Rock Flashback: Karen Carpenter

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The Carpenters had a logo before logos were cool.

The Carpenters had a logo before logos were cool.

Talk about bad timing: [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Karen Carpenter[/lastfm] came along about 20 years too late.

If Karen Carpenter, possessor of the closest thing to a perfect female voice, had emerged in the early 1950s, an era when great singers ruled the charts, she might have been one of the superstars of the age. But she and her brother [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Richard Carpenter[/lastfm] began making their records in the late ’60s, when technical perfection had ceased to be particularly important for singers. That voice made her a bit of an anachronism, but it powered a string of memorable hit songs nevertheless.

Between 1970 and 1972, [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]the Carpenters[/lastfm] hit the top 3 with six straight releases. Stretch that time frame to cover 1970 through 1975, and the tally is 12 top-10 hits, three of which went to #1: “Close to You” in 1970, “Top of the World” in 1973, and “Please Mr. Postman” early in 1975. They would not return to the top 10 after 1975, although they continued to chart into 1982.

By 1975, Karen was already struggling with anorexia. She weighed as little as 90 pounds, and concert audiences were occasionally shocked by her appearance. A lucrative British concert tour had to be canceled that fall because doctors would not permit her to go. She continued to struggle with anorexia for the rest of her life; at one point, her weight fell near 80. She married in 1980, but the marriage failed; she abused laxatives and thyroid medication trying to keep her weight down. She was hospitalized and treated by therapists during the last months of her life, and gained nearly 30 pounds. But on February 4, 1983, Karen Carpenter died of a heart attack, a complication of her anorexia. She was 32.

Read an excerpt from a biography of Karen Carpenter here. Then listen to “Superstar,” which went to #2 in the fall of 1971, performed live on TV that year.


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