The Greatest Album Never Made?

Today is the 40th anniversary of Karen Carpenter's unfortunate passing. 

Last year, Bloggerhythms re-ran one post of a three part series on guilty pleasures in which I wrote that my number one guilty pleasure of all time was Karen Carpenter's golden voice. In it, while acknowledging their god-given talents, I lamented that the duo should have used their gifts to make better music than the bubblegum pop they frequently pushed into the upper reaches of the Top Forty.

Proving my point is a YouTube video of Karen Carpenter singing standards with the great Ella Fitzgerald in 1980 on one of the siblings’ TV specials.  The video easily suggests that the greatest album never made was The Carpenters Sing and Play the Great American Songbook. (The fact that they never recorded these songs while Rod Stewart did four times makes me want to cry.) The show clearly indicates that by this time Fitzgerald's age had taken its toll on her voice and Carpenter uses the advantage to kick the jazz queen to the musical curb. More importantly, the performance also proves that the brother and sister act should have driven down that musical road long before this program aired.

Carpenter and Fitzgerald open the set with "This Masquerade" - a more contemporary song previously recorded by Karen and Richard and written by rocker Leon Russell - yet it easily fits right in with the rest of the medley. Older tunes include "I'll Be Seeing You," "My Funny Valentine," and George Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me." Then the tempo picks up as the ladies join forces on "As Time Goes By," Duke Ellington's "Don’t Get Around Much Anymore" and "I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart."

The Carpenters would have had no trouble mining the wealth of material most of the Great American Songbook has to offer. Add to the mix a couple of Richard Carpenter jazz originals and the world could have been treated to a truly marvelous vocal jazz album.

It's well known that Karen Carpenter was also a very talented drummer who played less and less as her fame spread as a singer. However, to drive the point home even further that she and Richard could have cultivated a successful career in mainstream jazz listen and watch her play drums on a TV show in what I believe is from 1976.