'40/40' Celebrates The Carpenters' 1969 Debut Forty years after siblings Richard and Karen Carpenter signed with A&M Records, Richard Carpenter is releasing a 40th-anniversary compilation CD, Carpenters: 40/40. The two-disc set includes 40 tracks with hits including "Top of the World" and "We've Only Just Begun."

'40/40' Celebrates The Carpenters' 1969 Debut

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/120760959/120822925" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. If you were alive in the '70s, you probably know a lot of the Carpenters' records. They were played so much, they were part of the pop soundtrack of the decade. Songs like "Close to You," "We've Only Just Begun," "Rainy Days and Mondays," "Superstar," "Goodbye to Love" and "Yesterday Once More."

My guest, Richard Carpenter, was half of the duo. The other half was his sister, Karen Carpenter. Karen was the lead singer and drummer. Richard chose the songs, co-wrote some of the songs, did the arrangements and sang backup vocals. Karen died in 1983 from complications of anorexia.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Carpenters signing with A&M Records, the label that was co-founded by Herb Alpert. To mark the 40th anniversary, a Carpenters collection has been released featuring 40 of their songs. It's called "40/40." Let's start with "Rainy Days and Mondays," which was written by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams.

(Soundbite of song, "Rainy Days and Mondays")

Ms. KAREN CARPENTER (Singer): (Singing) Talkin' to myself and feeling old, sometimes I'd like to quit, nothing ever seems to fit, hangin' around, nothing to do but frown, rainy days and Mondays always get me down. What I've got they used to call the blues. Nothin' is really wrong, feelin' like I don't belong, walkin' around, some kind of lonely clown, rainy days and Mondays always get me down.

GROSS: Richard Carpenter, welcome to FRESH AIR. Let's start with your first big hit, which is "Close to You," which was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. You had just been signed to A&M Records, the record label that Herb Alpert co-founded. And then, like, not long after you were signed, he, if I got the story right, he gave you this song, and what happened?

Mr. RICHARD CARPENTER (Musician): We'd signed in April of '69, and we had a single released in October of that year that was doing fairly well. It was a ballad version, my take on "Ticket to Ride."

GROSS: The Beatles song.

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, and during this time, Herb Alpert brought a lead sheet of a rather obscure Bacharach-David song called "They Long to be Close to You." And I looked at the lead sheet. I say, a lead sheet, for those who may not know, is just the melody, the chord changes and the lyric. There's no intro, no outro, no arrangement. It's for - to have something to look at so they get to know the song and do their own arrangement.

So when I saw the end of - on the lead sheet of in your eyes of blue, the melody, I got exactly what Herb was talking about, the (unintelligible) on the piano, but that's it. They wanted me to just, as I said, arrange it the way I felt it should go.

GROSS: The opening piano part that you play on "Close to You" has become kind of like an official part of the melody. So how did you come up with that?

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, what it is is it's mostly the end. As I was putting the chart together, it would have ended�

Mr. CARPENTER: (Singing) Just like me, they long to be close to you.

Mr. CARPENTER: And that was - I mean, it had a little more of an ending, but to me, that didn't - that wasn't enough. So I pictured a hook or a tag that would be a four-part harmony, overdubbed and�

Mr. CARPENTER: (Singing) Close to you.

Mr. CARPENTER: And then again�

Mr. CARPENTER: (Singing) Close to you.

Mr. CARPENTER: And that became, I think, one of the selling points, if you will, of that record. I mean, it had a lot going for it, but that ending certainly was one of them.

GROSS: One more question about "Close to You." There's that trumpet break in the middle.


GROSS: And that's almost like a signature of Burt Bacharach arrangements. And the trumpeter sounds just like the trumpeter Bacharach used in his recordings from the '60s, which always kind of sounded a little like Herb Alpert.

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, keeping it all in the family.

GROSS: Did you do that intentionally?

Mr. CARPENTER: I did that intentionally. When I went in to work on the arrangement, took his lead sheet with me, it was like, WWB-do, you know, what would Bacharach do?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: And so I kept that in mind while I was arranging it, but even that was a little bit of a tip of the hat, well, not only to Burt with, say, the little tag on the end of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," that really has nothing much to do with what preceded it, but it's really magical.

