Songs of 74: Please Mr Postman / Carpenters

This year Radioinfo will take you back 50 years to the songs that were released in 1974. It was a mighty fine year for music.

I had prepared a different song for this edition but after seeing A Kind of Hush: The Magic of Karen Carpenter last night, where they wrapped the show up with Please Mr Postman, I’ve deviated to deliver de letter de sooner de better.

It is fairly universally acknowledged that Karen had one of the most astonishing voices of hers and future generations. Melinda Schneider and Katie Noonan both last night acknowledged how hard it was to sing the many lyrics and complex arrangements her brother Richard created for her as effortlessly as Karen was able to. And she never initially thought she was going to be a singer. Karen was a drummer! For the first years she would sing AND drum at the same time until their success pushed her to being out front.

I’ve loved the Carpenters for as long as I can remember. Lest this seem a throw away comment, as young girl and teenager we would drive every school holiday to either my grandparents or Aunt’s places, some 2-3 hours from home. Every single trip I would play the Carpenters’ Greatest Hits. I know every word down to the nuances of Karen’s inflections.

I was oblivious to this being ‘daggy music’ until I got to high school and remember replacing Carpenters’ cassettes with something cooler when I was able to drive myself and had someone else in the car. Starting my vinyl collection around this time too I couldn’t believe people were getting rid of their Carpenters albums for 50c. More fool them!


The story of the Carpenters could have been so different but hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.

Their first album, in 1969, called Offering, and including the totally reimagined cover of The Beatles’ Ticket to Ride, sold poorly but the duo’s record label A&M, still seeing their potential, tried instead this time for a hit single.

Karen and Richard met with the legendary Burt Bacharach, and Herb Alpert, the A of A&M as well as a successful artist himself, asked Richard to play around with the Bacharach / Hal David song (They Long to Be) Close to You, which had been recorded in the early 60s by Dionne Warwick.

Richard did, and the resulting single went to No 1. The follow up was We’ve Only Just Begun, which Richard heard on a TV commercial and thought he could make work with Karen’s voice and orchestration. It went to No 2. Both went Gold.

This was the start of three incredibly busy years. As mentioned, Karen was encouraged to step away from her beloved drum kit, the pair got stuck with an overly wholesome image which grated on them both and someone put the idea into Richard’s head that relentless touring, promotion and recording were the way to financial security. In 1974 they did more than 200 concerts.

They were both so exhausted that year that no new album was released except a best of which sold 7 million copies just in America. Towards the end of 1974 they recorded Please Mr Postman, The Marvelettes‘ originally, and also covered by the Beatles, which went to No 2 in Australia. The B side is the soul infused This Masquerade, a personal favourite of mine. They also recorded a film clip at one their old workplace, Disneyland (Mr Guder from 1970 was written by Richard about their boss who wasn’t a fan of the duo).

Most of you will know how this story ends, with Karen’s death aged just 32 from heart failure complications due to anorexia nervosa in February 1983. Richard had taken a year off in 1979 to deal with his own drug addiction. During that period Karen tried to release a solo album. One of the singles was to be Rock With You which would later be a hit for Michael Jackson. That album wasn’t released until 13 years posthumously. Being unable to do or be anything in her own image was devastating to her.

I could literally go on and on until you had a very Carpenters thesis on your hands. I’ll leave this song, voice, duo and legacy with one final story.

About a decade ago I saw Petula Clark in concert with my dad. Petula (and our Olivia Newton-John) were close and loyal friends of Karen. Apparently in the 70s Petula and Karen decided to go see Elvis Presley. Presley heard they were in the audience and invited them backstage afterwards where he and Karen kept making eyes at each other. Petula thought Karen was way too good for Elvis and literally dragged her away, and home.

That night she mused,

“I wonder what might have happened if I’d just let these two hurting souls be? Maybe they could have made each other happy.”

Maybe. Certainly Karen had everyone else making most of her decisions for her which perhaps contributed to her need to control her body intake.

Below are the four artists last night mid Please Mr Postman. They’ve got 10 more Kind of Hush shows across Australia which I highly recommend. And if you have an hour or so today put on the Carpenters’ Best of, for Karen, a once in a lifetime voice.

Left to Right -15 year old superstar Layla Havana, Katie Noonan, Melinda Schneider & Abby Dobson

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