Richard Carpenter Weighs In On How To Craft The Perfect Pop Song
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. If you were alive in the '70s, you probably know a lot of The Carpenters' records. They were played so much they were part of the soundtrack of the decade, songs like "Close To You," "We've Only Just Begun," "Rainy Days And Mondays," "Superstar," "Goodbye To Love" and "Yesterday Once More." Our guest, Richard Carpenter, was half of the duo. The other half was his sister, Karen Carpenter. Karen was the lead singer and drummer. Richard chose the songs, co-wrote some of them, did the arrangements and sang backup vocals. Karen died in 1983 from complications of anorexia. Terry spoke with Richard Carpenter in 2009 with the release of The Carpenters' collection titled "40/40." It features 40 Carpenters songs and marked the 40th anniversary of The Carpenters signing with A&M Records. On December 5, the documentary "Close To You: Remembering The Carpenters" will air on PBS and public television. Terry began with The Carpenters hit "Rainy Days And Mondays," which was written by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAINY DAYS AND MONDAYS")
THE CARPENTERS: (Singing) Talking to myself and feeling old. Sometimes I'd like to quit, nothing ever seems to fit. Hanging around, nothing to do but frown. Rainy days and Mondays always get me down. What I've got they used to call the blues. Nothing is really wrong, feeling like I don't belong. Walking around, some kind of lonely clown. Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
Richard Carpenter, welcome to FRESH AIR. Let's start with your first big hit, which is "Close To You," which is written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. You had just been signed to A&M Records, the record label that Herb Alpert co-founded. And then, not long after you were signed, he - if I get the story right - he gave you this song. And what happened?
RICHARD CARPENTER: We'd signed in April of '69. And we had a single released in October of that year that was doing fairly well. It was a ballad version - my take on "Ticket To Ride."
GROSS: The Beatles song.
CARPENTER: Yeah, and during this time, Herb Alpert brought a lead sheet of a rather obscure Bacharach-David song called "They Long To Be Close To You." And I looked at the lead sheet - I say a lead sheet, for those who may not know, is just the melody, the chord changes and the lyric. There's no intro, no outro, no arrangement. It's for - to have something to look at so they get to know the song and do their own arrangement. So when I saw the end of - on the lead sheet - of in your eyes of blue, the melody, I got exactly what Herb was talking about, the (imitating piano) on the piano. But that's it. They wanted me to just, as I said, arrange it the way I felt it should go.
GROSS: The opening piano part that you play on "Close To You" has become kind of like an official part of the melody. So how did you come up with that?
CARPENTER: Yeah, what it is - it's mostly the end. As I was putting the chart together, it would have ended (singing) just like me, they long to be close to you.
And that was - I mean, it had a little more of a - an ending. But to me, it didn't - that wasn't enough. So I pictured a hook or a tag that would be a four-part harmony, overdubbed, and (singing) oh, close to you.
And then again with (singing) oh, close to you.
And that became a - I think, one of the selling points, if you will, of that record. I mean, it had a lot going for it. But that ending certainly was one of them.
GROSS: One more question about "Close To You." There's that trumpet break in...
GROSS: ...In the middle. And that's almost like a signature of Burt Bacharach arrangements. And the trumpeter sounds just like the trumpeter Bacharach used in his recordings in the '60s, which always kind of sounded a little like Herb Alpert. So...
CARPENTER: Well, yeah, keeping it all in the family.
GROSS: Did you do that intentionally?
CARPENTER: I did that intentionally. When I went in to work on the arrangement - took this lead sheet with me - it was like WWB do - you know, what would Bacharach do?
CARPENTER: And so I kept that in mind while I was arranging it. But even that was a little bit of a tip of the hat. Well, not only to Burt with, say, the little tag on the end of "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" that really has nothing much to do with what preceded it, but it's really magical. So when I got through the first chorus of "Close To You," I felt it should modulate. And I pictured the trumpets and yeah, it's Bacharach-esque. But I wanted a little what's called a doit.
