Part II of our mini-series on artists who have never had a UK #1 single, despite hits-a-plenty… And it’s a slight change in musical tack.
As much as I can find plenty to admire in Bob Dylan, I’ve often found his giant back-catalogue slightly daunting. Where to begin? With Karen and Richard Carpenter, however, you know where you stand. A huge chart presence throughout the early to mid seventies, here are their five biggest hits that never quite made it to the top…
‘Only Yesterday’ – reached #7 in 1975
The Carpenters were on cruise control here, with one of their later hits. I can’t help notice that it recycles the best bits from earlier releases (‘Goodbye to Love’s guitar, ‘Yesterday Once More’s nod to sixties girl-groups). Still, Karen Carpenter could, as they say, sing the phonebook and it would still be worth listening to.
‘(They Long to Be) Close to You’ – reached #6 in 1970
The duo’s breakthrough came with this cover of a Bacharach and David number, which went all the way to the top on the Billboard 100 and firmly planted itself in the UK Top 10. To me it’s a quintessentially sixties song, having been around since ’63 and having passed through hands as illustrious as Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield. However, the video above screams ‘1970!!!’ louder than anything else I can imagine. Just look at Karen perched in that ‘U’, like a lovesick puppy… It gave The Carpenters a sound and an aesthetic that they kept for the rest of their career.
‘Top of the World’ – reached #5 in 1973
The Carpenters were a popular band in the UK and the US. Never ‘cool’ but, y’know, well-liked by many. Spend some time in Asia, however, and you start to view them in a new light. I soon came to realise how huge The Carpenters were/still are here… In Thailand, in Japan, in Hong Kong and the Philippines… You hear them in restaurants, in shops, on TV and, more than anything, at karaoke bars… Why? Well, as cliched as it sounds: their lyrics are simple, and easy to make out, and there ain’t nothing controversial about them. And ‘Top of the World’ is the epitome of this easy-listening accessibility.
‘Please Mr. Postman’, reached #2 in 1974
What’s worse than this middle of the road cover of The Marvelettes’ 1961 hit being The Carpenters’ joint biggest chart hit? The fact that it was voted ‘The Nation’s Favourite Carpenters Song’ in an ITV poll! The British public proving once again that they cannot be trusted in large-scale voting situations…
‘Yesterday Once Again’, reached #2 in 1973
Another fave in the karaoke bars of Asia… Apparently The Carpenters are the 3rd highest selling foreign act in Japanese history, behind The Beatles and Mariah Carey (blame that bloody Xmas song!) Now an oldie but a goody itself, and a song that sums up everything that people either love or hate about The Carpenters, ‘Yesterday Once More’ lives on in every sha-la-la-la and shinga-linga-ling… As does Karen’s voice, one of the most effortlessly beautiful to have ever graced the charts.
One more ‘Never Had a #1…’ tomorrow. Another American band, huge in the ’70s, that can perhaps lay claim to being the biggest-selling act never to hit the top spot…