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Karen Carpenter: Thoughts on her vocals and isolated vocal tracks

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by mpayan, Apr 20, 2016.

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  1. mpayan

    mpayan Forum Resident Thread Starter

    For those who enjoy The Carpenters the obvious reason is Karen Carpenter's vocals. Even folks who dont appreciate The Carpenters music and think of it as light weight sap usually have to at least admit Karen had an incredibly infectious uniquely rich voice. Surfing youtube I ran across a few clips of Karen's vocals isolated. Or nearly isolated, as there are drums and bass present. Not that her vocals really need to be isolated in order for them to stand out.

    Listening to these clips in the dark last night I started thinking what it is that makes her voice so special and appealing to many. In a basic sense it simply comes down to her voice seems envelop the listener with a warmth thats hard to describe and a richness in tone that defines pleading heartache within a smile. The listener gets the sense that shes right there rocking you to calm comfort. Its a hypnotic voice. It possesses a tender strength.

    When listening to these clips I started what things Karens voice did that was a bit different than other voices. A couple of things stand out. There doesnt seem to be a lot of double tracking to her vocals. Which shows just how strong her voice really was. They didnt need to be.

    Secondly, many female singers (especially in the last 25 yrs) emphasize the upper register for emotional impact. Karen was an alto though she had a pretty strong higher register also. Yet, when we listen to her sing, the chills dont come during the higher parts but during the lower register singing in which she can focus and point tone and dynamics that cut right through you. A type of singing in women you dont hear too often and certainly not to the effect that Karen did it.

    Thirdly, Karen used purposeful breaks in her vocals that juxtapostioned the happy with the sad. In "Weve Only Just Begun" the word smile gets one of those little cracks. It makes a word that is associated with happiness have an underlying sadness to it. When she sings "so much of life ahead" the word life doesnt depict hope as much as uncertainty. Though we take the song in general to mean a new start to a couples begining life together; she creates a push/pull that we may not be aware of. There are other words she uses a break in her vocals to do this also. That, of course, in turn consciously or subconsciously makes us feel as though someone understands our happy sadness weve experienced.

    Lastly, I think there is an attractive quality as to the way Karen *pronounces* some of the words. I dont know if this is due to her accent being naturally exagerrated, incidental or part of what goes on vocally for her to get to the end of a word. When she holds a phrase the vowels sometime get twisted into this uniquely Karen pronounciation. It comes across as both cute/sexy and as a personal signature. Its kind of her eye lash flutter to us.

    The above are just some observations of one of my favorite female voices. When it comes down to it, Karen's voice is indescribable.

    What do you think made Karen Carpenters voice so attractive to people? What unique qualities do you hear? Any thoughts on her voice?

    Here is a clip of the vocals semi- isolated:

    PS: While looking around the net to find more about Karen Carpenter and her vocal style I ran across this short piece. The Saturday mornings the writer experienced are exactly my experience. There are links to more clips in this article.

    Just how beautiful was Karen Carpenter’s voice? Listen to her isolated vocal tracks and find out »
  2. jwb1231970

    jwb1231970 Ordinary Guy

    I wish there was a vocals only album compilation ala the beach boys
    AppleCorp3 likes this.
  3. mpayan

    mpayan Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Im sure there is a way to single her vocals out; though Im not technically savy enough to know how.
  4. JohnnyQuest

    JohnnyQuest Forum Resident

    Karen is one of the best singers of the 20th century. Some of the most pristine vocals I've ever heard in Pop music. So perfect that it almost sounds robotic at times. :love:
    JL7, myles, lightbulb and 3 others like this.
  5. lv70smusic

    lv70smusic Senior Member

    San Francisco, CA
    I think the isolated vocals that are on YouTube simply contain the center channel audio from the 5.1 SACD, right?

    I think what appeals to me most about Karen's voice is the underlying pathos.
    JL7, Mooserfan, zebop and 1 other person like this.
  6. mpayan

    mpayan Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Yep, basically the center channel. I admit a bit of a bait title :D. But the "isolation" is enough I think to support the discussion. Anything to have an excuse to talk about her wonderful voice. And Im really curious as to others thoughts on what made her special etc.
  7. The Panda

    The Panda Forum Mutant

    Marple, PA, USA
    I think the amazing breath control she had was a contribution. I think it just sounds pleasing to the ear when someone can sail all around the notes smoothly and seemingly without effort.
    Unlike many here, I find that she sometimes delivered technically brilliant yet emotionally weak vocals and even then they sounded pleasing.

