Skip to main content

Book Review: Carpenters: The Musical Legacy By Chris May and Mike Cidoni Lennox with Richard Carpenter

by Dave Thompson

Carpenters: The Musical Legacy

By Chris May and Mike Cidoni Lennox with Richard Carpenter

Princeton Architectural Press

For an act whose period of true megastardom was over and done with in just four years, Carpenters have retained an awful lot of love and respect. It’s not hard to understand why, of course; Karen had a voice that could melt glaciers; brother Richard could create a symphony from the rattling of the cutlery drawer. In terms of pure musical accomplishment, they were - and remain - all but peerless.

And that is the guiding principle behind this book. Coffee table sized, close to 400 pages (700+ on Kindle), littered with previously unseen photographs (the majority on color), ephemera, it’s a design super-show, one of the most beautifully prepared and laid music books you could ever hope not to drop on your foot.

No matter that you can read through the accompanying text in one short afternoon… even less if you skip over the constant repetition. Nor that Richard Carpenter’s contributions are largely limited to one line reflections on whether or not he liked a song, or reciting single sentence entries from his engagement diary.

Who cares that a shockingly large proportion of the pages are devoted to the duo’s discography and gigography, or that any sense of even vague narrative falls away once Carpenters’ star began to fade. Like Carpenters themselves, The Musical Legacy is all about… the legacy. The image. The music and the magic. And the good times.

You want dirt? You want scandal? You want to know… it doesn’t matter. It’s probably not here, and frankly, one wouldn’t expect it to be. One day, we hope, Richard Carpenter will sit down with a writer and the result will be his story. This is the duo’s story, and nothing else matters.

Like their music, it’s a book for marveling at, photo after photo after photo, everything from the most casual backstage or studio setting to album cover out-takes, foreign 45 sleeves, TV appearances, the lot. And if you crack a wry smile every time Richard’s commentary wonders what on earth the design department was thinking, then you know you’re on his side.

Truly did any major act ever suffer such grisly covers as Carpenters? Particularly early on. And, considering how good-looking the pair of them were, did any wardrobe department have so little taste as that which dressed and made-up Karen and Richard? Maybe the modern age can look back at seventies fashions and shudder, but there’s pictures of Carpenters that made their own decade groan aloud. And again, you don’t have to take my word for it. Richard agrees.

So. Again, don’t buy this because you want to read about the Carpenters. Buy it to leaf through as it lies on the coffee table, to find out where they were playing on any date you can think of, and to relive the days when they’d release a new album and you knew there would be at least three or four songs that you would never escape from again. Buy it because, no matter how one categorizes their music, it was music.

And because, though nigh-on fifty years have passed, you still know all the words. So, altogether now! “Sing. Sing a song….”