Hi, it’s another entry in the LoveSong book.
SamuraiFrog is one of my favorite bloggers. He writes all sorts of things (pop culture, political, personal, etc.), and his empathy and intelligence shine through in everything he does. Among other neat things he’s done, he’s the guy behind the very funny Godzilla Haiku.
The loved: The Carpenters, “Rainy Days and Mondays” (1971)
So I decided that my song is “Rainy Days and Mondays” by The Carpenters.
When I was a kid, my mom had a Carpenters record, a hits collection, and even then I remember thinking that it was pretty bland. Which is weird, considering most of her music sounded like that, and most of it–Cat Stevens, Roger Whittaker–I’ve loved since then. It was just something about the clean vocals and the pretty music that sounded… plain.. Boring. As I grew up, I became aware that except for the tragedy of Karen Carpenter’s death, people generally seemed to think of their music as a joke. I dismissed it as more of “mom’s music” and just sort of moved on.
But then, as a teenager, I got really into Paul Williams.
I love and adore Paul Williams. I feel like growing up with The Muppet Movie I had no other choice. In those formative years–The Muppet Movie came out when I was 3–an appreciation for Paul Williams and his music was written into my DNA. Few songwriters make me feel like Paul Williams does. And when I started openly listening to him at work or at school, inevitably someone would hear “Rainy Days and Mondays” and ask “Are you listening to Carpenters demos or something?” I had actually forgotten the Carpenters performed that song, as well as a few others. The only Carpenters song I even remembered by the time I was 18 was “Close to You,” which just seemed like the epitome of square music. (Says the guy who was still joyously listening to Roger Whittaker’s “Folk Songs of Our Time” album, and still would be if the goddamn thing was on CD.) Listening to the Carpenters just seemed so… cheesy.
But I took that record back out one afternoon and queued it up to “Rainy Days and Mondays” and instead of something plain and square, I heard one of the prettiest songs ever recorded.
That sad, Toots Thielmans-esque harmonica and Karen Carpenter’s voice right in the opening cut straight through the BS and right into my system. If you haven’t heard it in a long time, just sit and listen for a few minutes to Karen Carpenter’s voice. Something I notice about her voice now: it’s incredible. Usually the production of a song enhances its emotional content, but in Karen’s case, it feels like her voice enhances the emotional content of the production. There’s someone who has isolated a lot of her vocal tracks on YouTube, and you can hear how about 75% of the emotions in Carpenters songs is really right there in Karen’s voice. It’s powerful and on occasion (as in this song) moving. Right here, I’m going to make a comparison that seems maybe out of left field, but Karen Carpenter reminds me of Frank Sinatra. They’re both two of the few singers who can make anything sound sincere. They find the core feeling of a song and bring it out of the song with just their voices. Everything going on around their voices almost doesn’t matter.
Listen to the slight break in her voice the first time she sings “I always wind up here with you.” You can almost hear a self-deprecating grin and some kind of sly, flirty quality. Nothing against Paul Williams (I like his voice, too), but she’s really the perfect singer for this song, because she’s able to bring out the emotions already there and not really linger on them or squeeze them for all they’re worth. It’s not overdone at all. And what Karen Carpenter is able to do with this song is to make it sound like “Rainy Days and Mondays” don’t really get her down at all. Of course they don’t: she gets to wind up here with you, and god damn it, it’s nice to know somebody loves her. It’s the rare song that sounds like it’s going to be depressing but actually makes you feel good. And for a guy with diagnosed Mood Disorder, that’s kind of a big deal.
And this song helped make me not at all concerned that I liked square music. Because square music is really just emotions being conveyed in a way that’s not “cool.” And I’m perfectly okay with that.