Karen Carpenter was still a vocal powerhouse when she passed away, way too young, in 1983 at the age of 33. The New Haven, Conn.-born singer struggled with anorexia for a large portion of her adult life, and eventually it became too much for her body to take. Her legacy stands strong more than three decades later, with a number of stellar efforts recorded with her brother, Richard, as the duo The Carpenters.
One of the more interesting footnotes in the history of her career was her attempt to put together a solo album in 1979, while her brother Richard was battling demons of his own. Working with noted producer Phil Ramone, the pair blended some of the expected hallmarks of Carpenters music (layered background vocals, some trademark ballads), but some unexpected directions for the singer most known for melancholy ballads (disco).
When delivered to the record company, the album got a less than enthusiastic response, and despite support from Quincy Jones, who encouraged the release after some tracks were remixed, it was shelved. After Karen’s passing, Richard ultimately included a few of the tracks (in remixed form) in “Lovelines,” a release in 1985 compiling previously unreleased material as a new album.
Ultimately, fans continued to lobby for its release, and in 1996, “Karen Carpenter,” which included the original mixes approved by Karen and Phil Ramone, along with one incomplete track, was released to the public.
There were a number of unreleased demos from the album that have also leaked out since then as well, and due to the nature of the Internet they’ve floated around since then, which show other directions that were ultimately shelved in favor of the tracks that were polished up.
While I’m a fan of the Carpenters in general, the more uplifting vibe of much of the material that she recorded for her solo album was an interesting counterpart to the more melancholic feel of much of the Carpenters material. They certainly stretched Karen vocally, to various results, but it certainly showed off a different side of the singer that thankfully the label allowed us to see.