So when I got through the first chorus of "Close to You," I felt it should modulate, and I pictured the trumpets. And yeah, it's Bacharach-esque, but I wanted a little, it's called a doit(ph) on the trumpet.

GROSS: A what?

Mr. CARPENTER: Doit or - I can't call it - it looks like doit when you mark it into the chart, D-O-I-T. It's just slang for - it's a little bend, and anyone who's familiar with the record will know when the trumpets - and it's all one fellow, by the way, named Chuck Finley(ph). He's one of the - is one of the top players in town, and then I had him triple it. So there are three of him overdubbed, playing in unison. But I wanted (humming) that.

But it was difficult to get because I say originally, we had, for the sweetening, the orchestra and all that, three trumpets, and they were all top-notch players. But when it came to that little doit, each one interpreted it differently. So it was a little bit of a train wreck every time they played it. So ultimately, of course, as I said, it needed to be done three times but by the same trumpeter.

GROSS: Okay, so the doits would synch up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of humming)

GROSS: All right, so�

Mr. CARPENTER: But little things like that mean a lot. You know, little things mean a lot, as the old song goes, and they do.

GROSS: Okay, so let's hear "Close to You" by the Carpenters. My guest is Richard Carpenter.

Mr. CARPENTER: Doit and all.

(Soundbite of song, "Close to You")

Ms. CARPENTER: (Singing) Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near? Just like me, they long to be close to you. Why do stars fall down from the sky every time you walk by? Just like me, they long to be close to you. On the day that you were born, the angels got together and decided to create a dream come true. So they sprinkled moon dust in your hair and gold and starlight in your eyes of blue. That is why all the girls in town follow you all around. Just like me, they long to be close to you.

GROSS: Okay, so there's the trumpet solo with the doit that�


(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Richard Carpenter was describing. Let's skip ahead to the end of the track and get to the harmonies that you were describing.

(Soundbite of song, "Close to You")

Mr. and Ms. CARPENTER: (Singing) Close to you. Close to you.

GROSS: That's the signature harmonies at the end of "Close to You." Richard Carpenter, is that your voice and Karen Carpenter's voice overdubbed many times?

Mr. CARPENTER: Yes, Terry, it's a four-part harmony, and it's tripled. So obviously, it's 12 vocal parts, 12 voices.

GROSS: So you're obviously a big fan of overdubbing.


GROSS: Part of it sounds like it was practical, but aesthetically, what did you like about overdubbing?

Mr. CARPENTER: Oh, aesthetically - it's not even practical. I mean, I know what you're saying, but it's the sound. It's just something that caught my ear when I was right around three years old and hear Les Paul and Mary Ford. That was overdubbed. Mary Ford's - well, of course, the guitars were, too, but the vocals, talking about on "Tiger Rag" and "How High the Moon."

And even as a little boy, of course, my ears were always attuned to melody and arrangements and music in general and records. Because Patti Page was overdubbing at the time, as well, say with "With My Eyes Open, I'm Dreaming" or "Tennessee Waltz," but her harmonies were one voice per harmony, where Mary Ford's were at least two for the same part, if not more. And see, as a kid, I heard the difference even then because it's the overdubbed sound in addition to what's being overdubbed that got to me.

And of course, I had no idea, along with just about the rest of the world, how it was done. I remember asking my mom, how does she do it, and how does Mary Ford do it? And it reminded of what I later learned, the old joke about how do you get to Carnegie Hall, and she said - I said how does she do it? Mom said -because mom didn't know. She said, well, she practices.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: And I would go around the house, trying to get my voice to - no kidding. So when I later found out how to do it�

GROSS: You thought that you could create two voices at the same time and sing a harmony with yourself?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: Well, you know, I was a little kid. It's my mom, you know, the world's authority on just about everything. So I said, years later, when I learned how it was done, Karen and I took right to it because, well, obviously, we're - among other things, we were born to do that.

