Karen and Richard Carpenter already had something special as a talented brother and sister vocal and instrumental duo. “Something special” became something extraordinary as soon as Karen Carpenter opened her mouth to sing. Loved by millions around the world, “Rolling Stone” ranked her No. 94 on its list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, in which one of her legendary peers, Sir Elton John, called her “one of the greatest voices of our lifetime.”
The thing about Karen Carpenter’s voice is that it's magically haunting and soothing, captivating and mysterious, light and dark. She engages listeners and draws them into an intimate space to hold what equates to a close conversation with a cherished friend.
Though many people get confused about the name, the siblings intentionally left a "The" from preceding their name, wanting to be known simply as "Carpenters." Carpenters songs resonate with all kinds of emotion including happiness, sorrow, longing, loss and love. During a career that spanned 14 years they recorded 11 albums and 31 singles which spawned three Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 singles, 5 No. 2 singles and 15 Adult Contemporary No. 1 hits.
When Karen Carpenter died tragically in 1983, a light went out in the music world that can never be replaced. At just 32-years-old, Karen left a legacy of music that might take others 20 more years to produce. Friends, fans and industry peers alike still mourn her loss and take comfort in the beautiful songs that she left as a parting gift to the world. Here is a look at 10 of the best songs in the Carpenters exquisite collection.
10. “For All We Know”
This song about the promise of love when everything is new was originally written for the 1970 film “Lovers and Other Strangers” by founding members of Bread. Richard Carpenter was a huge Bread fan and decided they should do a cover of it. The Carpenters version went to No. 1 on U.S. Billboard Easy Listening chart and was the duo’s third gold single. Karen notably plays drums while singing the song.
9. “Goodbye to Love”
Like so many of their songs, this one is just so beautiful and sad. The terrible irony is in the first two lines: “I’ll say goodbye to love/No one ever cared if I should live or die.” Little did Karen know she would leave the world much too soon and how much she would be missed.
8. “I Won’t Last a Day Without You”
Penned by Carpenters’ frequent collaborator, Paul Williams, the chorus of this song may be one of the best choruses in songwriting history. “When there’s no getting over that rainbow/When the smallest of dreams won’t come true/I can take all the madness the world has to give/But I won’t last a day without you.” It’s about that one person in life who is there above all others; the one who stands strong in good times and bad. We’re reminded to cherish them in this wonderful song.
This song remains a cherished holiday classic to date. It’s impossible not to get into the holiday spirit when listening to Karen Carpenter’s angelic voice glide through wistful song about missing a loved one at Christmas.
6. “Yesterday Once More”
So many Carpenters songs conjure strong emotion. This one is a prime example. Who can resist waxing nostalgic right along with Karen about treasured songs from the past? This song marks another in a long list of Carpenters tunes that can easily invoke tears for the tender-hearted. The “Sha-la-la-la and Shing – a-ling-a-ling” chorus is also beautifully harmonized and fun to sing.
Paul Williams nails “the blues” perfectly in the lyrics to this sad but highly-relatable song. A bright spot comes when Karen sings “Funny but it seems I always wind up here with you/Nice to know somebody loves me.” The 1971 release was the first track on the Carpenters self-titled album and it became their fourth No. 1 single on the Adult Contemporary Singles chart.
4. “Top of the World”
So many Carpenters songs are melancholy and the great thing about “Top of the World” is that it’s a happy, upbeat song about love-induced euphoria. The Carpenters version was a cover of a Lynn Anderson song and it became the duo’s second Billboard No. 1 in 1973.
This song (also penned by Paul Williams) remains one of the Carpenters’ most iconic and hopeful to date. The picture it paints of the promise of the future for a couple on their wedding day is so romantic and makes a perfect wedding ceremony song. It peaked at No. 2 on Billboard Hot 100.
There is just something about the story and the entire aura of this song that brings goose bumps. She sings about an ill-fated crush or love affair with a musician. The longing in the unforgettable chorus cuts to the core.
This song is the breakout song of the Carpenters’ career, with its single becoming their first No. 1 hit. It’s romantic and fun and anyone who’s had a starry-eyed crush on someone can relate to Karen’s soft yet emphatic pining for the object of her affection. Plus, the harmonies and backing vocals are superb.