It’s an absolute classic, a power ballad and one that became the template for so many that followed in the 1980s by all those “hair bands” eager to pull at our emotional heart strings. Released in the summer of 1972, ‘Goodbye to Love’ was the third single to be taken from the Carpenters’ A Song For You album. It made the Billboard charts in July and became their second Top 10 single in Britain in September of the same year; it’s also a song that owes something of a debt to Bing Crosby.
Written by Richard Carpenter and his long time writing partner John Bettis, it was while brother Carpenter was visiting London that he got the inspiration to write it. Richard saw a 1940 Bing Crosby film on the television called Rhythm on the River. In the film Crosby refers to a struggling songwriter’s greatest composition, “Goodbye to Love”. According to Richard, “You never hear it [the song] in the movie, they just keep referring to it,” and so he set about writing a song with the title. Richard had the melody and the opening lines, and the rest of the words were added by Bettis.
But it may not have resonated as a ‘power ballad’ without one key, and very special, ingredient, a superb guitar solo, one that was hailed by legendary British underground DJ John Peel as his favourite. It was Richard Carpenter’s idea to have a ‘fuzz guitar’ solo and it was Karen who called session guitarist Tony Paluso to ask him to play on the record.
“At first I didn’t believe that it was actually Karen Carpenter on the phone. She told him that she and Richard were working on a song called ‘Goodbye to Love’” To start with Peluso played something soft and sweet, but then Richard Carpenter said “No, no, no! Play the melody for five bars and then burn it up! Soar off into the stratosphere! Go ahead! It’ll be great!”
When it was done John Bettis said of Peluso’s solo, “[It] had a certain almost cello sounding guitar growl that worked against the wonderful melancholia of that song”.
Released on 19 June, 1972, it made the Billboard Hot 100 on 15 July as the week’s highest new entry at No.68. By 26 august it had peaked at No.7 on the charts where it stayed for two weeks. It was the first Carpenter/Bettis to reach the US Top 10. Despite this, the Carpenters received some hate mail from some disgruntled fans accusing them of selling out, but of course history has proved them to be in the tiny minority.
Some Adult Contemporary radio stations refused to play the song because of the guitar solo, which probably kept it from reaching No.1 on the AC chart, becoming the first Carpenters A-side since ‘Ticket to Ride’ to fail to make the top spot.
The Carpenters’ A Song For You can be bought here.