Before her death in 1983, Karen Carpenter delivered unparalleled, stunning vocals across ten studio albums. Paired with her brother, Richard’s, keen sense of arrangement, the Carpenters became an unparalleled force in music. Though their career was relatively brief, the duo was prolific, releasing ten albums in just 12 years. Within those albums were a number of enduring hits that still stand strong in pop culture today.
Get cozy, settle in and join us as we take a trip through the dulcet sounds of the Carpenters with 10 of their biggest hits that you should venture to revisit.
10. “Yesterday Once More”
The duo looks back on years gone by in “Yesterday Once More.” Karen remarks “so much has changed” while reminiscing about the pop music of her childhood. She sings, Every Sha-la-la-la / Every whoa, whoa-oh still shines. It’s soft rock perfection and an easy-listen to boot, making it a shoo-in for this list.
9. “(They Long to Be) Close to You”
“(They Long to Be) Close to You” is a stunning example of Richard’s arrangement skills. Though his sister’s vocals often take center stage when listening to their music, it can’t be denied that their unique blend of harmonies and languid strings helped make them household names—a fact that has never been clearer than on this 1970 track.
8. “Ticket to Ride”
A few years after The Beatles debuted “Ticket to Ride,” the Carpenters tried their hand at the track, slowing down the tempo and turning it into a piano ballad. Their rendition lives worlds away from The Beatles’ but is nonetheless a strong contender for the definitive version. Though the track will probably always live in the Fab Four ranks, The Carpenters’ version is more than worth a listen.
7. “We’ve Only Just Begun”
The opening to their album, Close to You, “We’ve Only Just Begun” is sparse but still rich with harmonies. Though this track was originally commissioned for a U.S. bank ad (sung by Smokey Roberds), the Carpenters worked their magic, breathing new life into the song with a very ’60s horn section and glimmering piano lines.
6. “Hurting Each Other”
“Hurting Each Other” is one of Karen’s brightest moments as a singer. Without much to distract from her velvety vocals, she sings the anthemic chorus: We go on hurting each other / Making each other cry. Though many artists have covered this track, the Carpenters’ rendition takes the cake as the definitive version.
5. “Top of the World”
Everyone knows “Top of the World.” Even if they can’t place the duo’s name on the jubilant track, the chorus is a familiar tune for the majority of the world. Upon its release, the duo was planted firmly at the top of the pop sphere making the chorus ring all the more true.
4. “Rainy Days and Mondays”
“Rainy Days and Mondays” tackles the loneliness and fatigue of a housewife. Talkin’ to myself and feelin’ old / Sometimes I’d like to quit / Nothin’ ever seems to fit, she sings in an almost monotone state. You feel the frustration behind the lyrics in Karen’s performance, showcasing her versatility as a vocalist.
Karen plays the role of a groupie left behind in “Superstar.” While much of the duo’s music lives in a bright, upbeat world, the verses of this track are markedly smoky and sultry. The chorus explodes into typical fare for the Carpenters as Karen sings, Don’t you remember, you told me you loved me, baby / You said you’d be coming back this way again, baby.
2. “Merry Christmas Darling”
It’s officially the holiday season, which means it’s time to bring out the Christmas music, and who better to soundtrack our festivities than The Carpenters? Karen Carpenter’s warm voice seems tailor-made for a cozy night by a fire with lights twinkling around a tree. Though their Christmas Portrait album is chock full of gems, “Merry Christmas Darling,” undoubtedly leads the pack. It’s jovial, whistful, and has just the right amount of nostalgia—the trifecta for a Christmas classic.
1. “Goodbye to Love”
If you’re looking for a song to bolster a crying session, “Goodbye to Love” is certainly a good place to start. In the track, Karen gives up on the whole notion of love after a string of heartbreaks. Despite its melancholia, her vocals manage to make the somber lyrics go down sweetly amid a swell of strings. It’s a slow-burning track that has one hell of a payoff as a piercing guitar solo takes over toward the bridge. It’s one of the duo’s most iconic songs—and for good reason.
Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns