In Flight With the Carpenters

As we went back to school in 1972, one of the radio hits had a big, blazing guitar solo in it. What made it unusual was that it was on a Carpenters record.

There’s never been another record quite like “Goodbye to Love,” which, at first, is a lot like every other Carpenters’ record. Karen’s voice, which starts in an impossibly low register, is impossibly perfect, and a tasteful orchestra plays behind her. Then, about 1:20 in, a fuzztone guitar comes up out of nowhere, and for just a few seconds it threatens to run amok until Karen and the orchestra return to restore order . . . but only for a little while.

At about the 2:30 mark, we begin the greatest 90 seconds in the entire Carpenters’ catalog. Karen is multi-tracked into an angel chorus—and here comes that guitar again. Only now, it quickly comes completely unchained, shredding and soaring, utterly spectacular, and only weird if you can’t stop thinking about whose record it’s on.

The guy who played that solo was longtime Carpenters guitarist and collaborator Tony Peluso. Thirty years later, he recalled the session.

“In the middle, Richard [Carpenter] says ‘That’s where you play.’ I’m thinking: ‘What would be right?’ I played something that was very soft and easy, I tried to stay out of the way. Obviously, it didn’t happen. Richard said: ‘No, no, no, not like that. Play the melody for five bars and then burn it up! Soar off into the stratosphere. Go for it!’ He wanted an aggressive, sawtooth guitar solo in the middle of this Doris Day easy-listening-style record. I thought, ‘he can’t be serious.’ . . . Inadvertently, Richard had broken new ground. No one had ever really mixed the elements of rock ‘n’ roll and easy listening. Totally crazy. I take a tiny bit of credit for being there and playing it, but it was Richard’s great idea. From then on, it became very commonplace for a big power ballad to have a raging guitar solo.”

Commonplace eventually, yes, but not right away. “Goodbye to Love” was several years ahead of its time—not until 1975 and 1976, and records like “Love Hurts,” “Dream On,” and “More Than a Feeling,” did big guitars consistently find their way into ballads.

“Goodbye to Love” hit #7 on the Hot 100 in late August 1972. According to Wikipedia (so who the hell knows), some adult radio stations resisted playing it because of that solo. Maybe a few, but not very many: “Goodbye to Love” went to #2 on the Easy Listening chart. (Maybe some stations faded the record early or edited the solo, like the elevator-music station I worked for.) It was the eighth straight Carpenters single to reach either #1 or #2 on Easy Listening. That streak, which had begun in 1970, would eventually reach 17 in a row before being snapped in 1976. Thirteen of those songs went to #1.

Tony Peluso’s mother was an opera singer and his father the musical director for NBC Radio on the west coast. His first big professional job was with Bobby Sherman. A Song for You, the album containing “Goodbye to Love,” was his first with the Carpenters, when he was barely 22 years old; he’d be their guitarist until Karen died in 1983. Peluso himself passed in 2010 at the age of 60.

Despite the success of “Goodbye to Love,” a big guitar would not reappear on a Carpenters’ single until 1975. It’s there on “Only Yesterday,” but Peluso keeps it in check. Some flights you only get to take one time.

5 responses

  1. Nicely played, jb. That gaping contrast between Tony lighting up the sky and Karen’s gunpowder-free projection – and MOR radio’s scramble to bridge the great divide – was quite the pioneering moment. The Aerosmith/Nazareth/Boston exercises weren’t nearly as hard of a sell to younger top-forty programmers and listeners.

    More representative of the Carpenters’ precedent: country radio’s reaction to the Flaming Moe let loose in Ronnie Milsap’s “Stranger In My House.”

    1. “Stranger in My House”: Ronnie Milsap meets Foreigner—and Foreigner wins.

  2. while not banned from easy listening our local satellite feed of “Music of Your Life” edited Peluso’s solo as it starts to take off. Very jarring. Like the automated station where I worked cutting Paul Simon to “when I look back at all (snip) I learned in high school….” Talk about cutting the “crap!”

    Just the other day I watched a lip synched Carpenters vid of “Please Mr. Postman” with that very nice solo that I believe is Tony Peluso. Camera never zoomed in on him but I think it was him.

  3. My mate, Paul Duke, walked into my apartment at about that time, saw the album and said ” YOU?! The CARpenters?!”
    “Listen to this” I said and played “Goodbye to love”
    Then he understood.

  4. […] cranked up the most unlikely shredding in the history of rock […]

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