ALBUM THROWBACK: CARPENTERS | CHRISTMAS PORTRAIT (1978)
The Carpenters' famous music duo released their ninth studio album "Christmas Portrait" on October 13, 1978. Not all artists are up to the task, while releasing a Christmas album is a time-honoured commercial tradition. Thanks to Richard Carpenter’s studio expertise, a large studio orchestra and chorus, terrific arrangements, and, most of all, Karen Carpenter’s angelic vocals, "Christmas Portrait" is a timeless album that only gets better with each passing holiday. After "The Carpenters At Christmas" TV special aired on December 9, 1977, the sibling duo decided it was finally the time to record a Christmas album. Spanning most of the seasonal classics, both sacred and secular, they ended up recording more than enough for "Christmas Portrait," which tested the limits of how much music could fit on an LP. The album is quintessentially American, with even the cover modelled after Norman Rockwell’s famous self-portrait. The tracklist traverses through myriad standards backed with arrangements by Peter Knight, Billy May, and Richard Carpenter. The best holiday albums have the Pavlovian effect of evoking a rosy glow of comfort, while the worst of them remind you of being trapped at the mall. Thankfully, "Christmas Portrait" is of the former, blanketing the audience in strings, horns, bells, and cherubic backup singers that borders on celestial.
While most of the classics are covered, the album follows a narrative structure, with the a cappella O Come, O come Immanuel and ends with / the Bach / Gounod “Ave Maria.” But the most memorable song to come out of the album is inarguably the bittersweet “Merry Christmas Darling,” with music written by Richard in 1966, to lyrics by the duo’s University choir director Frank Pooler, who’d written them two decades before. While it was initially released as a single in 1970, the Christmas album included a new lead vocal by Karen, who was not entirely satisfied with her original. The album went platinum not long after its release and has gone on to become a classic.