August 18, 2021
Logo flashes on screen
Todd (VO): This episode is brought to you by SkillShare.
Video for Carpenters - "We've Only Just Begun"
Todd: Critical acclaim came too late for the Carpenters.
Karen Carpenter: We've only just begun to live
Todd (VO): They wouldn't get their due until roughly the '90s, well after Karen Carpenter's too young death from anorexia in 1983. By that point, thanks to the forces of nostalgia, a few key endorsements from celebrities like Sonic Youth and Madonna, and the emotional power of Karen's tragic life story, you no longer had to feel guilty for liking the Carpenters.
Todd: But that wasn't the case during their hey day.
Footage of Vietnam War protests near the Washington monument
Todd (VO): In the early '70s, as the Vietnam War raged and the kids got into protest music - acid rock, hard rock, hard funk, political soul - [clip of Carpenters - "Please Mr. Postman"] there was Richard and Karen Carpenter, the brother and sister duo who ruled the eternally disreputable easy listening genre.
Clip of Carpenters - "(They Long to Be) Close to You"
Karen & Richard: Wua-a-a-a
Elevator music, claimed the hipsters. Out of touch with their own generation. Soft music for soft people. Clean, wholesome, nauseating.
Clip of interview with Richard and Karen Carpenter
Richard: Critics that don't like us are...
Karen: Never - never not how we sing, but...
Richard: They're not - No, they only don't like what we stand for.
Todd (VO): Richard and Karen were aware of that image, and they hated it. [clip of "(They Long to Be) Close to You"] One reviewer noted, "Every time Karen and Richard are interviewed, they complain about cynical old music critics who put them down for being wholesome and clean. Sometimes they get so worked up on the subject that they let out with something like, [whiny voice] 'Gosh darn those old smarty-pantses, anyway.'"
Video for Carpenters - "Rainy Days and Mondays"
In time, those critics would indeed learn to appreciate the heart-breaking power of Karen's voice and Richard's brilliant arrangements and production. But while they were active, coolness was just not a thing they would have.
Todd: What they did have was hits. Lots and lots of hits.
Clip of Carpenters - "Superstar"
Karen: Don't you remember you told me you loved me baby
Todd (VO): Between 1970 and 1976, the Carpenters managed to rack up [clip of Richard and Karen accepting the Best New Artist award at the 13th Annual Grammy Awards] six Top 10 albums and twelve Top 10 hits, including three #1's. Richard and Karen may have chafed against their uncool image, but I'm sure they managed to console themselves with their swimming pool full of gold records.
Todd: But that also does not last forever.
Video for Carpenters - "There's a Kind of Hush"
Todd (VO): Their exhausting tour schedule left them less and less time and energy to work on new albums. In terms of both quality and sales, they were on an alarming downward trend.
Todd: But more than that, they were just overexposed.
Todd (VO): The public was tired of them. Their sound had gotten stale. So when they began to work on their next album in 1977, the decision was obvious. It was time for a new direction.
Todd: But what new direction, you might ask. [beat] All of them.
Clip of Carpenters - "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft"
Karen: Calling occupants of interplanetary craft
Alien Chorus: We've been observing your Earth
Todd (VO): [snickers] You've gotta be kidding me! Is this real?!
Todd: It is. And believe or not, this is just one...
Todd (VO): ...variety of many wildly off-brand tracks that make up their eighth album, Passage. Critics called it ambitious, daring, even experimental.
Todd: And they also called it transparently desperate.
Todd (VO): The Carpenters threw everything at the wall trying to make something stick, and the result was, by some distance, the most confusing record of their career. A record that prompted only puzzled indifference from the public. Never again during their existence would the Carpenters see a Top 10 single or a gold record.
Todd: The Carpenters take us through a passage.
Todd (VO): A passage that led them directly out of the hit parade and into the weirdest moment of their career.
Todd: This is Trainwreckords.
Trainwreckords intro, followed by album cover for Passage
Clip from The Carpenters...Space Encounters.
Female Alien (Suzanne Somers): Approaching the planet Earth, Commander. We have entered coordinates for the Carpenters' recording studio.
