Superstar by The Carpenters (A&M, 1971)

People dog The Carpenters for their image and soft rock music, calling them unhip or lame. Only in America do we love to tear down our musical heritage. True, their music filled a void and gave a face to the ever popular easy listening genre which was fast becoming very profitable. And they bridged a generation gap at a time where many were blowing it up like it spanned the River Kwai. I grew up on their music just like so many other pop bands of the 70s, but in retrospect I listen to their music very differently. Richard & Karen Carpenter may have been the most talented brother/sister duo ever to hit the charts. And Superstar is definitely a highpoint, if not the highpoint of their long career.

Karen had a very unique voice which could range from a deep alto to a lilting soprano. She was cute. And she was a kick ass drummer.

I always find it sad when one lists Meg White of the White Stripes as a great drummer over someone like Karen.

Anyway Superstar was released on the Carpenters self-titled 3rd album and peaked at #2 in the Fall of 1971. Written by Leon Russell & Bonnie Bramlett it was originally recorded by Delaney & Bonnie in 1969. Richard heard Bette Midler sing it on the Tonight Show and thought it would be a cool tune for them to do. It was one of 6 songs that Richard would be nominated for a Grammy for instrumental arrangement and the one that he definitely should have won. (He lost to Shaft – shut your mouth!) Richard takes the first 30 seconds building a sad slow intro – an eternity for a 3 minute pop song. Karen turns a song about groupie wanting to get some more from her ‘superstar’ into a tune among woman longing for someone she can’t have. That superstar could have been a 5th grade boy who Karen pined for as 4th grader. Or for a normal life that was slowly slipping away with each passing hit. Superstar would the Carpenters’ 5th #1 Adult Contemporary hit in a row.

Had the Carpenters come out in the early 90s that would have received the admiration and possible critical praise that a Celine Dion unduly ended up with. Instead they ended up mocked, even at their height, because of their pure image and all they did was turn out one good pop song after another. One that you could hum along with your Mom in the car. And since all I cared about as a kid was singing, that was good enough for me. Baby baby baby baby oh ba-bay….

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  1. selders1

     /  September 4, 2011

    Glad to see a spirited defense of the Carpenters. I loved their records growing up in the ’70s, and they sound even better today. Richard’s arrangements and song choices, their harmonies and of course Karen’s wonderful voice score nearly every time. I’ve been pleased to see Karen’s voice get more and more praise over the past decade or so, like some found treasure. I’m sorry they didn’t get the respect they deserved when she was alive, but hey, they still had all those hit records.

  2. W.B.

     /  March 13, 2021

    Quite a few of the Carpenters’ hits belied their particular image. “Rainy Days And Mondays,” their prior hit, wasn’t exactly uplifting or “sunny” either. But Karen was very much the vocalist to make it all work.

    This one did manage to make #1 in Record World even if both Billboard and Cash Box had it pinned down at #2.

  1. Do You Know What I Mean by Lee Michaels (A&M, 1971) « 7 Inches of 70s Pop

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