Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Guilty Pleasures Pt1


Oh Boy! This is going to be ugly. Those of a sensitive disposition may wish to look away now.

Trawling around in some of the more musically orientated blogs, it seems that the flavour of the month is to list out your musical guilty pleasures so that we can either furtively agree or laugh helplessly and roll around on the floor at the sheer bad taste. This confessional entails revealing those artists, bands or individual songs that by common consent are so bad or uncool or both that most people with even a modicum of nous wouldn’t go near them with a conductor’s baton, but which are strangely attractive and may even hold a special place in your record collection. Yikes!

As one to jump on any bandwagon, I thought I would do something similar - but different. So instead of posting a list, I intend to do an occasional series relating to a single song/band/artist each time. In this, part 1, I confess to a sneaking regard for Karen Carpenter. See, I’ve done it now so there’s no going back.

Of course, as most people with any appreciation at all realise, the real problem with the Carpenters was their choice of material. Most of it was unbearably twee and just makes my toes curl to think of it. But a very small sample was different and it is here that I direct your attention. In particular I am thinking of ‘Goodbye to Love’ (obviously), ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’ and the cream of the crop, ‘Superstar’ – all of which were quite wonderful. The rest is unlistenable.

They are wonderful because the songs are half decent and Karen’s voice is at its best and it is at its best when in its lower register. This is the key to a good Carpenters song. When her voice rises into its middle and upper registers it sounds vaguely like most other female singers but in its lower register she is queen. The power, the control! It is a thing of beauty that no-one else can quite match. Just have a listen to ‘Superstar’ to hear how unique she is when the melody plunges down into the depths during the verse. There is no loss of power or volume – the sort of difficulties that afflict most other singers - just a rich reverberating sound that wraps around you and ...well..yes, exactly.

There is an innate sadness in that voice at low frequencies that is massively appealing and this is why tripe like ‘Jambalaya’ sung in her upper register is unbearably smug in the sort of way that campfire songs invariably are. They just scream ‘We’re all having a good time, aren’t we?’ Well, no, actually.

So there you have it. If I can still show my face and summon up the courage, I’ll be back with part 2 sometime in the future. In the meantime just thank God it isn’t you having to do this!

9 comments:

Perplexio said...

It's funny, you're the 2nd person with a music blog to mention the Carpenters. On Bloggerhythms, Charlie listed the Carpenters as his Ultimate Guilty Pleasure.

I feel about Peter Cetera kind of how you feel about Karen Carpenter-- great voice, but why does/did he choose to waste it on such saccharine drivel?

musicobsessive said...

Hi. Thanks for your comment. I know about Bloggerhythms - he beat me to it, but it is an odd coincidence nevertheless. I'm going to have to be a bit more subversive with my next choice!

The other thing about Pete Cetera is that no one remembers what an awesome bass player he was back in the good Chicago years (circa 1969-1972). He was one of my bass playing idols at the time and now all he is known for is soppy ballads! Oh well.

Perplexio said...

I agree! Cetera was a brilliant and underrated bass player. His talents on bass shine through on much of the band's earlier material but I think the album that really shows off his bass-playing talents the most is Chicago V. I'm not sure if this was because he was playing bass any better than he had on the previous albums or that maybe the bass tracks were mixed a little louder and thus more noticeable on V-- perhaps a combination of both factors.

Jayne Ferst said...

I think you have hit the nail on the head with Karen Carpenter's voice, that on the low notes there was an 'innate sadness' within her tone. Superstar, Rainy Days and Mondays, and I think Solitaire showcase this so well. I was also rather fascinated by their cover of Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft - it was so bizarre.

Gosh I will have to think about what could be classed as my musical guilty pleasures. What songs count - the sort you'd be embarrassed to request at a party? I'll think of a few by the time Part 2 rolls around!

musicobsessive said...

Yes, that's it. The sort of revelation that you furtively tell someone just as the room goes inexplicably quiet and everyone hears!

As to COOIC, I seem to remember that it runs to 6/7 minutes - does that make the Carpenters a progrock outfit?

TR1-Guy said...

Well, I was going to tell you that "Solitaire" was Karen's best song showcasing her sad, low voice, but someone beat me to it. I have only 2 Carpenter songs, that and "Good-bye to Love" because fo the upbeat ending. BTW, in an interview long ago, it was mentioned that GTL was Karen's favorite song as well.

I saw the Carpenters in 1977 (!) here in Chicago because the girl I was dating at the time liked them. They played exactly 45 minutes with no encore. Richard had this big mirror come down at one pont so you could see him play the piano... what an ego! Karen's microphone cord got caught on a drumset they had rolled out for her to play and nearly pulled her off stage. So, I did have a good time watching that.

And a HUGE YES to Cetera being a great bass player. No one mentions him but he was a mean bass player (I play one, so I guess that makes me a bit of an expert :) So please let's remember him for his bass playing and not those awful ballads he did.

Rock on folks.... :)

musicobsessive said...

Rats! I was going to take you to task for even thinking about going to a Carpenters gig (even for love!) but it does sound a complete riot - I almost wish I'd been there...almost!
I also agree with you about GTL - a great solo for us air guitarists.

Charlie said...

I can't beleive we came up with the same ULTIMATE guilty pleasure. It truly was a coincidence.

musicobsessive said...

What is that about great minds? I'll try and think a bit more laterally next time - I have a few ideas already.