GROSS: My guest is Richard Carpenter. The Carpenters 40th-anniversary anthology is called "40/40." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Richard Carpenter, and there's a new Carpenters collection, commemorating the 40th anniversary of their signing to A&M Records, where they had their first hit, "Close to You." The new collection is called "40/40," 40 tracks on the 40th anniversary. Now, you were born in '46, 1946?

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, October of '46.

GROSS: So you're growing up just kind of on the cusp of, like, the Perry Como pop era and the Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry rock �n' roll era. So�

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, it was a marvelous time.

GROSS: You got both.

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, most people my age, who weren't so into radio and records and songs and all that didn't really listen until - I mean, born around the time I was, until the rock 'n' roll thing started to come to the surface, you know, '55, '6 especially, '7 and on. See, I was different in that between my father's record collection, which was quite eclectic, and listening to the radio, I grew up with all this stuff. You know, I was listening - I remember the first record I wanted, that I pestered my parents for, was "Mule Train."

GROSS: Frankie Laine. Is that Frankie Laine?

Mr. CARPENTER: Frankie Laine, and when I look back - I still have it. They bought it. It was my first record in a 78, and I looked at the charts years later. Well, that was late '49, which would have meant I'd just turned three years old.

GROSS: Didn't that actually have whips on it?

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah. But you see, that caught my�

GROSS: Of course.

Mr. CARPENTER: I was listening to the radio at three years old. That's what I mean. So I grew up with Guy Mitchell and Patti Page and Les Paul and Mary Ford, Jo Stafford, Perry Como, a lot of terrific records, along with the burgeoning RB, you know, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.

GROSS: And did you like that?

Mr. CARPENTER: I liked it both. That's what I mean. I liked all of it. It was a magic time because, say, in '56 alone, you could have - and it was - one bumped the other out of number one. Through the years I've lost the chronology, but both on RCA, one was "Hot Diggity" by Perry Como. The other was "Heartbreak Hotel" by Elvis. And one was number one, the other was two and bumped the one. I can't remember whether Elvis bumped out Perry, or Perry bumped out Elvis, but that shows you how much of a variety there was on Top 40 radio at the time, and I think it was absolutely terrific.

GROSS: So, wait. Now, when you started performing with your sister, Karen Carpenter, you were doing jazz before you were, you know, doing pop. And give us a sense of the material that you were doing as teenagers.

Mr. CARPENTER: Well, it was light jazz because, really, I'm not a born jazzer by any stretch of the imagination. But I just liked jazz, well, and Karen was a drummer and had met a fellow in college named Wes Jacobs(ph), who played bass and actually was a tuba major. And we put together a trio and ended up in the finals of the Hollywood Bowl battle of the bands in 1966, June of '66.

GROSS: Your sister Karen played drums and sang. Were people surprised when you started performing to see a female drummer, particularly a female drummer who also sang?

Mr. CARPENTER: Well, yeah, back then, female drummers were not quite as - there weren't quite as many as there are now. So it was really�

GROSS: That's an understatement.

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, I imagine it is an understatement. And yeah, well, she sang, as well. Karen, she was gifted, and so she could not only sing beautifully while playing the drums, I say, she did it all. So that's four things going on just with the drums, you know, the - both feet and both hands, and then on top of it, she was singing. And she could do the drum fills while she was singing ballads, and it wouldn't affect her voice whatsoever.

GROSS: Did she really want to sing or did you have to kind of push her in that direction?

Mr. CARPENTER: Well, Karen - well, at first, I'd say she was - well, she was always interested in drumming, I mean, from the time she first developed an interest. It never really waned, her interest. But of course, her voice was still coming into its own at this time. But yeah, I had to, to answer your question, I had to push her.

She always - she loved music. I say we lived in New Haven. We were born in New Haven, and homes back there, I'm sure you know if you're not from there even, from the Midwest and the East, they had basements. And dad had set up the music and the records and the sound and all in the basement. So I'd go down and listen a lot, and Karen would come down and listen to whatever I was listening to. But she had an innate feel for all this stuff, as well. But yeah, at first I had to coax her.

