With over 100 million record sales to their name, The Carpenters were a cultural behemoth that defied an era that was full of rage and social turmoil, the antithesis to their harmonious tones. In many ways, their success was the ultimate symbol of the much-debated concept of the great ‘American Dream’. If ‘Manifest Destiny’ needed a group to attach itself to, it was the sibling duo from Connecticut.
Tragically, that dream proved a short-lived fantasy as the brutal reality of eating disorders came to the fore when the iconic frontwoman Karen Carpenter died at the age of 32. She became the first celebrity to succumb to anorexia nervosa, and her death was the first time that most people had heard of anorexia.
In part, our culture contributed to her sad end. Even bleaker is the fact that the discussion surrounding it remains as relevant as ever as NEDA, and many other organisations, continue to raise awareness of the many issues that perpetuate eating disorders.
However, it would be reductive to remember Karen Carpenter for her death, because she was so much more than that. Battling the inner demons that had plagued her all her life, she shone like a star, in defiance, radiating a celestial essence that remains as powerful as it was 50 years ago. She possessed one of the most enchanting vocal abilities that we’ve ever heard and showed to many young girls that they too could rise up and be a success in the music industry and at the same time, show the men how to do it.
One of Carpenter’s most celebrated disciples is Sonic Youth frontwoman Kim Gordon. “Karen Carpenter had interested me for a long time,” Gordon wrote in her revealing memoir Girl in a Band,” Gordon once commented. “The Carpenters were such a sun-drenched American dream, such a feel-good family success story like the Beach Boys, but with the same roiling darkness going on underneath,” she said.
Adding: “Obviously Karen Carpenter had a strange relationship with her brother, Richard, a great producer but also a tyrannical control freak. The only autonomy Karen felt she had in her life she excepted over her own body. She was an extreme version of what a lot of women suffer from – a lack of control over things other than their bodies, which turns the female body into a tool for power – good, bad, or ugly.”
Whilst Carpenter’s glowing spirit lives on through the myriad of classics that she gave us, a personal favourite is ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’. The 1971 track was a mega-hit on both sides of the Atlantic and confirmed her as one of the most captivating vocalists around. A magnificent reflection of her wide vocal range and emotive delivery, it’s a swooning and reflective piece that has you struggling to contain the tears.
Listening to Carpenter’s isolated vocal track for ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’, only reinforces the lump in your throat. Even if she didn’t write the song, the pain in her voice is palpable. As she sings, “Nothin’ to do but frown / Rainy days and Mondays always get me down” before the saxophone solo, a large shiver goes running down your spine.
It’s also indicative of just how little her voice needed doctoring in the studio. It had a natural, unique warmth that most singers should be envious of. Additionally, the way she ramps up the pitch at the end of the last chorus before bringing it back down is pure genius.
A terrific testament to one of music’s most influential figures, Karen Carpenter‘s isolated vocals for ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’ is a must-listen for anybody wanting a masterclass in vocal delivery.
Listen to Carpenter’s isolated vocals for ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’ below.