GROSS: A what (laughter)?
CARPENTER: On the trumpet. A doit or - I can't call - it looks like do it when you mark it into the chart - D-O-I-T. It's just slang for - it's a little bend. And anyone who's familiar with the record would know - and the trumpets - and it's all one fellow, by the way, named Chuck Findley. He's one of the - is one of the top players in town. And then I had him triple it. So there are three of them overdubbed, playing in unison. But I wanted (imitating trumpet) - that - (imitating trumpet). But it was difficult to get because - I say, originally we had for the sweetening, the orchestra and all had three trumpets. And they were all top-notch players. But when it came to that little doit, each one interpreted it differently. So it was a little bit of a train wreck every time they played it. So ultimately, of course, as I said, it needed to be done three times but by the same trumpeter.
GROSS: OK, so the doits would...
GROSS: ...Would sync up.
CARPENTER: (Imitating trumpet).
GROSS: (Laughter) All right, so...
CARPENTER: But little things like that mean a lot, you know? Little things mean a lot, as the old song goes, and they do.
GROSS: OK, so let's hear "Close To You" by The Carpenters. My guest is Richard Carpenter.
CARPENTER: Doit and all.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLOSE TO YOU")
THE CARPENTERS: (Singing) Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near? Just like me, they long to be close to you. Why do stars fall down from the sky every time you walk by? Just like me, they long to be close to you. On the day that you were born, the angels got together and decided to create a dream come true. So they sprinkled moon dust in your hair of gold and starlight in your eyes of blue. That is why all the girls in town follow you all around. Just like me, they long to be close to you.
GROSS: OK, so there's the trumpet solo with a doit that Richard...
CARPENTER: Doit (laughter).
GROSS: ...(Laughter) Richard Carpenter was describing. Let's skip ahead to the end of the track and get to the harmonies that you were describing.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLOSE TO YOU")
THE CARPENTERS: (Singing, vocalizing) Why, close to you. (Vocalizing) close to you.
GROSS: That's the signature harmonies at the end of "Close To You." Richard Carpenter, is that your voice and Karen Carpenter's voice overdubbed many times?
CARPENTER: Yes, Terry, it is. It's four-part harmony and it's tripled so, obviously, it's 12 vocal parts - 12 voices.
GROSS: So you're obviously a big fan of overdubbing. Part of it...
GROSS: Part of it sounds like it was practical. But aesthetically, what did you like about overdubbing?
CARPENTER: Oh, aesthetically, it's not even practical. It's - I mean, I know what you're saying. But it's the sound. It's - it's just something that caught my ear when I was right around 3 years old and heard Les Paul and Mary Ford. That was overdubbed. Mary Ford's - well, of course the guitars were too. But the vocals - talking about on "Tiger Rag" and "How High The Moon." And even as a little boy, of course, my ears were always attuned to melody and arrangements and music in general and records because Patti Page was overdubbing at the time, as well, say, with "My Eyes Wide Open," "I'm Dreaming," or "Tennessee Waltz." But her harmonies were one voice per harmony, where Mary Ford's were at least two for the same part, if not more. And see, as a kid, I heard the difference even then because it's the overdubbed sound in addition to what - what's being overdubbed that got to me. And of course, I had (laughter) no idea, along with just about the rest of the world, how it was done. I remember asking my mom, how does she do it? And - how does Mary Ford do it? And it reminded me when I later learned, the old joke about how do you get to Carnegie Hall? And she said how's - I said how does she do it? Mom said - yeah, 'cause Mom didn't - she said, well, she practices.
CARPENTER: And I would go around the house trying to get my voice to - no kidding, I - so when I later found out how to do it...
GROSS: You thought that you could create two voices at the same time and sing in harmony with yourself (laughter)?
CARPENTER: Well, you know, I was a little kid. It's my mom, you know, the world's authority on just about everything. So I said - years later, when I learned how it was done, Karen and I took right to it because - well, obviously we're, among other things, we were born to do that.