Todd: [pause] I was not alive during the '70s. I realize that there's so many things about it that are beyond my grasp because it wasn't my time.
Clip of the Carpenters performing "Sweet, Sweet Smile"
Todd (VO): But everything I know tells me that there is absolutely no way that the goddamn Carpenters started a sci-fi themed TV special called, Space Encounters!
Announcer: The Carpenters Space Encounters, starring Richard and Karen Carpenter.
This cannot possibly have actually happened.
Todd: How did the Carpenters...
Todd (VO): the normiest, most middle-of-the-road, most toothpaste ad looking two people of the entire '70s wind up on primetime TV singing to and about aliens?!
Karen: I think he's from out of town. [laugh track]
To understand this...
Todd: ...you have to understand the state of their career in 1977.
Video for Carpenters - "Goofus"
Todd (VO): After a string of chart toppers, their last couple albums... did eventually go gold, but they moved pretty sluggishly and... pretty much everyone agrees that they also weren't that good. By this point, A&M Records were pretty concerned about the trajectory of their biggest act, so they went to Richard and they broke the news to him...
Todd: It was time for him to step down as producer.
Clip of interview with Richard Carpenter
Todd (VO): According to Richard, he agreed with them, which... is pretty surprising to me since by '77, that was basically his only job. [montage clips of Richard and Karen recording in the studio] He didn't really sing anymore. He played piano, but anyone can do that. His role was that he picked or wrote all the songs, and produced and arranged them. That was his contribution.
Todd: But Richard, who was fighting a drug problem at the time, says he was kinda happy to be doing less.
Todd (VO): The facts were undeniable. They needed hits, and Richard's work wasn't cutting it anymore. It was time for new blood.
Todd: One problem: They couldn't find anybody.
Clip of Carpenters interview on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Todd (VO): All the major names turned them down. That is also shocking to me. Like, yeah, they weren't quite in their prime anymore, but their prime hadn't been that long ago.
Todd: Well, that's showbiz. You go from hot to not like [snaps fingers] that. So, if they couldn't find a producer, it was up to Richard to become a new producer.
Todd (VO): So for the first time, he would write no new songs, and instead of the oldies covers that they'd been relying on, he would look elsewhere for new material.
Todd: Secretly, I think he wanted the excuse to stretch.
Todd (VO): Richard Carpenter was classically trained, he had wide eclectic tastes, and after all the negative reviews...
Todd: ...he wanted to show off. [shot of article with headliner quote highlighted] And so all the pre-release hype for the new album, Passage, stressed how "new and varied" it was.
"Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" plays over audio from 1977 Passage radio promo
Radio Host: Richard and Karen take us on a fantastic journey across new musical terrain. Passage is a departure in every way: production, material, style, arrangement.
Todd (VO): This ain't your daddy's Carpenters!
Todd: I'm sure record buyers at the time had to be skeptical. I mean, it's the Carpenters. How weird could it be? Well, you know what? Let's put this baby on the record player and see what comes out.
Audio for "B'Wana She No Home" plays over BBC live performance
Todd: [pause; starts grooving to the beat] Getting kinda smooth up in here.
Todd (VO): Okay. Yeah, I have definitely not heard the Carpenters ever do this kind of slinky jazz thing before. They are definitely announcing their intent to change things up on this opening track...
Todd: ...which is entitled... [beat; single cover for...] "B'Wana She No Home." Okay, that's a bad sign. Please tell me Karen Carpenter's not about to put on an accent and play a non-white character.
Todd (VO): No, no, no. Don't worry. It's not as bad as it sounds. No black-face up in here.
Todd: She's just... addressing her housekeeper.
Karen: Don't you ever invite your boyfriend here
Todd (VO): And the title...
Todd: That's just Ms. Carpenter condescendingly instructing the poor woman on how to stonewall any callers.
Karen: If somebody knocks or the telephone rings
Say b'wana she no home
Todd: Oh, and uh, threatening to deport her back to Ecuador if she doesn't do it right.
Karen: Got to learn these words and I know you will
Or I'll send you right back to Guayaquil
Say b'wana she no home
Todd just sighs
Karen: I want you to speak the English right
Todd (VO): Really, uh...
Todd: Really putting the "Karen" in Karen Carpenter, huh?
