|Richard and Karen Carpenter, 1970|
Hurriedly put together in the wake of the success of the title song, and containing the follow-up hit "We've Only Just Begun," Close to You is a surprisingly strong album, and not just for those hits. Richard Carpenter's originals "Maybe It's You" and "Crescent Noon" are superb showcases for Karen Carpenter's developing talent, the latter a superbly atmospheric, hauntingly beautiful art song of the kind that Judy Collins was doing well at the time, and gorgeously arranged. There's also a Swingle Singers-style number, "Mr. Guder," showing off their paired vocal talents and more of Richard's arranging talents. Karen's singing on "Reason to Believe" isn't so much somber as it is passionate, as she emphasizes the melancholy component in the song more than most versions. Their version of "Help" lacks the inventiveness of "Ticket to Ride," although it has some pleasing vocal flourishes. The finale, "Another Song," tries hard for a serious rock sound, especially in Karen's animated drumming, but it's her voice that stands out. Released amid the political turmoil of 1970, in the wake of the Cambodian incursion, Kent State, and the conservative backlash against the antiwar forces, there was no way that the rock press or the most politically active listeners were going to appreciate this record, but the fact that it had two huge hit singles and earned a gold record award raised their ire against the Carpenters, a problem that would dog the duo for most of its career. But the public bought, and kept on buying.
"Our debut single “Ticket To Ride” stayed on the charts for several months and ultimately peaked at No.54. This showed some promise for us, as most singles released never see the charts, but did not move many “Offering” albums. Nevertheless, Herb continued to “keep the faith” and we started recording a second album, the first two tracks recorded being “Love Is Surrender” and “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again”. This was before “Close To You” was brought to our attention.
In late 1969 Burt Bacharach heard our version of “Ticket To Ride”. This led to our being asked by Burt to open a benefit show he would be doing on February 24, 1970, and performing a medley of his songs I would arrange. Herb brought an obscure Bacharach/David song to my attention during this time entitled “They Long To Be Close To You” (I had presumptuously taken it upon myself to shorten the title.) I put together my arrangement but felt it didn’t quite fit the medley. Herb felt strongly we should include it in the new album. “Close To You” was released on May 15, 1970 and within six weeks was No.1. The “Close To You” album also contains “We’ve Only Just Begun”. Written by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams for a “soft sell” TV bank commercial, “Begun” caught my ear after seeing the commercial a few times. It became our third single (second gold) and ultimately our signature song. Also featured in this album are “Help” (which was slated to be our second single until “Close To You” came along) and four songs John Bettis and I wrote while still in college: “Crescent Noon”, “Mr. Guder”, “Maybe It’s You” and “Another Song”. Others I feel are particularly strong are “Baby It’s You” & “Reason To Believe”.
A perfect example of pretentious, wacky 60s musical abandon, it is complete with a recitative (lifted from Handel) and extended solo backside. Karen’s and my multi-tracked vocal break, which precedes the Borodin-inspired penultimate section, however, is still thrilling to listen to".
Richard Carpenter said of recording this song: "He (Herb Alpert) just gave me a lead sheet, and he said, 'I have a recording of this, but I don't want you to hear it. I don't want anything to influence what I may come up with. Just keep, at the end of the first bridge, two piano quintuplets.' That record, that song, the arrangement, all of it, is misleading to the uninitiated, because it sounds simple. And it's anything but simple."
In their first sessions for this song, Karen Carpenter played the drums, which Alpert didn't like. Said the producer: "I thought it was a little light. And so I asked them to go back in the studio again, because Karen was playing drums. And they recorded it the second time and I still felt they were missing a little something on the groove, so I suggested very carefully to Karen that maybe Hal Blaine should come in and play drums on it."
Blaine replaced Karen on drums and they got the take they liked with Richard on piano, Joe Osborn on bass, and Karen singing.
The trumpet part in the middle of the song didn't come easy: Richard had a very specific sound in mind, and had multiple trumpets trying to play it, which wasn't working because each trumpet was playing slightly different. Chuck Findley solved the problem by playing all the parts himself, then layering them together to create the elusive sound Richard wanted.
This was the first of a string of hits for the Carpenters. They dominated Easy Listening radio in the early '70s.