Carpenters Christmas Songs & Music

The brother and sister team of singer Karen and composer Richard Carpenter became one of the biggest hit factories in the 1970's. With the noise and theater of glam and punk all around the quiet and ballady Carpenters records still sold by the bucketload. While they were never critical darlings the general public could see the enormous talent of the siblings with Karen's warm vocals and Richard's musical backdrop. Although they only issued one Christmas album during Karen's short life, 'Christmas Portrait', another LP did surface in 1984 called 'An Old Fashioned Christmas' that contained recordings made during the 'Christmas Portrait' sessions. Perhaps the best known Christmas track from the Carpenters is 'Merry Christmas Darling' which came out in 1970. It was written by Richard and was reissued several times throughout the 70's, included a new reworking with a different vocal by Karen for their 1978 'Christmas Portrait' album. 'Merry Christmas Darling' has some beautiful arrangements but it can't hope to match Karen's sumptuous yet heartfelt vocals.

 

The Carpenters Christmas Singles

1970: Merry Christmas Darling

1974: Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

1977: Christmas Song

1978: Silent Night

1984: Little Altar Boy

1996: Ave Maria

 

The Carpenters Christmas Albums

1978: Christmas Portrait

The Carpenters were so into making the perfect Christmas album that they recorded enough material to fill 2 albums. The songs that didn't make 'Christmas Portrait' could be found on 'An Olde Fashioned Christmas' which was released in the wake of Karen's untimely death in 1983. Those tracks that did make the cull were lush affairs, opening with 'It Came Upon A Midnight Clear' which sounds all the world like the Beach Boys. This was followed by the 8 minute, mostly orchestral/choral in nature, overture with arrangements by Richard and featuring well known tunes like 'I Saw Three Ships', 'Away In A Manger' and 'O Come All Ye Faithful'. It sounds so wonderful to hear Karen's vocals on 'The Christmas Waltz' after the long, albeit enjoyable, overture. And the glorious mix of secular and traditional tunes contines over 17 numbers, each decorated with marvellous orchestral backing. Karen vocals were particularly heavenly and given she loved the season it's obvious she threw her heart into the project. Apart from the reworked 'Merry Christmas Darling', highlights included new takes on 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' and 'The Christmas Song'. For such staples neither is as instantly recognisable as you'd expect as the Carpenters given them their own individual stamp. For an album so stuffed with songs 'Christmas Portrait' whizzes past with hardly a filler to be heard. This is an album that deserves its time in the snow again for it is a magical delight.

1984: An Olde Fashioned Christmas

Released after the death of Karen Carpenter 'An Olde Fashioned Christmas' was a collection of songs that were originally recorded for the Carpenters 1978 'Christmas Portrait' but deemed surplus to requirements. Although the songs were not all complete Richard applied the finishing touches and in the process made a second classic festive record, featuring 14 tracks that varied between instrumental (often jazzy in nature) and vocal filled. The title song is particularly noteworthy, taking its theme to heart and predominately featuring Richard's vocals it is a melancholic affair that pulls at the heartstrings. 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' also featured on 'Christmas Portrait' but the version on 'An Olde Fashioned Christmas' was a much slower and considered affair. A sprightly vocal from Karen on '(There's No Place Like) Home For The Holidays' offered another highlight.

 

The Carpenters TV Christmas Specials

The Carpenters recorded several TV specials and 2 of them, in December 1977 and December 1978, were dedicated to their favourite Christmas songs. The specials were themed, hugely colourful events and lushly orchestrated throughout. 1977's special included Karen singing touching versions of 'Sleigh Ride', 'Winter Wonderland', 'White Christmas' and despite the jittery video evidence (see all the video clips to both specials below) it is hard to believe that they have never been given a DVD release. The following year's Christmas special (1978) coincided with the release of the siblings 'A Christmas Portrait' holiday album. Although not as well received as its predecessor it still contained magical moments uch as Karen's performance of 'Merry Christmas Darling' and the scenes including Singin' In The Rain's Gene Kelly (he sang 'Christmas in Killarney').

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