Todd (VO): Okay, I was not prepared to listen to Karen Carpenter racistly berate her maid today.
Todd: And for the record, "b'wana", is Swahili. [image of movie poster for Call Me Bwana] You'd hear it in old safari movies. It's not Spanish.
Todd (VO): So, uh... Yeah, there's layers to this.
Todd: But... Before you pull up your [image of...] "yikes" gifs, I think I should say that I'm pretty sure this song is ironic.
Video for Michael Franks - "B'Wana He No Home"
Todd (VO): It makes more sense if you hear the original.
Michael Franks: Say B'wana he no home
Say B'wana he no home
It's from light jazz guitarist, Michael Franks, and it was inspired by a time he let a friend housesit for him.
Todd: Couldn't find out any more about that, but, uh... sure hope his cleaning lady [image of card with $50 bill] got a big tip and an apology when he got home. So, I can't say for sure, but to me, this sounds like a character piece.
Todd (VO): You know, one of those late-'70s kinda sleazy sarcastic songs you'd get from [brief clips of performances from...] Steely Dan, or Randy Newman, Rupert Holmes.
Todd: I could be way off. [image of housekeeper] Maybe it's supposed to be about how the help needs to be put in their place sometimes. But to me, this is a song about an asshole.
Todd (VO): I hear it, and I can immediately picture the [image of guy wearing...] open shirt and sunglasses hungover douchebag singing it.
Todd: Hmmm. [pause; rubs face] Why is Karen Carpenter singing this?
Clip of "B'wana She No Home"
Karen: I want you to smile and be polite
Say b'wana she no home
Todd (VO): Like, I'm sure this song hits different these days. [screenshot of...] All the liner notes say about it is that it's about the "master-servant problem," which... okay. But even in the un-woke '70s, the narrator is clearly supposed to be a dick.
Todd: Being an entertaining dick is a rare skill [images of Bill Murray in Ghostbusters...] owned by only a [...and Jessica Walter in Arrested Development] select few. A select few that does not include sweet, innocent girl next door, Karen Carpenter! [brief images of...] It's like Carly Rae Jepsen trying to be Lana Del Rey. It's wrong. Her interpretation of this song is bizarre.
Karen: Say B'wana she no home
Say B'wana she no home
Todd (VO): Like, it's not even that she's trying to play the mean girl and failing, which would be bad enough. It's more like she doesn't even know what the song's about!
Todd: Maybe she's the one who doesn't know English.
Todd (VO): Richard at least seems to be having fun. The band is riffing and vamping all over the place, but this is such a bad fit for Karen. So, clearly this is not going to be the lead single.
Todd: When it came time for that, they went with something a little more neutral.
Audio for "All You Get From Love is a Love Song" plays over another live performance
Karen: Like sailing on a sailin' ship to nowhere
Todd (VO): What they led off with for this album cycle was something called, "All You Get From Love is a Love Song."
Karen: Oh, it's a dirty old shame
When all you get from love is a love song
Todd dances at his keyboard as the song plays
As a lead single, this is, to put it mildly, the safe choice. Especially for this album.
Todd: Karen really believed this was gonna be a smash hit. It's not hard to see why.
Karen: Cause the best love songs
Are written with a broken heart
Todd (VO): Out of all the Carpenters' singles, it is probably the...
Todd: The boppiest, I guess?
Todd (VO): I tend to not like the Carpenters' upbeat tracks.
Todd: Upbeat The Carpenters is just [brief clip of...] The Captain & Tennille, and I don't need that. But this is pretty alright.
Todd (VO): It might not make my Top 10 Carpenters songs, but it's pretty nice. This should've been a hit.
Todd: It was not.
Karen: Such a dirty old shame
Todd (VO): The Carpenters were pretty accustomed to their lead singles making the Top 5. This barely only cracked the Top 40. It's hard to say what went wrong except that the trends had turned against them. I've seen some suggestions that [brief clip of Donna Summer - "I Feel Love"] the Carpenters couldn't compete with disco, but...
Todd: ...I don't believe that.
Video for Barry Manilow - "Mandy"
Todd (VO): Soft rock still had quite a major hold on the charts.
