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Music

Listen to a stripped-back version of the Carpenters song 'We've Only Just Begun'

@TylerGolsen

Say what you will about the Carpenters: they were cheesy, they were vanilla, they were the antithesis of boundary-pushers, they made some truly horrendous covers of all-time classic songs. Yes, that’s all true, and I’m not going to argue against that. But I will argue that the Carpenters were also far more talented, and easier to listen to than their reputation might indicate.

The true magic of the Carpenters lies in lead singer/drummer Karen Carpenters‘ voice. Clear as a bell and surprisingly emotive, Karen was the only thing keeping their schlockiest of ballads from being unlistenable slogs. That’s because, no matter how bland or generic the song might seem, Karen is still giving it her all, bringing in palpable shades of heartbreak and desire into her performances.

Just look at ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’, the number two hit that oscillates between downtempo verses and explosive choruses. Seemingly modelled after The Five Stairsteps’ ‘Ooh Child’, featuring the same back and forth between calm verses and strident choruses, Karen is able to restrain her delivery when the song calls for it and pipe back up when the time is right. Karen never yells or belts, but she projects in ways that keep the vulnerability of the song’s themes at the forefront of the arrangement.

Sadly, by this point, Karen was largely barred from playing the drums herself, despite being an extremely talented percussionist. In her place, however, is one of the best studio musicians of all time: Hal Blaine, the main drummer for legendary L.A. session collective The Wrecking Crew. Also filling out the arrangement in the video is the bass of Joe Osborn, another Wrecking Crew stalwart who brings the same style of bouncy bassline to ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ that he used on The 5th Dimension’s ‘Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In’.

Following the success of ‘(They Long to Be) Close to You’, ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ solidified the Carpenters as one of the most popular acts of the early 1970s. They appealed not to the heady counterculture or the high-brow intellectuals, but the moms and dads of America who wanted wholesome, uncomplicated music. But just below the surface, the Carpenters were crafting fascinating arrangements that continue to impress today.

Check out the stripped back arrangement of ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ down below.