Aural Fixation: Carpenters’ ‘Now & Then’

In some cases, I cannot help but return to a single album when I want to listen to a particular band’s music. With regard to the Carpenters, the album that keeps bringing me back is 1973’s Now & Then. Though their previous album, 1972’s A Song For You, contains some of my favorite Carpenters’ songs, Now & Then strongly shows off Karen and Richard’s own love for music. With the exception of Richar’d co-writing credit on the album’s second single, the nostalgic “Yesterday Once More,” all of the songs on Now & Then were written by outside songwriters. As the Carpenters were renowned interpreters of other folks’ songs (especially songs by Leon Russell, whose “This Masquerade” is given a tastefully moody treatment), it shouldn’t be a surprise that Now & Then is one of the group’s best works.

Now & Then begins on a familiar note with “Sing.” This version of the Sesame Street favorite became a hit for the Carpenters and brought the song to an even wider audience. The Carpenters often get a bad reputation for making overly sentimental music, but songs like the buoyant “Jambalaya (On The Bayou)” are refreshingly bright. The real highlight of Now & Then, though, is the album’s entire second side. Beginning (and later ending) with “Yesterday Once More,” the latter half of the album is comprised of a medley of pop hits from the early ‘60s.

Evidently inspired by Rick Nelson’s infamous and ill-fated 1971 performance at Madison Square Garden, the Carpenters revisited the music of the previous decade with gleeful reverence. Girl-group classics like “Da Do Ron Ron” and “One Fine Day” stand alongside more dramatic teenager tunes like “Dead Man’s Curve” and “Johnny Angel.” Throughout the medley, guitarist Tony Peluso shows off his skills as a fast-talking DJ, even hosting a listener call-in contest where Richard and Karen’s cousin, Mark Rudolph, guesses a wrong answer. Paluso would reprise this fast-talking role on the group’s cover of “Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft” on 1977’s Passage.

Watch/Listen: Side 2 of CarpentersNow & Then (1973)

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~ by E. on July 28, 2011.

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