The first time I gave them serious thought was while listening to "Hank, Karen and Elvis" by the Young Fresh Fellows. It was the late 90s, I am sure, and I was approaching 21 but not there yet. I had already abandoned Elvis Presley (verse 3) while I was yet to understand Hank Williams (verse 1). And Karen was just uncool. But the song was just great.
I just spent a buck on Amazon to download the track, off the YFF's The Men Who Loved Music. It wasn't because I didn't know the music. It was because I hadn't heard it in nearly 20 years and there were lyrics I couldn't quite remember. Mostly on the Karen verse.
They say she had the most beautiful voice
but I'd take Wanda or Sandy if I had my choice
And she could play the drums! Even while wearing a dress
but Hal Blaine would take over when they needed the best
Everyone who was there, they have to write about it
They know something bad, they've got to scream and shout it
She starved herself to death with no brother to stop her
But he helps remember her now with this special TV offer
I don't know who Wanda and Sandy are, but listening to this made me look up Hal Blaine. Don't know who he is? If you like a pop song recorded between 1963 and 1976, there's a big chance that he was the drummer on it. He played on six consecutive Song of the Year Grammy winners. And he thought Karen was a really good drummer. Anyway, after this, it was Sonic Youth and Goo that brought me to Karen.
Part of me wants to dive into Sonic Youth and their KC obsession. Part of me wants to go on about the Young Fresh Fellows. ("Amy Grant" is a must-hear.)
All this came back to my head because of this post on the Allmusic Blog. It's easy to forget, with the pop gloss of their work, that some of those songs are heavy works:
This point of view seems like a quest for the dark side in an era of light. Yet the Carpenters created some of the darkest music of their era, not a comic-book darkness of eldritch warlocks and witchfinders as in Black Sabbath or in the reinvented blues jams of Led Zep or the Allmans, but a very human, deeply painful darkness of alienation and loneliness.