DAVIES: Richard Carpenter, half of the duo of The Carpenters, speaking with Terry Gross in 2009. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're listening to Terry's 2009 interview with Richard Carpenter of the '70s pop duo The Carpenters.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: Now, you were born in '46 - 1946?
CARPENTER: Yeah, October of '46.
GROSS: So you're growing up just kind of on the cusp of, like, the Perry Como pop era and the Elvis Presley (laughter) and Chuck Berry rock 'n' roll era.
CARPENTER: Yeah, it was a marvelous time.
GROSS: 'Cause you got both.
CARPENTER: Most people my age who weren't so into radio and records and songs and all that didn't really listen until - I mean, born around the time I was - until the rock 'n' roll thing started to come to the surface. You know, '55, '56, especially '57 and on. See, I was different in that between my father's record collection - which was quite eclectic - and listening to the radio, I grew up with all this stuff. You know, I was listening - I remember the first record I wanted, that I pestered my parents for, was "Mule Train."
GROSS: Frankie Laine (laughter). Is that Frankie Laine?
CARPENTER: Frankie Laine. And when I look back - I still have it - they bought it. It was my first record, and it was '78. And I looked at the charts years later - well, that was late '49, which would've meant I'd just turned 3 years old. (Laughter).
GROSS: And didn't that actually have whips on it? (Laughter).
CARPENTER: Yeah. But see, that caught my...
GROSS: Of course.
CARPENTER: I was listening to the radio at 3 years old. That's what I mean. So I grew up with Guy Mitchell and Patti Page and Les Paul and Mary Ford, Jo Stafford, Perry Como - a lot of terrific records along with the burgeoning RB - you know, Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers and...
GROSS: And did you like that?
CARPENTER: I liked it both. That's what I mean. I liked all of it. It was a magic time because say, in '56 alone, you could have - and it was - one bumped the other out of no. 1. Through the years, I've lost the chronology, but both on RCA, one was "Hot Diggity" by Perry Como, the other was "Heartbreak Hotel" by Elvis. And one was no. 1, the other was two and bumped the one. I can't remember whether Elvis bumped out Perry or Perry bumped out Elvis, but that shows you how much of a variety there was on top 40 radio at the time, and I think it was absolutely terrific.
GROSS: So now, when you started performing with your sister, Karen Carpenter, you were doing jazz before you were, you know, doing pop, and, give us a sense of the material that you would do as teenagers.
CARPENTER: Well, it was light jazz 'cause really, I'm not a born jazzer by any stretch of the imagination, but, just light jazz. Well, and Karen was a drummer and met a fellow in college named Wes Jacobs who played bass and actually was a tuba major. And we put together a trio and ended up in the finals of a Hollywood Bowl Battle of the Bands in 1966, June of '66.
GROSS: Your sister, Karen, played drums and sang. Were people surprised when you started performing to see a female drummer, particularly, a female drummer who also sang?
CARPENTER: Well, yeah. Back then female drummers were not quite as - there weren't quite as many as there are now. So it was really...
GROSS: That's an understatement (laughter), yeah.
CARPENTER: Yeah, I imagine it is an understatement. And - and, yeah, she sang as well. Karen, she was gifted, and so she could not only sing beautifully while playing the drums, she did it all. So that's four things going on just with the drums, you know? Both feet and both hands, and then on top of it she was singing. And she could do the drum fills while she was singing ballads, and wouldn't affect her voice whatsoever.
GROSS: Did she really want to sing, or did you have to kind of push her in that direction?
CARPENTER: Oh, Karen - well, at first, I'd say she was - well, she was always interested in drumming, I mean, from the time she first developed an interest. It never really waned, her interest. But, of course, her voice was still coming into its own at this time. But, yeah, I had to - to answer your question, I had to push her. She always - she loved music. We lived in New Haven. We were born in New Haven, and homes back there - as I'm sure you know, if you're not from there even, from the Midwest and the East - they have basements. And Dad had set up the music and the records and the sound and all in the basement. So I'd go down and listen a lot, and Karen would come down and listen to whatever I was listening to. But she had an innate feel for all this stuff as well. But yeah, at first, I had to coax her.
