The Carpenters' 10 greatest songs ever, ranked

14 October 2021, 13:28

The Carpenters: Richard Carpenter and Karen Carpenter
The Carpenters: Richard Carpenter and Karen Carpenter. Picture: Getty

By Mayer Nissim

Brother and sister duo Richard and Karen Carpenter were one of the greatest musical partnerships of all time.

As The Carpenters, siblings Richard and Karen Carpenter released an incredible ten albums in just 12 years from 1969 to 1981, before Karen's tragic death two years later.

Each was packed with classic songs, showing off Richard's remarkable song-spotting, arranging and songwriting talent and Karen's beautiful vocals.

Richard celebrates his 75th birthday on Friday (October 15), so it's the perfect time to celebrate his work with the ultimate Carpenters playlist.

  1. Hurting Each Other

    While Richard Carpenter was a great songwriter in his own right, his writing skill was matched by his ability to hear an existing song or demo and transform it into a hit which no-one else would have seen coming.

    'Hurting Each Other' was first performed by Jimmy Clanton in 1965, having been written by Gary Geld and Peter Udell, and was covered by The Walker Brothers and Ruby & the Romantics before The Carpenters made it their own.

    Richard and Karen took a lead from the Romantics' version, and released their take in 1971, as a single from A Song For You. A gorgeous performance, it was only kept off the top of the Billboard Hot 100 by Harry Nilsson's 'Without You'.

  2. Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft (The Recognized Anthem Of World Contact Day)

    Another cover, but a very different one altogether. 'Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft' was originally released by Klaatu on the album 3:47 EST in 1976.

    The Carpenters version was just as wacky as the original, and with 160 musicians involved in the recording, it appeared on their Passage album.

    "Initially I did not think of this track as a single, but coincidentally, Star Wars had been released, and was all the rage, not long after we recorded '...Occupants...'," Richard later explained. "As a result, I allowed myself to be persuaded into releasing an edited version as a single. "

  3. Only Yesterday

    A Richard Carpenter original (written with John Bettis), 'Only Yesterday' was a number 4 hit and one of many standouts from the Horizon album.

    It didn't do as well as their previous single, the chart-topping cover of 'Please Mr Postman', but in truth, it's a much more interesting, much more Carpenters single.

    It showcases that unique mix of Richard's compositional skill and Karen's remarkable voice, which perfectly captures the shift from misery ("Everyone must face their share of loneliness") to the redemption of love ("You showed me the way to leave the past and all its tears behind me").

  4. I Won't Last a Day Without You

    Paul Williams and Roger Nichols had already given The Carpenters' 'We've Only Just Begun' and 'Rainy Days and Mondays' when Richard heard their 'I Won't Last A Day Without You', and he yoinked it for the A Song For You album in 1972.

    One of the group's umpteen Easy Listening number ones, it also reached number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100.

  5. It's Going To Take Some Time

    Written by Carole King and Toni Stern for King's own 1971 album Music, the Carpenters didn't actually take any time to knock out their own version, putting it out the following year on their A Song For You album, and also scoring a number 12 hit single with it.

  6. We've Only Just Begun

    Another Paul Williams and Roger Nichols number given to Richard and Karen, 'We've Only Just Begun' has maybe the quirkiest backstory of any Carpenters' hit.

    The song was first heard on a TV advert for the Crocker National Bank in California, featuring songwriter Williams on vocals, with the hope of attracting young people to the bank. The only problem was that the young customers attracted didn't actually have the collateral to guarantee the loans (the bank should have probably thought of that...).

    The campaign was suspended, but not before Richard heard the song and cornered Williams, who gave him the rest of the song (another verse and bridge), and he and Karen put it out as a follow-up to 'Close To You', scoring a second #2 hit in a row.

  7. Yesterday Once More

    Written by Richard Carpenter himself, together with John Bettis, 'Yesterday Once More' appeared on the duo's 1973 album Now & Then.

    On the album, the song was an 18 minute, whole-side, epic that started with the original song and segued into a medley of eight early 1960s hits, including The Beach Boys 'Fun Fun Fun', The Crystals 'Da Doo Ron Ron', and 'The Night Has A Thousand Eyes'.

    "The oldies were enjoying a resurgence in popularity during the early ’70s, much to Karen’s and my delight," Richard said. "I thought it would be nice to write a song about this, and use the piece to bookend the oldies medley."

    It worked, and the single version of the track went to number 2.

  8. Rainy Days and Mondays

    Written by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams and given to Richard in a stack of demos. 'Rainy Days and Mondays' opened the band's third album Carpenters and scored them one of their many number two singles in the States (only Carole King's 'It's Too Late'/'I Feel the Earth Move' kept it off the top).

    "Hangin' around / Nothin' to do but frown /Rainy days and Mondays always get me down" – you don't get more universal than that.

  9. Superstar

    Written by Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell and originally recorded as 'Groupie (Superstar)' by Delaney & Bonnie and Friends Featuring Eric Clapton, Richard Carpenter was inspired to rework it after hearing Bette Midler's version on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

    A quick lyrics tweak (from "sleep with you" to "be with you") made it a bit more Carpenters-like, it features a stunning vocal performance from Karen took the song all the way to #2 in the US charts.

  10. (They Long to Be) Close to You

    Written by songwriting icons Burt Bacharach and Hal David, The Carpenters' version of 'They Long To Be (Close To You)' is the best-known version of this absolute classic.

    It had previously been released by Richard Chamberlain in 1963, Dionne Warwick in 1964, and Dusty Springfield in 1967, but none of these superstars could make it the hit that Richard and Karen pulled off.

    '(They Long to Be) Close to You' featured on their second album Close To You and topped the Billboard Hot 100, and Richard rightly called it the turning point in their career. You can hear why

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