GROSS: So let's hear another track that's featured on this new collection. And I thought we'd hear "Goodbye to Love," which you co-wrote with your songwriting partner, John Bettis.

Mr. CARPENTER: That's right.

GROSS: Talk a little bit about how this song came together. You wrote the melody, he wrote the lyrics.

Mr. CARPENTER: Yes, that's right. Well, speaking of Bing Crosby, I was watching one of his films. It was called "Rhythm on the River," and in it, he played a ghost songwriter to the famous songwriter whose name I can't remember, but the actor who portrayed him was Basil Rathbone. And in the plot, the songwriter's most famous tune was called "Goodbye to Love," and you never heard a "Goodbye to Love" in this movie. They just referred to it. It was like his "Stardust," you know, and well, I thought, oh, a good name for a song. And I say I pictured the opening lines and the opening lyrics. So I wrote the�

Mr. CARPENTER: (Singing) I'll say goodbye to love. No one ever cares, I should live or die.

Mr. CARPENTER: Well, and then I wrote the rest of melody, and John finished the lyric, and that's what came to be.

GROSS: As a composer and arranger, you pull out all the stops on this. There's strings, harp, tambourine, overdubbed harmonies. So anything else you want to say that we should listen for before we hear it?

Mr. CARPENTER: No, not really. It's a very tricky melody, and Karen, again, her phrasing in the early parts especially sounded like she had three lungs' full, one breath�

GROSS: It is a tricky melody. Did you know that when you were writing it?

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, it's chromatic. Oh, sure.

GROSS: Like, what's going on there?

Mr. CARPENTER: I didn't say I am going to write a tricky melody. It's just what I heard. I say when I watched the movie, and "Goodbye to Love" got planted in my head, that's what I heard was�

Mr. CARPENTER: (Singing) I'll say goodbye to love. No one cared if I should live or die.

Mr. CARPENTER: That's not exactly in tune, but yeah, it's just what came out. I guess it's my years of listening to Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky and any number of other types of music. I think it's all, a little bit of everything in there.

GROSS: Well, it's a really great melody. So let's hear "Goodbye to Love" this is the Carpenters.

(Soundbite of song, "Goodbye to Love")

Ms. CARPENTER: (Singing) I'll say goodbye to love. No one ever cared if I should live or die. Time and time again, the chance for love has passed me by, and all I know of love is how to live without it. I just can't seem to find it.

So I've made my mind up. I must live my life alone, and though it's not the easy way, I guess I've always known I'd say goodbye to love. There are no tomorrows for this heart of mine. Surely time will lose these bitter memories, and I'll find that there is someone to believe in and to live for, something I could live for. All the years of useless searching finally reached an end. Loneliness and empty days will be my only friend. From this day love is forgotten, I'll go on as best I can.

GROSS: Richard Carpenter will be back in the second half of the show. The new 40th-anniversary Carpenters anthology featuring 40 of their tracks is called "40/40." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Richard Carpenter. With his sister, Karen, he formed the duo The Carpenters. Karen died in 1983 of complications from anorexia. Karen sang and played drums, Richard chose the songs, co-wrote some of them, did the arrangements, played piano and sang harmony.

They had big hits in the 70's like: "Close to You," "Rainy Days and Mondays," "We've Only Just Begun," "Goodbye to Love," "Yesterday Once More," and "Superstar." This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Carpenters signing with A&M Records. To mark the occasion, a Carpenters collection featuring 40 of their recordings has been released called "40/40."

Before you were signed to A&M Records where you had your first hit, "Close to You," you were signed with RCA Records where you had nothing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: Well...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: They kind of got rid of you pretty quickly. Didn't they just like buy out your contract?

Mr. CARPENTER: Well, yeah, yeah. But let me explain. I understand why they did it, you know, getting back to the battle of the bands at the Hollywood Bowl. It was a big deal back then. It was many years at this - it was sponsored by the LA Parks and Recreation Department. It was a big deal and they had - well, I mean it was sold out every year, they had name judges. So record labels - I didn't know this at the time - but would send out A&R men to keep their ears open for any new talent.