GROSS: So let's hear another track. And I thought we'd hear "Goodbye To Love," which you co-wrote with your songwriting partner, John Bettis.
CARPENTER: That's right.
GROSS: Talk a little bit about how this song came together. You wrote the melody. He wrote the lyrics.
CARPENTER: Yes, that's right. Well, speaking of Bing Crosby, I was watching one of his films. It was called "Rhythm On The River," and in it, he played a ghost songwriter to the famous songwriter whose name I can't remember, but the actor who portrayed him was Basil Rathbone. And in the plot, the songwriter's most famous tune was called "Goodbye To Love." And you never heard a "Goodbye To Love" in this movie, they just referred to it. It was like in "Stardust," you know? And well, hey, a good name for a song. And I pictured the opening lines and the opening lyrics. So I wrote the, (singing) I'll say goodbye to love, no one ever cared if I should live or die.
Well, and then I wrote the rest of the melody and (laughter) John finished the lyric. And that's what came to be.
GROSS: As the composer and arranger, you pull out all the stops on this. There's strings, harp, tambourine, overdubbed harmonies. So anything else you want to say that we should listen for before we hear it?
CARPENTER: No, not really. It's - it's a very tricky melody. And Karen, again, her phrasing, in the early parts especially, sounded like she had three lungs full...
GROSS: It is a tricky melody. Did you know that when you were writing it?
CARPENTER: Yeah, it's chromatic. Oh, sure. Well, I mean...
GROSS: What's going on there - yeah?
CARPENTER: I didn't say, I am going to write a tricky melody. It's just what I heard. See, when I watched the movie, and that "Goodbye To Love" got planted in my head, that's what I heard was, (singing) I'll say goodbye to love, no one ever cared if I should live or die.
That's not exactly in tune, but, yeah it's just what came out. I guess it's my years of listening to not only pop, but Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky and any number of other types of music (laughter). I think it's all a little bit of everything in there.
GROSS: Well, it's a really good melody. So let's hear "Goodbye To Love." This is The Carpenters.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOODBYE TO LOVE")
THE CARPENTERS: (Singing) I'll say goodbye to love. No one ever cared if I should live or die. Time and time again, the chance for love has passed me by, and all I know of love is how to live without it. I just can't seem to find it. So I've made my mind up. I must live my life alone. And though it's not the easy way, I guess I've always known I'd say goodbye to love. There are no tomorrows for this heart of mine. Surely time will lose these bitter memories and I'll find that there is someone to believe in and to live for, something I could live for. All the years of useless search have finally reached an end. Loneliness and empty days will be my only friend. From this day, love is forgotten. I'll go on as best I can.
DAVIES: That's The Carpenters, with "Goodbye To Love." We'll hear more of Terry's 2009 interview with Richard Carpenter and hear his opinion of the Sonic Youth version of The Carpenters's hit, "Superstar," after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies sitting in for Terry Gross. Let's get back to Terry's interview with Richard Carpenter, who was half of the pop duo the Carpenters along with his sister Karen. Terry spoke with Carpenter in 2009 when the Carpenters' collection "40/40" was released. It features 40 tracks and marked the 40th anniversary of the Carpenters signing with A and M Records. On December 5, the documentary "Close To You: Remembering The Carpenters" will air on PBS.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: Before you were signed to A and M Records, where you had your first hit, "Close To You," you were signed with RCA Records where you had nothing (laughter).
CARPENTER: Well (laughter).
GROSS: They kind of got rid of you pretty quickly. Didn't they just, like, buy out your contract?