    Also, her strong and gentle voices were not jarring when she switched (ie, Let me Be The One)
    keyXVII, dougb222 and dadonred like this.
  8. Pastle

    Pastle Forum Resident

    The perfect pitch, the crystal clear tone, the incredible timing and phrasing, if Karen ever hit a bum note I never heard it....but most of all:
    Agree 100%.
    JL7, Mooserfan, keyXVII and 2 others like this.
  9. MikeP5877

    MikeP5877 Non-essential

    Hmmmm.... when I see the term "robotic", Gary Numan comes to mind.
    Christopher B and JohnnyQuest like this.
  10. zebop

    zebop Well Known Stranger

    I hear a lot of Matt Monro in some of Karen's phrasing which is really cool.
    Nostaljack, Beech and AudiophilePhil like this.
  11. Chemguy

    Chemguy Forum Resident

    And the range! She can dig into the lower register and maintain pitch and smoothness. Honey!
  12. I wish Karen and Linda would have done an album together
  13. Jennifer Tomkins

    Jennifer Tomkins Well-Known Member

    When Karen Carpenter sings a song, she owns it. No one can ever sing it better. The song is officially retired.
    JL7, keyXVII, Mooserfan and 3 others like this.
  14. motionoftheocean

    motionoftheocean Forum Resident

    Circus Maximus
    perfect expression, perfect phrasing, nothing overwrought, nothing wasted, just authentic, honest, stripped bare yet heavily nuanced and not at all maudlin - Karen Carpenter will forever be among the handful of best singers that ever lived

    I've heard "We've Only Just Begun" about a thousand times, and I think I may like the (mostly) isolated version above best of all.
    JL7, keyXVII, LSP2003 and 1 other person like this.
  15. lightbulb

    lightbulb Not the Brightest of the Bunch

    Smogville CA USA
    Great thread!
    As the isolated vocal tracks amply demonstrate, I think Karen Carpenter easily carried the strong melody inherent in each of their hits. The "additional" instrumentation just served as embellishments, and fleshed out the songs.

    She masterfully enunciated the lyrics, in crystal clear tones, yet allowing enough play so her flexible vocals supported and emphasized key elements of the melody. That's why so many of their songs are instantaneously recognizable, and memorable.
    ZippyPippy and mpayan like this.
  16. urasam2

    urasam2 A Famous Potato

    Thank you for this clip. I can't put into words how much I love it
    LSP2003 and AudiophilePhil like this.
  17. anduandi

    anduandi Forum Resident

    Yes but in opposite to many female singers of today her voice made you really feel the pain or yearning as if it was your own. It felt absolutely authentic. Karen was so gifted, especially on the earlier tracks of her career.
    Most of today's female singers leave me cold. The more they try to squeeze out the last artificial drop of emotions out of their voices the more worse. Just my opinion...
    keyXVII, JL7, Rgfinch and 5 others like this.
  18. mpayan

    mpayan Forum Resident Thread Starter

    What Im gathering "authenticity" is the general consensus as to one of Karen Carpenters singing attributes. The songs didnt call for trills and vocal gymnastics. She kept it simple. Thanks for the responses. Ive enjoyed reading them.
    dadonred and Rgfinch like this.
  19. lv70smusic

    lv70smusic Senior Member

    San Francisco, CA
    Exactly. Let's bring up another example: Aretha in her prime on Atlantic. Her singing had a lot of embellishments, but Aretha always sounded genuine -- like she was living the songs she sang. Later singers like Mariah or Christina have simply copied the style without the substance, so you end up with a technically good performance that still leaves the listener not feeling anything.
    ZippyPippy, dadonred and Mooserfan like this.
  20. tommy-thewho

    tommy-thewho Forum Resident

    detroit, mi
    Great thread.

    She had such a pleasing warm voice. Hard to put into words.

    Her version of Superstar brings chills down my back it's so good.
    pscreed, Mooserfan and mpayan like this.
  21. greelywinger

    greelywinger That T-Rex Guy

    Dayton, Ohio USA
    Love those 5.1 mixes.

  22. readr

    readr Forum Resident

    She obviously projected her voice as an instrument, like a violin. Brilliant and simple at the same time. Effortless, yet complex. She had a gift. I'm thankful she got to share it with us.
    mpayan likes this.
  23. AppleCorp3

    AppleCorp3 Forum Resident

    Having recently listened to her solo album for the first time, I think that one of the key reasons those particular songs do not work (in my opinion, of course) is because her voice is not utilized as it is on the Carpenters records.

    Karen had an amazing instrument, for all of the reason outlined above. However, I give a lot of credit to Richard for song selection, vocal arrangement and how he recorded her voice. It really was the best of a lot of things coming together.

    These isolations are great. I could listen to them for hours and hours. Thanks for posting!
    Gregory Earl and mpayan like this.
  24. Francisx

    Francisx Forum Resident

    Not sure how to say this without sounding negative but she had one of the saddest voices ever....talented yes....but I never could listen to her because of that sad and depressed voice.
    Not scratchy or worn just sad and without expression.
    AppleCorp3 likes this.
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