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Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft – The Carpenters

The Carpenters, from Downey California, released some transcendent songs in the early 1970s. Karen Carpenter’s beautiful voice showcased beautiful melodies with dark undertows, on songs like ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’ and ‘Superstar’. But the brother and sister duo’s career was faltering by the later part of the decade, and the more diverse, experimental album Passages in 1977 was an unsuccessful attempt to re-ignite their career by exploring new stylistic avenues.

‘Calling Occupants’ was originally written and recorded by the Canadian progressive rock group Klaatu in 1976, who are remembered for conjecture that they were The Beatles recording under a pseudonym. The song’s tag-line “(The Recognized Anthem Of World Contact Day)” gives a good indication of the subject matter, and the opening line is “In your mind you have capacities you know/To telepath messages through the vast unknown.”

The Carpenters’ version takes an already pretentious song even further; Richard Carpenter’s arrangement required a cast of 160 musicians and features a bizarre spoken opening where the group’s guitarist plays a DJ receiving a call from an alien during a request show.

A seven minute effort, with a huge arrangement, it’s a love or hate it effort. According to the AllMusic Guide:

“Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” is one of those ’70s records that is truly embarrassing to be caught listening to today, a pop culture Jimmy Carter-era artifact on a par with pet rocks.

But for the record, I think it’s great. You’ve got to be able to stomach some over-bearing arrangements, and the lyrics are obviously kitsch, but it’s a tour de force that hits on some moments of magic over its long running time.

What did you think? Embarrassing mess or memorable pop symphony?

9 thoughts on “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft – The Carpenters Leave a comment

  1. I am a fan of the Carpenters hits. I had not heard this before. I just listened on Spotify and I vote for brilliant mistake bordering on cosmic mess. But it was worth the listen. If Father John Misty did this it might be great. It need more weirdness and less kitsch.

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  2. Their career was, as you said, on the slide when they released this. Having saturated and exhausted potential fans on this planet, they made a record with a hope they could gather new listeners from beyond the Cosmos.

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  3. One wonders why they didn’t just leap all over disco at that point. It was by then popular and I bet their fans would have gone right with them. (Present company excepted. I am neither a Carpenters fan per se nor not a fan, but I am a HUGE Karen Carpenter fan. What a voice! I just melt when she sings.) Anyway, just wanted to check in but I haven’t been able to find the time even to listen to that short piece. I will report back soon. Roger, over and out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, amazing voice. ‘Touch Me When We’re Dancing’ from their 1981 album feels like it’s pushing in the dance direction. I’d be interested to hear what you think of ‘Calling Occupants’.

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  4. Ok, so I fully expected to think this would suck. But you know what? I kinda liked it. I think it’s just that that “Calling Occupants” refrain is so melodic. It keeps going through my head. Now I don’t know if that’s because it’s melodic or because she sang that phrase 35,000 times. But given that melody, if she had sung some love song over it, we probably wouldn’t be having this “kitschy or not” discussion. I found myself wondering why they would pick it. But maybe they really bought into this “let’s welcome the aliens” narrative. Recall that “Close Encounters” came out in 1977 and we were all in a heightened interplanetary moment akin to yesterday’s eclipse. Anyway, I dug it and if anyone can sell it, it’s Karen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wasn’t even alive in 1977! But I like what Steve and Abe Record Reviews said about – the site’s defunct now, but the guy who wrote it was onto it.

      “By 1975, the albums were full of formulaic originals and uninteresting covers, all performed without much inspiration. It must have been at this point that the Carpenters decided to go back to the old way of doing things: just take a bunch of songs they like, regardless of how well they fit the formula, and cut them with their own arrangements. ”
      http://www.angelfire.com/mi4/steveandabe/carpenters.html

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      • I like the one of the last lines in that review you pointed to. “Unfortunately, the album was a relative flop, and the Carpenters spent the rest of their career treading through the shallow waters of Christmas albums and MOR schlock.” Oh, well.

        Liked by 1 person

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