CARPENTER: Well - yeah, yeah. But let me explain. I understand why they did it, you know - getting back to the Battle of the Bands at the Hollywood Bowl. It was a big deal back then. It was many years at this - it was sponsored by the LA Parks and Recreation Department. It was a big deal. I mean, it was sold out every year, they had name judges. So record labels - I didn't know this at the time - but would send out A and R men to keep their ears open for any new talent. So at the end, I say - Karen and I, we won. So we're walking out and a fellow comes up. His name was Neely Plumb. And he wanted to know if we were interested in recording. They signed us. We were signed 'cause Neely was head of A and R West Coast, RCA. He had signed us a producer whom they had just hired named Rick Gerard. And two of the acts that he had just been assigned having come on board with RCA were the Richard Carpenter Trio and Jefferson Airplane.
GROSS: (Laughter) But I love the story how you're signed and then they realized, well, you're not going to make it in the age of, like, psychedelic music. And then Jefferson Airplane - you know, you're not right for the label and what they're putting out. So then you end up with - was it with your bass player getting a job at Disney's Main Street U.S.A.? Oh, this is with John Bettis...
CARPENTER: Oh, yeah.
GROSS: ...Your song co-writer.
GROSS: So you got a job at Disney's Main Street U.S.A. at a place called Coke Corner. And I've seen a picture of you playing there.
GROSS: And you're both wearing, you know, like, the old, trad Dixieland kind of restaurant costume of (laughter) of like...
CARPENTER: Well, yeah.
GROSS: ...The brimmed hat and the garter on your arm.
CARPENTER: Yeah, it's - yeah...
GROSS: Very corny.
CARPENTER: A straw hat and the - well, it's really not corny because as you know, especially if you've ever worked there, you're a part of a cast.
CARPENTER: And you're supposed to, well, be true to the period you're representing. So Main Street U.S.A. was - well, it's now a turn of last century, but at the time, it was turn-of-the-century America. So all the people who work at the shops and all, they're dressed in period-correct garb. And if you picture a, say, your quintessential or stereotypical barbershop quartet, that's what it was. You know, it was a brocaded vest, long sleeves, garter on the arm, a straw hat. And you were supposed to play pieces that existed at this point in time.
GROSS: Which was what? What was your repertoire there?
CARPENTER: Well, on "The Sidewalks Of New York" and "By The Light Of The Silvery Moon" and a lot of singable, old songs like that. We didn't do what we were supposed to. I mean, we'd do a lot of that. And there were cards with lyrics to these songs on the table, so if people wanted to sing along - it was very much the way Shakey's Pizza Parlor was.
GROSS: Exactly, that's exactly what I was thinking of (laughter).
CARPENTER: Yep. That's - and I don't know which one was a chicken and which was the egg, whether it was Shakey's or Disney, but that's what it was like.
GROSS: Shakey's was, like, a sing-along pizza parlor where there'd be, like, you know, old-fashioned songs that...
CARPENTER: Banjo and piano and - oh, yeah. But what - see, what we did, which we certainly shouldn't have, was answer requests from, well, the folks who would come in for newer songs - like "Somewhere My Love" was pretty new at the time and "Yesterday." And, well, this was - it turned out to be when we played there, the Summer of Love, 1967. So "Light My Fire" was one of the big ones and...
GROSS: (Laughter) Wait.
CARPENTER: ...Kids would come in and say, can you play "Light My Fire?" I'd say, sure, but...
GROSS: But this is great. This is great. You're playing "Light My Fire" in the straw hat and the brocaded vest and the garter belt - and the garter around your arm (laughter).
CARPENTER: We weren't - I understand. Those songs didn't exist then, see? We were supposed to - do what we were told is what we were supposed to do. And we didn't. So it's a wonder we stayed there as long as we did before we were shown the door.
GROSS: Some people thought of the Carpenters as just kind of, like, old-fashioned pop or even corny pop. And then you get somebody coming along like the band Sonic Youth, which takes a song that the Carpenters made famous, "Superstar," puts a totally different spin on it musically - and I wonder what you thought of that?