Todd: I think it was just the Carpenters themselves being so uncool at that point.
Video for "All You Get from Love Is a Love Song"
Todd (VO): A few years earlier, yes, this would've been a smash. But by '77, they needed an all-time banger to get back into people's graces and this wasn't it.
Todd: Richard has said that this was also one of his favorites, but... [Todd scrolls down home page for...] on his website, which has extensive information for all of their songs... [text appears: "LOL, Papyrus"] he just has absolutely nothing to add to that. [reads highlighted quote] "It just doesn't make for much of a story!" He's right. It doesn't.
Todd (VO): I got nothing to say about this either. It's a fine little song.
Todd: It was not what they needed.
Video for Carpenters - "I Just Fall in Love Again"
Todd (VO): After this on the album comes another more conventional ballad. I guess they wanted to assure listeners right away that the new Carpenters weren't gonna be that different.
Todd: The label was considering this for the second single, and we know it had commercial potential because...
Clip of Anne Murray performing "I Just Fall in Love Again"
Todd (VO): ...country singer, Anne Murray, made a country hit out of it a couple years later. In another time, it would have been a single. But ultimately, it was decided against. We've tried the safe path; the safe path didn't work.
Todd: It's time to get nuts.
Clip of "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft"
Karen: In your mind, you have capacities, you know
Todd (VO): Now we come to the most singularly mystifying song in the entire Carpenters catalogue: [single cover for...] "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft [Todd zooms in on the subtitle] (The Recognized Anthem of World Contact Day)".
Todd: Betcha didn't know World Contact Day had an official anthem recognized by the entirety of humanity! I love that this is actual cover art for a Carpenters song by the way.
Karen: Calling occupants of interplanetary craft
Calling occupants of interplanetary
Most extraordinary craft
Todd: [sighs] Okay.
Audio for Klaatu - "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" plays over live performance
Todd (VO): "Calling Occupants" comes to us from the band, Klaatu, an odd ELO-ish Canadian band most notable for a persistent rumor that they were secretly [image of Sgt. Peppers era...] the Beatles [screenshot of newspaper article: "Could Klaatu be Beatles? Mystery is a magical tour"] reunited and recording incognito.
Todd: They were not actually the Beatles. [single cover for Klaatu's version of "Calling Occupants"] They released this heavily orchestrated, multi-suite, seven minute prog rock epic about welcoming aliens to Earth, and it did become a minor mid-chart hit in 1976. Richard found this song, and loved it, and... just had to take his own shot at it.
Clip from The Carpenters...Space Encounters
Tony Peluso: Right now on our all-request line, I've got Mike Ledgerwood on the phone. Hey, babe! What would you like to hear?
Alien: We've been observing your Earth.
Tony: Hey, babe, I'm sorry I can't hear you too well. You're gonna have to speak a little closer to the phone!
Alien: We are observing your Earth.
Todd (VO): This is part of the actual song for the record.
Karen: Calling occupants of interplanetary craft
Calling occupants of interplanetary
This is... and I say this kindly, such nerd shit.
Todd: It is so uncool [promotional image of Richard and Karen Carpenter] in the complete opposite way that the Carpenters were uncool. There is basically no way that they should be singing this.
Todd (VO): But the timing actually turned out in their favor. As Richard and Karen were finishing up the album, [clip of trailer for...] theaters started showing a little film called, Star Wars. And suddenly science fiction was so lucrative that every celebrity got in on it. [images of...] Jimmy Carter had Darth Vader figurines on his desk in the Oval Office. Pete Rose played an entire game wearing a Chewbacca outfit.
Todd: I'm kidding, but there was a big sci-fi wave that swept up everybody.
Todd (VO): Hence the Space Encounters special built around this song as its climax.
Karen: With your mind, you have ability to form
And transmit thought energy far beyond the norm
I have had to listen to this song many, many times to do this review. And...
Todd: ...each and every time I hear this song, [beat] I love it more. This song fucking rules.
Karen: Please come in peace, we beseech you
Todd (VO): The Carpenters singing this is one of the most inspiredly random things I've ever heard.
Todd: The original... you know, it's fine.
