Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Song's Story #3: (They Long to Be) Close to You

Ah, yes--The Carpenters' hit "(They Long to Be) Close to You" is the quintessential 70s love ballad, is it not? It was even Homer and Marge's love song on The Simpsons when they're shown meeting each other for the first time in the 70s. 

But the song's roots go back to before Beatlemania, and had already been recorded by a few artists before Karen Carpenter's vocals and brother Richard's new arrangement turned it into solid gold in 1970. Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, it was first recorded by Richard Chamberlain--yes, the actor--and released as a single in 1963 as "They Long to Be Close to You" (no parenthesis.) Chamberlain's version is now considered a "Golden Throat" recording; however, I don't think he sounds all that terrible. You can judge for yourself below. The song just didn't have the secret sauce yet to turn it into a hit. 



In 1964, Dusty Springfield recorded a version of the song that wasn't heard until 1967, when it was released on her album Where Am I Going?


  Bacharach and David's composition made its way to The Carpenters a few years later when it was first suggested to Herb Alpert as a follow up to his number one hit, "This Guy's in Love with You." Suggested as in a song to sing to. I love me some Herb Alpert, but I'll be the first to tell you that he's better suited as a trumpet musician and not a singer. Alpert apparently felt the same way, as he tried recording "(They Long to Be) Close to You" but was unhappy with the results (the recording later appeared on a 2005 Tijuana Brass record called Lost Treasures 1963-1974.) So he gave it to the new act that had just signed with A&M Records, The Carpenters.

The Carpenters definitely put their own twist on the arrangement of the song. Richard Carpenter said of the experience, "(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."

Because of the Herb Alpert connection, a lot of people think he played the trumpet on The Carpenters' version, but that honor went to Chuck Findley. Carpenter wanted a layered sound for the middle of the song, and tried having multiple trumpet players perform it in unison, but each instrument sounded slightly different. Findley played all the parts himself, then layered them together to get the sound Carpenter wanted.

Karen also played drums during the first few sessions, but Alpert didn't like her technique, and gently suggested that Hal Blaine replace her as drummer.

That was probably a wise move, because it allowed her vocals to shine on what would become the brother and sister act's first and most famous hit. An instant classic was born.

"(They Long to Be) Close to You" earned The Carpenters a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus in 1971, the first of three Grammy Awards they would win during their careers. Of course, it's been covered seemingly hundreds of times to this day--even The Smashing Pumpkins recorded a version of it. Harry Connick, Jr. released a nice track of it on his 2009 album, Your Songs


But I doubt anyone will ever be able to top The Carpenters.

5 comments:

  1. Hi, Pam! This is a wonderful post. Truth be told, I never heard the versions by Richard Chamberlain or Dusty Springfield before and I genuinely enjoyed both. I looked it up in my Funk and Wagnalls and noticed that Chamberlain's recording was on the B side of "Blue Guitar" which approached the top 40 on the pop chart in the weeks before the JFK assassination. If Chamberlain's rendition is considered "Golden Throat" then I say it's one of the better ones. You could always trust Dusty to make a song her very own, no matter who sang it first. It's hard for me to watch Karen remembering her tragic end. She had an exquisite vocal instrument and the Carpenters' version of "Close to You" is indeed definitive.

    This was a treat, Pam. I'm glad I found your blog and glad you found mine. Until next time, take good care of yourself, my new friend!

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  2. yes I'd never heard the alternate versions of the song either, but what the heck is golden throat? sounds like something x-rated.

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  3. Pam, what an awesome post--I am proud to say I've owned every Carpenters album thru the years (I was just listening to 'Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft' an hour ago). But I also have to admit this is the first I've heard these earlier versions of "Close To You"--it's almost disconcerting.

    Loved the backstory though & gosh just like Lennon, I can remember exactly where I was when I heard the death of Karen Carpenter on the radio. Music hasn't been the same since.

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  4. Shady - Thank you so much; I never knew the previous versions existed, either, which is why I thought the song made a great candidate for the "Song's Story" feature. Thanks for stopping by!

    Amy - It DOES sound a lot like Deep Throat, doesn't it? :) Golden Throats were a series of CDs that featured actors' singing abilities...often chosen because they were bad or comical.

    Doug - Thank you for your comments; glad that as a Carpenters fan you enjoyed the post. I was young when Karen Carpenter and John Lennon passed away and don't remember much of the events, but oddly enough I still remember lying in my bed at the age of 5 or 6 and overhearing the TV announce that Elvis Presley had died. I agree that most music just isn't the same anymore.

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