CARPENTER: Well, I have to speak to this corny business.
GROSS: Yeah, do.
CARPENTER: Yeah, it's traditional American pop...
GROSS: And can I make a confession to you?
CARPENTER: ...Is what it is...
CARPENTER: ...And, you know, they're ignoramuses who say that, OK?
GROSS: OK, I'm going to make a confession to you here, OK? I used to think that you guys were really corny, and it took me a while to really hear what was so good about, you know, the melodies, the arrangements, her singing. I mean - so it took me a while to come around, I'll confess. But - so do you know the Sonic Youth version, which was also referred to in the movie "Juno?"
CARPENTER: Yes, I do.
GROSS: What do you think of it?
CARPENTER: I don't like it.
GROSS: Why don't you like it?
CARPENTER: Why would I like it?
GROSS: (Laughter) Yeah?
CARPENTER: At least when it comes to something like this, I will say I don't care for it, but I don't understand it. So I'm not going to say it's good or it's bad. I'm just going to say I don't care for it.
GROSS: Should we play a little bit of it so our listeners can hear what we're talking about?
CARPENTER: Oh, sure, let's.
GROSS: I see you're really enthusiastic. OK, just give me the liberty to do this just so what we're talking about makes some sense to listeners. And Sonic Youth is a kind of, like, indie noise band (laughter).
CARPENTER: See (laughter).
GROSS: So here's - in fact, why don't we just play them both back to back so we get to hear you too. So here's the Carpenters and Sonic Youth doing "Superstar."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUPERSTAR")
THE CARPENTERS: (Singing) Long ago and oh so far away, I fell in love with you before the second show. Your guitar, it sounds so sweet and clear. But you're not really here, it's just the radio. Don't you remember you told me you loved me, baby? You said you'd be coming back this way again, baby. Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh, baby, I love you. I really do.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUPERSTAR")
SONIC YOUTH: (Singing) Loneliness is such a sad affair. And I can hardly wait to be with you again. What to say to make you come again? Come back to me again, and play your sad guitar. Don't you remember you told me you loved me, baby? You said you'd be coming back this way again, baby. Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh, baby, I love you. I really do. Don't you remember you told me you loved me, baby?
DAVIES: That was the Carpenters and Sonic Youth both performing the song "Superstar." We'll hear more of Terry's 2009 interview with Richard Carpenter after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're listening back to Terry's interview with Richard Carpenter. It was recorded in 2009 when the Carpenters' collection "40/40" was released. It features 40 tracks and marked the 40th anniversary of the Carpenters signing with A and M Records.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: There's some tracks on this - there's a bunch of tracks on this anthology that I didn't know existed. And one of them that I especially like the play is called "Now." And this was recorded late in your sister's life in around 1982. And you did the mix after she died in '83. It's a really beautiful recording, and maybe you could talk a little bit about this recording - why you chose to do it?
CARPENTER: Oh, yeah, it's a - "Now" is a piece by Roger Nichols, a melody writer who wrote "We've Only Just Begun," "Rainy Days And Mondays," "I Won't Last Today Without You," among others. And it's what's called a work lead - a lead that the singer would put on as the tracking musicians. In this case, the bass and drummer - the baseman and drummer could hear how it - rather than just look at a chart with chord changes and all, they could hear how the melody goes, and then it would be replaced with a master lead at - well, at a future date. But Karen sang these things so well that the scratch lead works just dandy. So originally, it was just a bass, piano and drums accompaniment and Karen's lead, and then in the coming months, I finished the chart and mixed it. And, yeah, it's a really pretty song, and Karen sings it - well, she sings it beautifully.
GROSS: She does, so let's hear it. This is "Now," and it's featured on this anthology, which is called "40/40."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOW")
THE CARPENTERS: (Singing) Now, now when it rains, I don't feel cold. Now that I have your hand to hold, the winds might blow through me, but I don't care. There's no harm in thunder if you are there. And now, now when we touch, my feelings fly. Now when I'm smiling, I know why. You light up my world like a morning sun. You're so deep within me, we're almost one. And now all the fears that I have start to fade. I was always afraid love might forget me, love might let me down, then look who I found.