So at the end - I say Karen and I, the trio, we won. We won several things. So we're walking out and a fellow comes up, wants to know if we'd be interested in recording. The long and short of it is his name was Neely Plumb - P-l-u-m-b, and I knew that name anyway because again, as I said, I looked for credits, song writer credits, producers, all that stuff on records that I'd buy.

The soundtrack to "Bye Bye Birdie" from '63 on RCA and Neely produced that. �Loved The Sons of the Pioneers and I had their "Cool Water" LP, I believe from '59 and he had produced that. I knew his name. And he wanted to know, as I said, if we were interested in recording. What I could say? Oh no?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: What he was picturing, because I said, the one piece featured Wes on tuba and he thought maybe, rock tuba.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: So, again, long story short, we - they signed us. We were signed because Neely was the head of A&R West Coast RCA. He assigned us a producer of whom they just hired name Rick Gerard. And so we met with him and two of the acts that he - just been assigned, having come on board with RCA were the Richard Carpenter Trio and Jefferson Airplane.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: But I love the story of how you're signed and then they realize well, you're not going to make it in the age of like psychedelic music, and then Jefferson Airplane, you know, you're not right for the label and what they're putting out. So then you end up with was it with your bass player getting a job at Disney's Main Street USA? Oh this is with John Bettis, your song co-writer.

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: So you get a job at Disney's Main Street USA at a place called Coke Corner and I've seen a picture of you playing there.


GROSS: And you were both wearing, you know, like the old trad Dixieland kind of restaurant costume of...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...of like the brimmed hat...

Mr. CARPENTER: Well, yeah.

GROSS: ...and the garter on your arm.

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah. It's a - yeah...

GROSS: Very corny.

Mr. CARPENTER: ...it's a straw hat and it's...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CARPENTER: Well, it's really not corny because, as you know, especially if you've ever worked there, you're part of a cast.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. CARPENTER: And you're supposed to, well, be true to the period you're representing. So Main Street USA was - well, it's now turn of last century, but at the time it was turn of the century America - and so all the people who work at the shops and all, they're dressed in period-correct garb.

And if you picture, say, your quintessential or stereotypical barbershop quartet, that's what it was. You know, it was a brocaded vest, long sleeves, garter in the arm, a straw hat, and you were supposed to play pieces that existed at this point in time.

GROSS: Which was what? What was your repertoire there?

Mr. CARPENTER: Well, on "The Sidewalks of New York" and "By the Light of the Silvery Moon," and a lot of sing-able old songs like that. We didn't do what we were supposed to and people would come in - I mean we'd do a lot of that and there were cards with lyrics to these songs on the table so if people wanted to sing along. It was very much the way Shakey's Pizza parlor...

GROSS: That's exactly what I was thinking of.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah. That's - and I don't know which one was the chicken and which was the egg, whether it was Shakey's or Disney, but that's what it was like. And...

GROSS: Shakey's was like a sing-a-long pizza parlor where there'd be like, you know, old fashioned songs that...


GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CARPENTER: Banjo and piano and oh yeah. But see, what we did, which we certainly shouldn't have, was answer requests from all the folks who would come in for newer songs - like "Somewhere My Love" was pretty new at the time and "Yesterday." And well, this was what turned out to be when we played there the Summer of Love 1967. So "Light My Fire" was one of the big ones and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: ...kids would come in saying can you play "Light My Fire?" I'd say sure. But...

GROSS: This is great. You're playing "Light My Fire" in the straw hat and the brocaded vase...

Mr. CARPENTER: That's the thing...

GROSS: ...vest and the garter belt and the garter around your arm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: And of course...

(Soundbite of clearing voice)

Mr. CARPENTER: ...we weren't I understand, those songs didn't exist then. See, we were supposed to do what we were told is what we were supposed to do and we didn't. So it's a wonder we stayed there as long as we did before we were shown the door.

GROSS: My guest is Richard Carpenter. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest Richard Carpenter and there's a new Carpenters collection called "40/40," 40 tracks on the 40th anniversary of the Carpenters signing to A&M Records.

