carpenters, and in 1978, Christmas Portrait was released. It has since been covered by the likes of Christina Perri, Lea Michele and Natalie Cole.