It was 51 years ago Sunday (August 1st, 1970), that the Carpenters‘ first Number One hit, “(They Long To Be) Close To You,” began its second of four weeks on top of the charts. The group, which featured the Southern California brother-sister team of keyboardist Richard Carpenter and his younger sister Karen on drums and vocals, were already signed to A&M records when their cover of the Beatles‘ “Ticket To Ride” caught songwriter Burt Bacharach‘s ear. Bacharach eventually asked the group to open for him at a Los Angeles benefit, and asked Richard to arrange a medley of Bacharach and lyricist Hal David‘s rarer work to be performed at the event.
Legendary musician and A&M records co-founder Herb Alpert recalled that it took the group several tries to work the song into being a hit: “The Carpenters for instance, had ‘Close To You,’ it’s a tune that I gave them that Hal David sent me. And the first recording was of Karen playing drums, and when we heard it, I just felt it was just a little too light. It wasn’t competing with what was on the radio at that time. (The) second recording was likewise, it was a little bit of an improvement, I said, ‘Man, you need to get some artillery in there.’ And that was the breakthrough recording for the Carpenters.”
The late-Hal David, the song’s lyricist, said that the song wasn’t written for the group, but rather for Dionne Warwick back in 1963: “I wrote (the lyrics) to the melody, although many of our songs Burt wrote to the lyric. We wrote that song for, and we recorded it with Dionne (Warwick). Herb Alpert was looking for a song, I think Burt sent it over and he gave it to the Carpenters, and they did a great arrangement on it, and she was fantastic.”
The Carpenters’ month-long reign topping the charts with “(They Long To Be) Close To You” was ended when Bread‘s “Make It With You” went on the to snag the top spot.
The Carpenters went on to score two further Number Ones, with 1973’s “Top Of The World” and 1975’s remake of the Marvelettes‘ “Please Mr. Postman.”