Some people thought of the Carpenters as just kind of like, old fashion pop or even corny pop. And then you get somebody coming along like the band Sonic Youth, which takes a song that the Carpenters made famous "Superstar," puts a totally different spin on it, musically, and I wonder what you thought of that?

Mr. CARPENTER: Well, I have to speak to this corny thing.

GROSS: Yeah, do. Do. Do.

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah. It's traditional American pop...

GROSS: And, can I make a confession to you?

Mr. CARPENTER: ...is what it is and...

GROSS: Okay.

Mr. CARPENTER: ...you know they're ignoramuses who say that. Okay?

GROSS: Okay, I'm going to make a confession to you here, okay? I used to think that you guys were really corny, and it took me a while to really like hear what was so good about, you know, the melodies, the arrangements, her singing. I mean, so it took me around to come around. I'll confess. But, so do you know the Sonic Youth version which was also referred to in the movie "Juno?"

Mr. CARPENTER: Yes I do.

GROSS: What'd you think of it?

Mr. CARPENTER: I don't like it.

GROSS: Why don't you like it?

Mr. CARPENTER: Why would I like it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Yeah.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: At least when it comes to something like this, I will say I don't care for it but I don't understand it. So, I'm not going to say it's good or it's bad. I'm just going to say I don't care for it.

GROSS: Should we play a little bit of it so our listeners can hear what we're talking about?

Mr. CARPENTER: Oh sure, lets.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I see you're really enthusiastic. Okay. Just give me the liberty to do this so what we're talking about makes some sense to listeners. And Sonic Youth is a kind of like Indie noise band.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: See, the - oh, dear.

GROSS: So here's - in fact, why won't we just play them both back-to-back so we get to hear you too. So here's the Carpenters and Sonic Youth doing "Superstar."

(Soundbite of song, "Superstar")

THE CARPENTERS (Musical Group): (Singing) Long ago and oh so far away I fell in love with you before the second show. Your guitar, it sounds so sweet and clear. But you're not really here. It's just the radio. Don't you remember you told me you loved me baby? You said you'd be coming back this way again, baby. Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh, baby, I love you I really do.

(Soundbite of song, "Superstar")

Mr. THURSTON MOORE (Musician, Sonic Youth): (Singing) Loneliness is a such a sad affair. And I can hardly wait to be with you again. What to say to make you come again. Come back to me again. And play your sad guitar. Don't you remember you told me you loved me baby? You said you'd be coming back this way again, baby. Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh, baby, I love you I really do. Don't you remember you told me you loved me baby?

GROSS: That's the Carpenters and the Sonic Youth take on "Superstar." My guest is Richard Carpenter and there's 40 Carpenters tracks on a new anthology which is called "40/40" released on the 40th anniversary of their signing to A&M Records.

There's some tracks on this - there's a bunch of tracks on this anthology that I didn't know existed, and one of them that I'd especially like to play is call "Now." And this was recorded late in your sister's life, in around 1982 and you did a mix after she died in '83. It's a really beautiful recording and maybe you could talk a little bit about this recording, why you chose to do it?

Mr. CARPENTER: Oh yeah, it's a - "Now" is a piece by Roger Nichols, a melody writer who wrote "We've Only Just Begun," "Rainy and Mondays," "I Won't Last a Day Without You" among others, and it's a piece we did in April of 1982. It's what's called a work lead, a lead that the singer would put on as the tracking musicians - in this case, the bass and drummer - the bass and then the drummer could hear how it - rather than just look at a chart with chord changes and all, you could hear how the melody goes. And then it would be replaced with a master lead at - well, at a future date. But Karen sang these things so well that, you know - the scratch lead works just dandy.

So originally, it was just a bass, piano and drums accompaniment and Karen's lead, and then in the coming months I finished the chart and mixed it. And yeah, it's a really pretty song and Karen sings it. Well, she sings it beautifully.

GROSS: And she does. So let's hear it. This is "Now" and it's featured on the new Carpenters anthology "40/40."