GROSS: That's the Carpenters, and it's featured on the Carpenters' anthology "40/40." My guest is Richard Carpenter. Do you think your sister, Karen, realized what a good voice she had, or do you think because it was such a natural thing for her that she just took it for granted and didn't understand what a gift she had?
CARPENTER: I've been asked that plenty, and I've thought about it plenty. Karen, at once, could realize that she could do just about anything vocally. And when it came to recording, as far as punching in or anything, she just knew - the both of us knew, we can do that. So to me, Karen, at once, both knew just what an instrument she possessed and a gift. At the same time, I don't really know. I tend to think no. It's very hard - it's hard for me to answer, I'll tell you, Terry.
GROSS: I can understand that.
CARPENTER: So - and, you know, being human, we do tend to take things for granted. I honestly can't answer that one. I've tried.
GROSS: One of your really famous recordings, "We've Only Just Begun," countless people have marched down the aisle to that. The song, from the story I've read - the story...
CARPENTER: Yeah, for good or ill.
CARPENTER: Sorry, go ahead.
GROSS: That this song was originally - at least the melody was going to be a jingle for a bank advertising campaign. So...
CARPENTER: Yeah, it was a lyric too, we've only just begun. It was...
GROSS: That was the lyric for the bank ad?
CARPENTER: Yeah, yeah. It was...
CARPENTER: Well, it was a very effective ad. It was a soft sell. It was for the Crocker Bank. It was written by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams specifically for this campaign. And, yeah, it showed a young couple. It was all - it was filmed, and it had that gauzy look to it. And you saw the rice being thrown, and then they drive off into the evening. And as they're driving into the sunset, (unintelligible) into the sunset, the chyron came up. And I can't remember whether a voiceover was with it or just the chyron, but you've only just begun, let us help you get there - the Crocker...
GROSS: (Laughter) That's great.
CARPENTER: The Crocker Bank. I mean, it was a very effective commercial. And I heard that a couple of times, and I'm thinking - well, I knew darn well it was by Nichols and Williams 'cause I recognized Paul's voice. And I thought, it's a hit.
GROSS: So you suggested recording it?
CARPENTER: And, boy, was I right about - Oh, yeah. Yeah.
CARPENTER: That was my idea. That's what I say, you know, it's...
GROSS: You can recognize a hit.
CARPENTER: One of my talents is - at least used to be - recognizing a diamond in the rough, as it were. So - and, boy - and it became the wedding song of a generation, my goodness (laughter). It worked very well for our harmonies as well as Karen's lead. And it was a nice combination of more softer pop, at times, and then had a little more edge to it. And I like the together. When I first heard the demo, bridge ends with (singing) together. And right then and there, before I got it to the piano, I thought, the second time, we're going to sing (singing) together and then go up and (singing) together. I mean, it's an arranger's dream, that song.
GROSS: (Laughter) Thank you so much for coming on FRESH AIR. I really appreciate it. Thank you, Richard Carpenter.
CARPENTER: Oh, sure, Terry. Thank you.
DAVIES: Richard Carpenter spoke with Terry in 2009. On December 5, the documentary "Close To You: Remembering The Carpenters" will air on PBS. Here's the Carpenter's hit "We've Only Just Begun."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE'VE ONLY JUST BEGUN")
THE CARPENTERS: (Singing) We've only just begun to live, white lace and promises. A kiss for luck and we're on our way. We've only begun. Before the rising sun, we fly. So many roads to choose. We start off walking and learn to run. I guess we've just begun. Sharing horizons that are new to us, watching the signs along the way, talking it over, just the two of us, working together day to day, together.
DAVIES: Coming up, TV critic David Bianculli enthusiastically reviews two just-released DVD box sets. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.