Let me get the first thing out of the way: I don’t get the Carpenters. When I think of songs like “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “Sing,” “Close to You,” “Top of the World,” and “We’ve Only Just Begun” … well, thinking of them makes me wanna puke, but that’s better than actually listening to them. What a pile of insipid tripe! I have friends, smart friends with good taste in music … you know who you are, you’re nodding your heads in disapproval as you read this … who seem to have a fondness for the crap that was the Carpenters, a fondness apparently lacking in irony. I don’t share that fondness; like I say, I don’t get the Carpenters. Explain to me the excellence of this:
Sing, sing a song
Sing out loud
Sing out strong
Sing of good things not bad
Sing of happy not sad
Now, one thing about Karen Carpenter, she played the drums while she sang, and that ain’t as easy as it sounds.
Of course, it was Hal Blaine playing on the records… you probably don’t know his name, but you know his drums, if you’ve ever heard a Phil Spector production, or a Carpenters record for that matter. Or the Beach Boys (Hal sat in for Dennis Wilson just like he did for Karen Carpenter). Or “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis. Or Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. When you hear “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes: that’s Hal Blaine. I’ll make it easy on you: go to Hal’s website with your soundcard on and listen to the virtual jukebox, and you’ll hear Hal Blaine, and you’ll recognize every song, and maybe you’ll remember his name in the future.
But the thing here is, that’s Hal on the drums for those Carpenters records, not Karen.
The Carpenters made a bunch of crap records, Richard took too many meds, Karen didn’t eat, end of story. But one time in all those years, they actually made a good record. The lyric was surprisingly different from the “sing good stuff not bad” pablum the group usually offered. The sound was different enough to inspire hate mail from their fan base, which should be proof enough that this was a better song than their other garbage.
It’s to Richard and Karen’s credit that they knew a good thing when they (finally) heard it… Richard liked this guitar player named Tony Peluso, he asked Tony to play a solo on a Carpenters’ song, the rest is history. Tony joined the touring band, played with the Carpenters for many years, went on to a career producing music from bands like Cafe Tacuba… and left the world a present, “Goodbye to Love”.
Context is everything. Listen to early Elvis today, or “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard, and you can still hear the excellence and wonder, but our context is different, we don’t really hear the revolution anymore. Little Richard makes sense to us now, so his Tutti Frutti tidal wave is decontextualized. But when it came out, in the context of the pop music of the day, well, that was something. Punk rock emerged from the boredom of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Rap music startled an audience tired of the same old same old.
Well, imagine a world where the Carpenters not only existed, but were immensely popular. A world where “sing, sing a song” actually mattered to people. And then imagine having “Goodbye to Love” dropped into the middle of that world. The lyrics were bad enough:
Loneliness and empty days will be my only friend
From this day love is forgotten
I’ll go on as best I can
But then Tony Peluso steps in, with a short solo in mid-song and then a longer blast to close out the record. And if it wasn’t for those two solos, I wouldn’t even know who Tony Peluso was, but off he goes, with Hal Blaine pounding beneath him… and the only crime is that there wasn’t a place for Tony on that Rolling Stone list of the 100 best guitarists of all time.
And I don’t care if the above pisses off you Carpenter fans, or if I sound like a snob, but fuckin’ A as they used to say, that solo at the end of “Goodbye to Love” is an inspiration, it suggests that anything is possible, it’s the most truly uplifting thing that ever appeared on a Carpenters record, it’s the artistic truth in opposition to the sap that was the Carpenters.
I think I better play the song one more time…