It’s strange to think of a time before nostalgia was a full-time industry. But it wasn’t really until the early 1970s that the idea of looking back in time fully turned into a commercial proposition, in music and across all the arts. The Carpenters, with their finger on the pulse of the changing pop fashions as always, were one of the first acts to identify the new appetite for fond reminiscence of times gone by. They brilliantly combined the past and the present with their fifth album, Now & Then, which entered the Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart, at No. 81, on 2 June 1973.
Listen to Now & Then right now.
Of course, with Karen and Richard Carpenter’s trademark creativity, they didn’t simply cover old songs. They created fresh nostalgia of their own with a brand new composition, ‘Yesterday Once More.’ Written by Richard with John Bettis, it was released as a single simultaneously with the album. The song celebrated the fact that the songs that the siblings enjoyed listening to on the radio when they were young were “back again, just like a long lost friend.”
The track went to No. 2 on the Hot 100, became their eighth No. 1 in four years on the easy listening chart, and travelled the world, also hitting the runner-up spot in the UK. It was the perfect lead-off to the Then side of the LP, on which the Carpenters then had huge fun remaking the songs of their youth.
Before that, the Now side had them starting with ‘Sing,’ the number written for Sesame Street by staff writer Joe Raposo that would be much-covered throughout the 1970s and ‘80s. The same applied to Leon Russell’s ‘This Masquerade,’ of which the duo’s interpretation became one of the best-loved versions.
British composer Johnny Pearson, known there as the leader of the orchestra that played for years on the chart show institution Top Of The Pops, enjoyed the honour of having his instrumental composition ‘Heather’ covered for Now & Then. That top side of the album did go nostalgic for the Carpenters’ version of Hank Williams’ ‘Jambalaya (On The Bayou),’ before closing with ‘I Can’t Make Music’ by the then-emerging New Jersey composer Randy Edelman.
Pop and country gems
After ‘Yesterday Once More,’ the duo took us back into their childhood by remaking a host of pop and country hits. They included Skeeter Davis’ 1962 ballad ‘The End Of The World,’ the Crystals’ classic ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ from the following year and timeless pop gems like ‘The Night Has A Thousand Eyes’ and ‘Our Day Will Come.’ There were even nods to the surfing craze, as they redid the Beach Boys’ ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ and the Jan & Dean hit also co-written by Brian Wilson, ‘Dead Man’s Curve.’
Now & Then went on to reach the group’s increasingly familiar peak position of No. 2 in the US, UK, Canada and Holland. It sold two million copies in America, half a million in Japan, and helped further cement the Carpenters’ place as the masters of both contemporary and nostalgic pop.