Todd (VO): But it's missing something, and that something is Karen Carpenter. She really puts it over the top. She makes it more than just a novelty. Like, there was always something kind of otherworldly about her voice, so she fits shockingly well in science fiction. Plus, it's just a very warm and hopeful song about...
Todd: ...making new friends amongst the stars.
Karen & Richard: We are your friends
Todd: I cannot think of a better peace ambassador for humanity...
Todd (VO): ...than Karen Carpenter. I am being dead serious. I do really love this. This may be my new favorite Carpenters song of all time. It really is just that good.
Todd: [pause] You all get why this is career suicide, right?
Brief clips of Elton John - "Rocket Man"; David Bowie - "Space Oddity"
Todd (VO): Like, yes, we also had songs in the '70s like "Rocket Man" or "Space Oddity," but those were by people with mystique!
Todd: And also they were metaphors for loneliness and isolation.
Video for "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft"
Todd (VO): "Calling Occupants" is a song about aliens, and the aliens are a metaphor for aliens! The only hit song I can think of that is this kind of weird and impenetrable is [clip of Styx's...] "Mr. Roboto", which was a hit, but it was also a definite career-ender.
Todd: Where can you possibly go from here?!
Todd (VO): That said, this was a tiny bit of a hit. It actually did slightly better than the last single, and it even went Top 10 in the U.K. and #1 in Ireland. And the fact that this weird, off-brand, unmarketable single did even that much is...
Todd: You know, I think that's testament to how great it is and how hard they worked on it.
Karen: We declare World Contact Day
Todd (VO): I mean, give Richard credit too, it sounds fucking great. Way better than the original. They said it took longer to make than their entire third album. And yet, believe it or not, it is neither the longest nor the most elaborate song on the record. You know, since they were already renting out the L.A. Philharmonic...
Todd: ...they decided to have them do another song, too. And... oh, boy. This is a song you need a philharmonic for.
Elaine Paige: Don't cry for me, Argentina
Todd (VO): Yes, we have reached the showtunes portion of the evening. The Carpenters will be performing their version of this song, "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina", from the musical, Evita.
Audio for the Carpenters' version of "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" plays over another live performance
Karen: It won't be easy, you'll think it strange
This strikes me as a very odd selection because Karen Carpenter was not exactly a grand diva of the stage. She was a brilliant singer with a mic in her hand, but without one, she couldn't exactly belt to the rafters.
Todd: So this was all pretty unexpected.
Todd (VO): But as I listened to her interpretation, I think it helped me realize something about it that I didn't really get until now.
Todd: Which is that I hate this song. [pause; shrugs] All versions of it.
Clip of Elaine Paige performance
Todd (VO): I'm not a theater guy granted, but I never had trouble understanding "Memory" or "I Dreamed a Dream". But the appeal of this song has always been completely lost on me. It's so slow and so boring. It's just a hook-less, interminable dirge of a song. It's meaningless outside of the context of the musical, and it's insufferable and condescending within it. I don't get this song; I probably never will.
Todd: So that being my opinion, I guess I don't really have any way to judge whether the Carpenters do justice to Andrew Lloyd Webber's most overrated song.
Karen: Don't cry for me, Argentina
Todd (VO): Just analyzing it on a pure intellectual level, Karen Carpenter seems like an odd fit. I've never really thought of her as a Broadway kind of singer. I certainly never thought of her as Eva Perón. [clip of Patti LuPone performing as Eva Perón at the 34th Tony Awards] The entire musical portrays her as a ruthless bitch. We've already established that that's not Karen Carpenter.
Todd: On the other hand, I've never thought this song connected with the character, so...
Todd (VO): ...actually maybe it makes more sense for someone softer like Karen Carpenter to sing it.
Karen: I kept my promise
Don't keep your distance
And you know, in hindsight, Karen would also die young and tragically, and leave behind her adoring public.
Todd: With that in mind, it kinda works even better.
Todd (VO): So... you know, I'll never feel this song, but I can see it. I see why in this case Karen Carpenter thought she could pull off a showtune.
