The Carpenters - Goodbye to Love

An antidote to Valentine's Day!
Yes, its that time of year again when single people feel left out and socially inadequate. Even in our lockdown world there is no escape from Valentine's Day despite everything else being cancelled. So enough of that stuff, here’s a song that provides an antidote! `Goodbye to Love co-written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis came to prominence in 1972 when it charted highly around the world bringing The Carpenters to even wider attention and gaining them a little musical respect. It’s sombre lyric is given additional emotion by Karen Carpenter’s vocals and there’s a surprisingly rousing guitar solo that tips the song into being a classic. I’m no fan of guitar solos but this is one is definitely welcome. This is a song that reaches beyond melancholy and could be interpreted as the thoughts of someone who is depressed. Inevitably in view of Karen Carpenter’s own ultimately tragic life it has been seen as something of a cry for help but this was earlier in her career and she was always a singer who could isolate the very essence of lyrics to maximum effect. This is quite simply (and it sounds simpler than it is) one of the best songs of the Seventies. Let’s face it, more of us feel like this on Valentine’s especially when faced with that sea of pink cards and balloons everywhere.


It is sung from the point of view of someone frequently disappointed by love who is now saying goodbye to all that. Yet it also suggests she is not just talking about romantic love but also her entire life to this point. “No one ever cared if I should live or die,” she sings in the second line (that’s some second line!). There’s a terrifying eloquence to the lines “All I know of love is how to live without it.” Think what that means. She’s made up her mind with a bold resolve that she  “must live my life alone” even though that is going to be difficult.

It is one of those songs without a proper chorus but in the second verse there is some hopefulness just peaking through as she imagines the passing of time will “lose these bitter memories.” She even imagines finding someone that she believes in. However she seems to view this development as something that is neither inevitable nor imminent. “Loneliness and emptiness will be my only friend,” she suggests. While there may come a time she decides she’s been wrong, “for now this is my song.” It has a subversive edge too because the melody could easily be mistaken for a more straightforward love song if someone didn't pay attention to the lyrics.


The famous guitar solo is played by Tony Peluso it is not an over complicated twiddly sort of solo but it is absolutely perfect in sound and executed with just a little distortion underlining the desperation of the song. In the background is a gorgeous multi tracked load of “aahing”. Each time he gets to the repeat he ramps up the fuzz a bit more. It rides on till the fade and you can picture the narrator slowly walking away into a sunny afternoon sadly watching lovers enjoying each other’s company and nobody noticing her. Great pop songs capture a moment in time vividly enough not to need a promo video to tell you how to feel and this is a great example. Which is a good thing as there isn’t one and it’s hard to imagine one doing justice to it.

The story of the song’s origins is equally distinctive. Richard Carpenter was inspired by a Bing Crosby film called Rhythm on the River in which a song called `Goodbye To Love` was referred to but never actually heard. So he imagined what such a song might be like writing much of the song in 1971. John Bettis who penned most of the lyrics co-wrote many of the Carpenter’s hits as well as many others including Madonna’s “Crazy For You` and Whitney Houston’s `One Moment in Time`. Advised to “soar off into the stratosphere” Tony Peluso built up the guitar solo into something powerful having originally intended to use a softer approach. The results have led the song to be labelled the first power ballad and its seen as a template for all those big sweeping epic Eighties songs by Peter Cetera and company. It made the top 10 in charts around the world after its release in June 1972. It has since been covered by a variety of artists including Johnny Mathis, Midge Ure and Kelley Johnson. The song has ended up having considerable significance in the legacy of the Carpenters being used as the title of a major documentary about them and also a touring celebration of their songs. 

Plus as you get older you may find yourself identifying with the sentiment of this song. Does there come a moment when you have to say Goodbye to Love?


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