Top of the World Looking Down on Creation

carpentersBut lest you think the Carpenters weren't musically savvy, what other '70s group could cover a weird cult song about UFOs and make it not just a hit, but a more evocative, universal song than the original (the song being, of course, Klaatu's "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft")?

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's an amusing concept, guilty pleasures. It implies that there are things you should feel ashamed to like – but how can that be with something as subjective as music? But if you broaden the concept to mean "things my friends or colleagues would be surprised to discover I like," it becomes a somewhat easier exercise.

So in that light, I confess I am a Carpenters fan. Yes, Richard Carpenter and his late sister Karen made records I enjoyed and was moved by. Every "sha la la la, every wo wo wo" they put on their immaculately crafted MOR albums found willing receptors in my ears. I loved the huge, gorgeous background vocals on songs like "Close to You" and "For All We Know" – no one did as much with a "Wah-ah-ah" chorus as the Carpenters. Karen had one of the most flawlessly pure timbres of any female vocalist ever, and the hint of heartbreak in everything she sang was unquestionably authentic. As an arranger, Richard's credentials were impeccable. Sure, these two were making easy listening music and filling elevators and stores everywhere with their commercial tunes. But lest you think the Carpenters weren't musically savvy, what other '70s group could cover a weird cult song about UFOs and make it not just a hit, but a more evocative, universal song than the original (the song being, of course, Klaatu's "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft")? And wasn't Karen Carpenter the first woman to take Robert Palmer's sarcastically deferential song "Man Smart, Woman Smarter" and give it the giddy female empowerment version it deserved? And did you know the Carpenters did a cover of Neil Young's tortured mid-60s song of despair and confusion, "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing"? Beyond all that, admit it, don't Carpenters songs sound better at a wedding than half the romantically trite tunes that musically clueless brides choose for the occasion? The list of reasons goes on – including their inspiration for indie filmmakers – but by almost any standard, the Carpenters were an exceptionally gifted pop group. They were simply working in the generally thankless genre of MOR, giving it the sparkle it otherwise almost always lacked.

 

TV department.

Okay, er, here it goes. I LOVE Hewitt. Jennifer Love Hewitt, that is. The star of Ghost Whisperer. I can't talk about it with my family, or my film friends, or even most of my female friends, who quickly conclude that I only like JLH for her much-talked-about physical endowments. Sure, those are hard not to notice, but that's not why I like her so much. I like her because she's far more the embodiment of the "girl next door" concept than most of the actresses categorized as such. I like her because she always seems completely down to earth, and genuinely happy to be in show business. She's never been in rehab, never got a DUI, never got photographed doing the drunken party slut thing. No, not all her movies are especially good, but she always makes an effort to play her character honestly, and she's almost always likeable. And Jennifer charms the heck out of every talk show host who books her. The 15 minutes she spent with former boyfriend Carson Daly on his late night show last year made for riveting television, Jennifer being an absolute, impressively courteous gamer in a situation that could have gone awry at any second. And as for her famous chest, I can't think of another actress in Hollywood who has been as comically appreciative of attention to her looks as Ms. Hewitt; she even jokes about her breasts having a separate career that is going better than hers. She may never win an Emmy, Oscar, or Grammy, but my girl Jennifer is an absolute model of warmth, celebrity gratitude, and willingness to work hard for all she's got. And yeah, baby, she's got a lot. | Kevin Renick

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