Sunday, April 20, 2008

Superstar, The Carpenters (1971)

As I noted yesterday, Crazy On You was not in Juno after all, but a fragment of Sonic Youth's version of Superstar was, so this is probably as good a time as any to write about the version I'm familiar with and loved, the one made famous by Karen and Richard Carpenter.

So in the 60s we had this groupie phenomenon, and while I never succumbed to temptation, I often fantasized about being a groupie for Procol Harum's Robin Trower. Hey, guitar players do things to a girl! (When I lived in the dorm in college, the girl next door was a Marmaduke groupie, John 'Marmaduke' Dawson being a member of the Grateful Dead-associated New Riders of the Purple Sage. I was fascinated by the fact that a college girl could even do such a thing. She'd always come back filthy at the end of a concert weekend, I remember. But I digress.)

Originally the group's drummer, Karen Carpenter the singer had a voice both soothing and disturbing - her unusual contralto always seemed tinged with something that transcended the obvious goody-goody aspect of their typical fare. In Superstar, that 'something' came to life.

Superstar (aka Groupie Song) was written by Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell, with inspiration from Rita Coolidge, who supplied some of the ideas for it and sang it originally on Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. Playing against type, or at least the 'type' with which she was associated, Karen, basking in her brother's arrangement, took it to the hit parade with all of the resonance of which her beautiful melancholy voice was capable. And I think it absolutely works.

In Gold: 35th Anniversary Edition, Richard said he discovered the song when Bette Midler sang it on The Tonight Show, and decided immediately to arrange it for Karen. Despite the growing permissiveness of the time, he felt the need to tone down the overtly sexual lyrics for commercial purposes. Superstar will forever remain an anomaly in the Carpenters' songbook, one that hinted at the deeper waters that were never quite plumbed.


Sheila said...

I don't think any singer has influenced my vocal style more than Karen Carpenter.

There was a natural purity to her voice but it was also laced with melancholy.

Thanks for sharing the background on Superstar. I hadn't realised it was written (or first conceived) about Eric Clapton. Brilliant! (note to self: remember this for the KC tribute show I've been talking about for years but haven't done yet!)

Oh, and from now on when I sing it I'm going to revert back to the original lyrics!

Mombi said...

What an interesting history! I had to look up the Bette version of the song. You know I love me some Divine Miss M!

I keep thinking of a movie or TV reference where someone is singing this song poorly, possibly in their vehicle. It's bothering me that I now can't remember which movie/TV show. I just remember them flubbing up the "baby baby baby baby oh baby" part.

wendy said...

M - Tommy Boy? David Spade and Chris Farley?

Mombi said...

You got it! I've not only watched that scene on YouTube about 5 times today, but I've been singing this song incessantly. I can't get it out of my head!!

Mombi said...

I would like to mention that someone DID sing this very song at karaoke last night, but it was not me.

I did, however, rock out from my seat and now I finally have that song out of my head. I was cured by karaoke!!