I have to walk softly around Karen Carpenter, lest I get something opened to the bone.
I’m of the Seventies–different than having merely lived through them, though that was trial enough. So between her and, say, Johnny Rotten, I never was confused about which one was an eminently reliable Show-Biz Lifer and which one was being ridden by a Hellhound. Not even lingering memories of an overdose of “Rainy Days and Mondays” in Junior High Chorus could make it otherwise. (The other biggie, circa the fall of 1972, was Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again Naturally,” a cheery paean to Suicide evidently deemed suitable for seventh-graders. No idea if that teacher ever suffered a reprimand, let alone offed himself. “The Seventies,” for those who are neither of them nor old enough to even remember, was a time of some extremely weird Ju-Ju.)
That being said, I didn’t necessarily love a lot of the Carpenters’ records. The need to fence the female voice in takes a lot of different forms and brother Richard’s preferred method–perhaps a bit too ably aided and abetted by massive public acclaim–was to ladle on tastefully muted instrumental touches and needlessly cushy vocal overdubs. Over time, even his melodies got a bit sing-songy for my tastes.
Those elements aren’t entirely gone here, by any means, but this BBC concert from 1971 is still a godsend–early days with just enough of the sheen knocked off, just enough of the time, for the Voice to truly take hold in front of an audience that clearly knows what it’s getting.
And, somewhere in there, she absolutely kills “Rainy Days and Mondays.”