Time changes perspective, however, and Carpenters have received significant critical reassessment over the past decade. And the reason, put simply, is the music. In a 2008 Rolling Stone magazine list of “Greatest 100 Singers of All Time,” Elton John called Karen Carpenter "one of the greatest voices of our lifetime," and Madonna has said she is "completely influenced by her harmonic sensibility," whatever that means. The Rolling Stone entry continued, “Impossibly lush and almost shockingly intimate, Carpenter's performances were a new kind of torch singing, built on understatement and tiny details of inflection that made even the sappiest songs sound like she was staring directly into your eyes.” Carpenters’ influence extends to many, including Sonic Youth, The Cranberries, Belle & Sebastian, Sheryl Crow, French electronica maestros, AIR, and, yes, even Daft Punk, to name a few.
And between 1969 and 1973, the Carpenters released an album a year with virtually no missteps. Nestled in the middle of this creative peak was A Song For You in 1972. That album alone contained six of the duo’s 25 hit singles (e.g., “Top Of The World,” “Hurting Each Other,” It’s Going To Take Some Time,” etc.), including the Oscar-nominated, "Bless The Beasts And The Children," but the singles were only half the fun.A Song For You
also holds some of the best musical moments the duo ever created. Specifically, the album kicks off on a high point with the oft-covered Leon Russell title track. Originally intended as a concept album of sorts, the Russell song is reprised to bookend the album, thats lyric, in hindsight, is simply heartbreaking. Another standout track, “Road Ode,” is a stark mediation on celebrity and life on the road (written on tour a year earlier by Carpenters band members after a concert at Southern Illinois University). The song hinted at the siblings’ disappointing personal lives and foreshadowed the tragedy ahead. The solitary throwaway track was the one lead vocal by Richard, “Piano Picker,” a cheerful ditty about being nerdy and learning to play the piano; it’s not terrible, just unnecessary.
But the crowning moment of this record for me is the single, “I Won’t Last A Day Without You.” In just under four minutes, it delivers the quintessential elements of a classic Carpenters record. Opening on a somber note, with a solitary piano and Karen’s milk chocolate voice, at once wistful and joyful, the song ends with the group’s trademark multi-layered vocal harmonies. So great the song, in fact, that it rose all the way to number 11 on the pop charts a full two years after the album’s release and after three subsequent single releases from the next album the following year (Now and Then). The album, and Carpenters, seemed unstoppable that year, and the American public just kept returning to this essential album for more. Some of us still do.