Todd: In fact, it probably made perfect sense at the time, since "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" was not even a showtune, because Evita was not yet a show. [album cover for...] It was a concept album released by Lloyd Webber the year before, and it wouldn't hit the stage until a year after. [brief clips of...] So at this point in time, Elaine Paige hadn't touched it, Patti LuPone hadn't touched it, Madonna hadn't touched it, Glee sure hadn't fucking touched it. Karen Carpenter is probably doing only the second version of this song anyone has ever heard.
Todd (VO): And it might be that newness that explains Richard Carpenter's very strangest decision on the entire album, which is to cover not just the song...
Todd: ...but the entire scene.
Todd (VO): Yes, before "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina", we get the entirety of "On the Balcony of the Casa Rosada", the song that precedes it on the album!
Juan Perón (Paul Jones): People of Argentina
Your newly elected president, Juan Perón (Perón! Perón!)
Todd: Did he think we needed context?! 'Cause we didn't! [single cover for "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" by...] Julie Covington's original version was a big hit single just on its own...
Todd (VO): ...but Richard decided that for three full minutes before Karen shows up as Eva, we needed to hear her being introduced by Juan Perón and Che Guevara!
Todd: Yes, it's the only Carpenters album to feature [single cover for "Superstar" with Richard's face replaced with...] Che Guevara!
Che: And his wife, the first lady of Argentina
Todd (VO): It is so jarring. "On the Balcony of the Casa Rosada" is a filler song. It's exposition!
Todd: I didn't buy the Evita soundtrack, I bought a Carpenters album! I don't care what's going on in the story! [clips of gameplay from Cyberpunk 2077...] Like, imagine if you were playing a video game, and it stopped for a twenty minute cutscene that's just the [...and...] funeral monologue from Steel Magnolias.
Clip of said monologue from Steel Magnolias plays while "Press X to Skip" appears on the bottom
M'Lynn Eatenton (Sally Field): I don't think I can take this!
Todd (VO): What is it doing here?
Todd: What does this have to do with anything?!
Clip of Carpenters performance
Todd (VO): Okay, let's finish this part up.
Karen: Every word is true
Todd: Phew! That was a lot. Let's dial it back a little on the elaborateness.
Todd (VO): Our next song is called "Sweet, Sweet Smile", originally by [clip of...] Juice Newton, who would later become a big country star in the '80s.
Karen: When I wake up in the mornin' and I see you there
I always whisper a little prayer
I get to see your sweet, sweet smile every day
Okay, at least with country music, we're on firmer ground than the other genre experiments. The Carpenters had dipped their toes into country music before.
Clip of Carpenters - "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)"
Karen & Richard: Jambalaya, crawfish pie and fillet gumbo
For tonight, I'm-a gonna see my ma cher a mi-o
Todd: [sighs] Okay, uh, I actually really don't like the Carpenters' country songs.
Todd (VO): They're... pretty painful. The Carpenters tip a pretty white bread, antiseptic '70s easy-listening approach to it.
Todd: They were honestly better fitted for prog rock.
Clip of "Sweet, Sweet Smile"
Karen: If my times are bringing me down
You're the only one that I want around
Todd (VO): So with this one, you know, it's not quite as sterile as their butchering of Hank Williams I was just showing you, but... it's still pretty dorky. Their version of country leans pretty hard on the cornball aspects of country music rather than the grit. I don't like it.
Todd: And neither did the mainstream public. It was the third single and it didn't go anywhere on the pop charts.
Todd (VO): But it was their first crossover hit on the country charts, so, uh... someone liked it. Yeah, I dunno. Not for me. But really, this is nowhere near awkward enough for this show. I promised you awkward, and you're gonna get awkward. So, get ready everyone...
Todd: ...for the Carpenters Go Calypso! Yes, just like the Simpsons.
Clip from The Simpsons
Homer & Marge: (Man smart) The woman is smarter
(Man smart) The woman is
Otto Man: Man, this thing's really gettin' out of hand!
Todd: And I mean exactly like the Simpsons. [still shot of The Simpsons Go Calypso] The song Homer and Marge were singing is the exact same one Richard and Karen will be performing for you today.
Clip of Harry Belafonte performing...
Todd (VO): It is "Man Smart, Woman Smarter" by Harry Belafonte.
Harry Belafonte: That's right, the woman is...
