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With Karen’s silky-smooth, heartfelt vocals and Richard’s genius as a songwriter and arranger, the brother-and-sister duo pioneered melodic, melancholic pop
The Carpenter family moved from New Haven, Connecticut, to Downey in Los Angeles in 1963, to pursue the starry ambitions of musical child prodigy Richard. His sister Karen had little interest in music, but turned out to be an excellent drummer when she began playing the instrument in favour of the glockenspiel in the school band. While the all-American siblings’ oeuvre was polished, they made a few false starts before they arrived at pop perfection. The Richard Carpenter Trio won a battle of the bands at the Hollywood Bowl but little else. Then came Spectrum, the band in which Richard wrote many of the Carpenters’ future hits with John Bettis, often during downtime while they worked at Disneyland. One curio, Looking for Love, was recorded in a garage lockup owned by Wrecking Crew bassist Joe Osborn, who signed Karen to his Magic Lamp label. The song wasn’t a hit, and Magic Lamp soon ceased trading, but the song – sung by Karen, written by Richard – was the pair’s first real foray into the recording business. With its skittering rhythm section, part provided by Karen, and its proto-psychedelic flute, it’s very different from the Carpenters’ sound in the 70s, but the melody is strong, and so too is 16-year-old Karen’s old-before-its-time voice. The masters were destroyed in a fire at Osborn’s house in 1974, with the recording being reissued from a copy of the 45 owned by Richard. Copies of the original change hands for up to £2,000.