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CarpentersTo the chagrin of my cooler friends (a sad and dwindling lot these days), I persist in defending The Carpenters (read more). Karen Carpenter, in particular, with her silky voice and impeccable phrasing, had much to offer all but the crustiest rocker, and her brother Richard was a veritable boy genius as a producer and arranger. Over the years, the duo released several Christmas singles (most notably "Merry Christmas Darling" in 1970) and two complete albums, Christmas Portrait (1978) and An Old-Fashioned Christmas (1986). Sadly - and much more so than on any of their regular albums - both LP's reflect Richard's predilection towards schmaltz more than Karen's remarkable vocal talents. Much of the latter record, in fact, was recorded after Karen's tragic death, and it features middle-of-the-road arrangements that would make Mitch Miller blush. But when Karen's voice is allowed to assume its rightful place in the spotlight, these records shine as brightly as any in the Carpenters' oeuvre.

That said, neither album has been issued intact on CD - at least, not in the U.S. Since the very beginning of the Carpenters' career, you see, Richard has been willing - eager, even - to fiddle with their catalog. He has relentlessly remixed, rearranged, and rerecorded songs in an effort to improve or modernize them - often with great success (cf. "Ticket To Ride"). With the Carpenters' holiday albums, Richard originally issued a "special edition" of Christmas Portrait in 1987, and it was a hybrid of the two LP's - a commercially rewarding move that infuriated Carpenters purists. Later, Richard compiled both albums in their entirety on Christmas Collection (1998), though not without some obvious amendments - much better, if less than perfect.

To Carpenters fans, Karen's legacy is sacrosanct. And, Richard Carpenter is no fool - he isn't about to deface his musical Mona Lisa. Besides, it's his music, too, and he can do what he wants. But all the knob twiddling in the world won't bring Karen back, and fans just want to remember these records the way they were. No crime there. Christmas Collection, with its white-bread choruses and elevator-ready orchestras (not to mention Richard's cavalier revisionism), tries even my patience. On a precious few songs, however, Karen's masterful singing cuts through such clutter like Rudolph's red nose on a foggy Christmas eve - and that will go down in history. [top of page]

Albums Albums


  • Do You Hear What I Hear? (1984)
  • Merry Christmas Darling (1970)
  • I'll Be Home For Christmas (1978)
  • Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (1978)
  • The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire) (1977)
  • Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (1974)
  • What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? (1984)

Further ListeningFurther Listening

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