Background Singers: Smarter
[sighs] And if I thought the Carpenters were too white bread for country music...
Todd: ...you can imagine what I'm gonna think of this.
Clip of "Man Smart, Woman Smarter" performance on The Carpenters...Space Encounters
Todd (VO): Okay, this is Karen performing it on Space Encounters with sitcom star Suzanne Somers, because it's the '70s and we pile celebrities on top of each other.
Karen & Suzanne: That's right, the women are smarter
That's right, the women are smarter
Like, this is not even really calypso anymore. This is based more on the [clip of...] clattering Robert Palmer boogie-woogie version.
Todd: Which is still not nearly white enough for the Carpenters!
Todd (VO): Like, Palmer was a very bluesy soulful singer. Karen is not.
Clip of Space Encounters performance
Karen: In the Garden of Eden Adam built a home
When he settled down Eve began to roam
Which is really just the entire problem with the whole album! Listening to this album, you can...
Todd: ...really picture Richard being all like, [clip of "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft"] "Ha! Take this, all you critics who dismissed us as lightweights! I am a serious artist with so many more facets than you can possibly imagine! I can and will do anything, and you will realize that every preconception you had about me was totally wrong!" And next to him, you got Karen Carpenter being like... [image of Karen] "Hi, I'm Karen Carpenter!"
Todd (VO): The only song we haven't looked at yet is a more normal track called, "Two Sides", which is... I guess that's kinda the thesis of the album, right? There are two sides of the Carpenters.
Karen: Well, there's two sides, there's another side of me
Todd: The most negative review I could find had a [shot of Playback article: "Carpenters Hate Being Wholesome"] brutal dunk of it, saying, "Yeah, we sure are seeing Karen's other side. [still image of Karen performing on drums] ''It's her left side, and it looks quite a bit like the right side." Like, I do kinda wonder if...
Clip of Richard Carpenter performance
Todd (VO): ...when given the imperative to explore, Richard started leaning into his own strengths at the expense of hers. You know, jazz, orchestras, prog rock.
Todd: I'm just saying. Everyone's always jealous of the lead singer. You put the drummer in charge, you get more drum solos.
Todd (VO): And from there, the album ends with the second single, "Calling Occupants". And since I like that song, we're gonna let it play.
Karen: To send the message
We declare World Contact Day
Hmmm, that's nice.
Todd: So that was Passage. It did not do well.
Todd (VO): In fact, it was their first since their debut to not even go gold. But was it bad? I've read some excerpts to you from the most negative review I found, but that isn't really the tenor of most of the coverage I read.
Todd: Most critics were just like... [pause] "Huh."
Todd (VO): And, "huh", was not a strong enough response to get them back into the limelight. What with Karen's failing health and Richard's stint in rehab, they only ever managed to put out one more studio album.
Todd: They cracked the Top 20 one last time, and then Karen tragically passed.
Todd (VO): Was Passage really a disaster? [pause] It's hard to say. I'm not sure if the album ended their career or if it only failed to stop their downward slide. [clip of...] Karen did a frustrated interview where she was like, "Radio doesn't want the old sound, they don't want the new sound. What do you want from us, 'cause we'll do it!"
Todd: And it may just be that the public didn't want anything from them at that point.
Clip of "Man Smart, Woman Smarter" performance
Todd (VO): And if they did, it was gonna have to be a lot stronger than this.
Video for "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft"
Like, I hesitate to call this a bad album, or even to say that it has any truly terrible songs, but it is a disjointed and incoherent album. It's hard not to respect the ambition, and I'd love to tell you that it's an overlooked gem. But ultimately, it just does not really work.
Todd: But you know what? Tonight, I'm gonna pull out this album. And I'll look at the stars...
Todd (VO): ...and I'll imagine that somewhere, some way, Karen Carpenter is up there in a giant flying saucer also enjoying this ridiculous, but somewhat wonderful, piece of music she made.
Todd: I wish you a good night and a Happy World Contact Day to you all.
Video for "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" ends
Ending music: Todd plays "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" on piano
"Passage" is owned by A&M Records
This video is owned by me
THANK YOU TO THE LOYAL PATRONS!!