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 opus, 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?