Thursday, September 8, 2011

Carpenters Discography: Offering/Ticket to Ride (1969/1970)

Popped Density is a blog about favorites. And yet, I have never fully delved into my favorite band: The Carpenters. Well, folks, that's about to change. For the next few weeks (or let's face it, however long it takes...) I'll be analyzing the discography of the 70's most famous brother-sister soft rock duo. (And if you mention Donny and Marie to me, I'll shank you.)

First, a little history. Richard and Karen Carpenter were born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1946 and 1950, respectively. In 1963, the family moved to Downey, California. Richard had been playing the piano for years and went on to study music in college. While Karen was still in high school, she began playing drums in the school band. By 1966 Richard and Karen, along with a third man, formed a jazz trio that went on to win the Hollywood Battle of the Bands. The Richard Carpenter Trio, as they were then known, were signed to a small record label where Karen's voice was finally "discovered". The record label went kaput, but the Carpenters were allowed to use the studio to record demos which they sent to many record labels. Herb Alpert, one of the owners of A&M Records, liked the duo's unique sound and signed them.

In 1969, the Carpenters released their first album entitled Offering; a sometimes awkward collection of original easy listening ballads, experimental jazzy tunes, and a few covers of golden oldies (although not considered oldies quite yet). Needless to say, the album did quite poorly and the lone single, a cover of the Beatles' "Ticket to Ride" failed to crack the Top 50. However, after the booming success of their next album, Offering was re-released with a new cover and new title: Ticket to Ride.

1. Invocation
At first listen, the 1:02 opening track is far too religious for a pop/rock album. Karen Carpenter sings us a Messianic hymn beginning with: For those whose eyes would see/ Render them in faith to me... I must admit if I was a record buyer in 1969, I don't know if I would continue listening. (Plus, Karen looks sort of like a nun on the album cover). The melody and multi-track harmonies are gorgeous, though and "Invocation" breezes by so fast, you're already into the next song before the holy notions get to you.

2. Your Wonderful Parade
Um....about Richard's singing...on the earlier Carpenters' albums, Richard sang the lead on a few tracks. Given the fact that Karen Carpenter has the world's most beautiful voice*, this is seems ri-goddamn-diculous, but Richard wanted a piece of the pie. Regardless of the vocals "Your Wonderful Parade" is bitingly condescending take on suburban life replete with a marching band drum solo at the close.

3. Someday
"Your Wonderful Parade" fades into "Someday", the first ballad to showcase Karen's haunting and mournful voice. Bombastic and somewhat lush, this melodramatic song has Karen begging some guy to wait for her when she is ready to love.

4. Get Together
The first in long line of Carpenters cover songs. "Get Together" was originally a hit for The Youngbloods in 1969. You've probably heard it before during a "hippie montage" in some movie or TV show. Another Richard sings the lead songs but with a weird wavy pre-Autotune thing.

5. All of My Life
This is easily one of my favorite tracks off of Offering. It's a sweet little ballad, not too showy but not too throw-away. I think it would have been a great choice for a follow up single.

6. Turn Away
Richard sings a "I will let you go, but I'll be here waiting for you" song. Not a bad melody, but it needs Karen's lead.

7. Ticket to Ride
Out of all the Beatles songs to cover, I cannot fathom why Richard chose "Ticket to Ride". Nor can I fathom why he chose "Ticket to Ride" as their one and only single form this album. The song isn't terrible, but it pretty much sucks the life out of the far superior original. While The Beatles' version is fun and, for lack of a better word, rockin', this one takes itself far too seriously and is treated with the grandiloquence of chamber music.

8. Don't Be Afraid
" is a groovy thing/It knows how to make you sing/And it fills up your life with sunshine and joy..." Why can't they make songs like this anymore? Oh yeah...the cynicism.

9. What's the Use
A Richard song about being lazy and why that's okay.

10. All I Can Do
Ehhhhhh...jazz infused song about a dumped woman. Ehhhhhh....they can't all be winners.

11. Eve
Yes, yes, yes! Love this song! Apparently, it was inspired by an episode of Journey to the Unknown (a sort of Twilight Zone show) about a man who falls in love with a mannequin. The lyrics aren't as specific as all that and could be interpreted several ways; I choose to see it as a song about a famous young woman leading one life to the cameras and another in private. But that's just me...

12. Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing
Another cover. This time the Carpenters do Neil Young. And with all due respect to Neil, still I ask WTF? WHY THIS SONG, RICHARD, WHY?!? Don't get me wrong, the instrumentation is on par with the rest of the album, but seriously, WTF, RICHARD?

13. Benediction
"Unto you in the voice of love through the song we sing an offering..." and so bookends the Carpenters' first album.

Final Thoughts
It's a weird album. There's no way around it. It does not surprise me at all that Offering was a huge flop. The few Top 40 ready tracks were either ignored or unrecognized and only one single? Is that how they did it then? I mean, no wonder...

As a Carpenters fan, I can appreciate it for what it is, but while listening to the discography (as one often does for their favorite band) I can't help but rejoice after I get past this one. The good news is, it gets better. After Offering's disappointing sales, A&M was ready to pull the plug on the brother-sister duo. Luckily Herb Alpert decided to give them another chance.

Favorite Tracks: "Eve"; "Don't Be Afraid"; "All of My Life"

Okay Tracks: Everything else.

Not So Favorite Tracks: "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing"

1970 re-release with new album art.
* It's true.

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