(Soundbite of song, "Now")

THE CARPENTERS: (Singing) Now, now when it rains I don't feel cold. Now that I have your hand to hold the wind might blow through me but I don't care. There's no harm in thunder if you are there. And now, now when we touch my feelings fly. Now when I'm smiling I know why. You light up my world like the morning sun. You're so deep within me we're almost one. And now all the fears that I had start to fade. I was always afraid love might forget me. Love might let me down. Then look who I found.

GROSS: That's The Carpenters and it's featured on the new Carpenters anthology, �40/40.� My guest is Richard Carpenter. Do you think your sister Karen realized what a good voice she had or do you think because it was such a natural thing for her, that she just took it for granted and didn't understand what a gift she had?

Mr. CARPENTER: I've have been asked that, plenty, and I've thought about it, plenty. Karen, at once, could realize that she could do just about anything vocally. And when it came to recording, as far as punching in or anything, she just knew, both of us knew, we can do that. So, to me, Karen, at once, both knew just what an instrument she possessed and a gift, at the same time, I don't really know. I tend to think - no. It's very hard - it's hard for me to answer, I'll tell you, Terry.

GROSS: I can understand that.

Mr. CARPENTER: And, you know, being human we do tend to take things for granted. So, I honestly can't answer that one. I've tried.

GROSS: All right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: I mean, I've tried before - not quite certain.

GROSS: One of your really famous recordings we've only just begun - countless people have marched down the isle to that. The song - from the story I've read, the story�

Mr. CARPENTER: For good or ill.

GROSS: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: The song was originally - at least the melody was going up to be a jingle for a bank advertising campaign in California. So�

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, it was a lyric, it was a lyric, too. It - we've only just begun. It was�

GROSS: That was the lyric the bank ad?

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, yeah. It was�

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, it's a very effective ad. It was a soft sell. It was for the Crocker Bank. It was written by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams, specifically for this campaign. And, yeah, it showed a young couple. It was all - it was filmed and had that gauzy look to it and you saw the rice being thrown, and then they drive off into the evening. And as they're driving into the sunset - big sun - into the sunset, the Chyron came up and I can't remember whether a voiceover or whether it just the Chyron, but you've only just begun, let us help you get there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: Crocker.

GROSS: It's great.

Mr. CARPENTER: The Crocker Bank. I mean, it's very effective commercial and I heard that a couple of times and I'm saying well, I knew them well as by Nichols and Williams because I recognize Paul's voice. And I thought, if the song is a whole song, because I said, you don't hear the whole thing on the commercial, I think, done the right way. It's a hit.

GROSS: So, you suggested recording it.

Mr. CARPENTER: And boy was I right about that. Oh, yeah.


Mr. CARPENTER: That's my idea. That's what I say, you know, that's�

GROSS: You can recognize a hit.

Mr. CARPENTER: One of my talents is - at least used to be - recognizing a diamond in the rough, as it were. And, boy, and it became the wedding song of a generation, my goodness.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: It worked very well for our harmonies as well as Karen's lead. And it was a nice combination of more - softer pop at times and then a little more edge to it and rhythm in the bridge. I had brass stabs and the vocals going on. And I like the together - when I first heard the demo - bridge ends with together. And right then in there, �for I got it to the piano, I thought second time we're going to sing together, and then go up and together. I mean, it's an arranger's dream - that song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Thank you so much for coming on FRESH AIR. Really appreciate it. Thank you, Richard Carpenter.

Mr. CARPENTER: Oh, sure, Terry, thank you.

GROSS: Richard Carpenter was one half of The Carpenters with his sister, Karen. A CD collection was recently released featuring 40 tracks commemorating the 40th anniversary of The Carpenter signing on A&M Records. It's called, �40/40.�

(Soundbite of song, �We've Only Just Begun�)

Ms. CARPENTER: (Singing) We've only just begun to live, white lace and promises. A kiss for luck and we're on our way. And yes, we've just begun. Before the rising sun we fly, so many roads to choose. We start our walking and learn to run. And yes, we've just begun. Sharing horizons that are�


Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.