When Carpenters Went Head To Head With Punk, On ‘Passage’

October 22, 2015

Carpenters’ ambitious eigth album, Passage, was a victim of its own timing: released in October 1977, while the world was going punk and Carpenters were producing the plushest of plush pop. Passage includes three hit singles, ‘All You Get from Love Is a Love Song’ (US No.35), ‘Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft’ (US No.32) and ‘Sweet, Sweet Smile (US No.44). The latter song, written by Juice Newton, was picked up by country radio and made the Billboard’s Country chart in the spring of 1978. Yet while the album only made No.49, it remained on the US album chart for four and a half months.

Passage includes one of Carpenters’ most ambitious productions of all time, among them their cover of Canadian band Klaatu’s ‘Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft’. The single came out in late September 1977 and was recorded on the A&M soundstage in Los Angeles and featured the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, who, for contractual reasons, were referred to as the ‘Overbudget Philharmonic’, in Passage’s liner notes.

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The orchestral arrangements for ‘Calling Occupants’ and the other “production” number on the album, ‘On The Balcony Of The Casa Rosada/Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’, were by British arranger and conductor Peter Knight, whose credits include The Moody BluesDays Of Future Passed album. According to Richard, ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ was “submitted to us by the publisher, and I immediately felt it was perfect for Karen, though now I feel differently, as I believe the song doesn’t linger long enough in a lower register, a great area for Karen’s voice”. The song was taken from the musical Evita, but it is to be remembered that it had not yet been put on the London stage, so the Carpenters were ahead of the field.

Passenger was something of a first for the Carpenters in that it includes no songs written by Richard Carpenter. ‘All You Get from Love Is A Love Song’, was written by Steve Eaton, while the lovely ‘Two Sides’, one of the band’s lesser-known gems was written by Scott E Davis, better known as Mac Davis. The album’s opening track, ‘B’wana She No Home’, is from the pen of cult jazz vocalist Michael Franks, while ‘Man Smart, Woman Smarter’ is credited to Norman Span, better known as 40s calypso singer King Radio.

Aside from Karen and Richard, the album features regular guitarist Tony Paluso (who is also the voice of the DJ on ‘Calling Occupants’), along with bass player Joe Osborn, Ray Parker Jr on guitar (who would later find fame with Raydio), noted LA sax player and session man Tom Scott, as well as Elvis Presley’s drummer, Ron Tutt.

While its chart performance in the US was disappointing it did make No.12 in the UK and No.7 in Japan, and remains a much loved album by fans, most of whom were never remotely interested in punk, anyway…

Passenger is one of the classic Carpenters albums that make up the 12LP box set The Vinyl Collection, due for release on 17 November. Scroll down to read the full list of albums in the box, and order The Vinyl Collection here.

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The albums in The Vinyl Collection are:

Ticket To Ride (1969)
Close To You (1970)
Carpenters (1971)
A Song For You (1972)
Now & Then (1973)
Horizon (1975)
A Kind Of Hush (1976)
Passage (1977)
Made In America (1981)
Voice Of The Heart (1983)
Lovelines (1989)
The Singles 1969-1973 (1973)

 

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