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The 500
The Carpenters - Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft

Chris Samuel

1.1.19

Carpenters, 'Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft (The Recognized Anthem Of World Contact Day)' [A&M], USA (1977)

It’s 1977 and Karen and Richard of The Carpenters are miming their latest hit before a greenscreened gallery of deep space. Neither of them look very well: Karen is gaunt from the effects of creeping eating disorders that will eventually claim her life, and singing partner Richard is plonking vacantly at the piano beside her, by now in the firming grip of a Quaalude-dependent perma-haze.

‘In your mind you have capacities, you know / To telepath messages through the vast unknown’, sings Karen, her voice a peculiar mix of naive wonder and weariness. It is the opening of a dialogue between singer and listener, and a lyric that remains oddly instructive:

Please close your eyes and concentrate
With every thought you think
Upon the recitation we're about to sing …

The message is a grand declaration of human decency, though it’s not without an undercurrent of fear and propitiation: ‘we’d like to make a contact with you, we are your friends… please come in peace we beseech you.’ The voice of alien life (emulated through a robotic vocoder) replies in English and with some ambiguity: ‘We’ve been observing your earth, and we’d like to make a contact with you.’

‘COIC’ was released by Canadian Space Rock group Klaatu the previous year, inspired by the International Flying Saucer Bureau’s instruction to all its members in 1953 that a telepathic communication with alien life should be attempted through mass meditation on a newly appointed ‘World Contact Day’.

Still image courtesy of The Carpenters. 'Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft'. A&M Records, 1977.

Still image courtesty of The Carpenters, 'Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft (The Recognized Anthem Of World Contact Day)' [A&M], USA (1977)

It was much admired by Richard, but that such a bonkers composition should have fallen into hands of America’s most homely group spoke of a changing nation, and with it, the band's commercial decline. The Carpenters had always been dependable purveyors of bubblegum pop hits like '(They Long to Be) Close to You', 'We’ve Only Just Begun', and 'Rainy Days and Mondays', a paragon of staid Republican values, who, in the words of Richard Nixon, ‘represent[ed] all that is true and best in America’.

Despite the sexual revolution of the 60s, mainstream pop in America remained safe and decidedly de-sexed. Of the track Superstar, a 1971 cover of a groupie’s lament by Bonnie and Delaney (considered one of The Carpenters raciest tunes), Richard said: ‘... Top 40 radio in America would not have played something that said “can hardly wait to sleep with you again”. So I changed it to “be with you again”.’ Strict adherence to ‘good taste’ was rewarded with a string of gold albums and top 10 hits, but it was an instinct they couldn’t shake.

By the mid- to late 70s, Punk and Disco’s popular appeal to disobedience and unapologetic sexuality meant chart success no longer relied on doe-eyed appeals to the obstinate puritanism of Middle America.

And in a year that saw the release of both Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Star Wars, The Carpenters reacted to a growing culture of sexual expression and willful 'bad taste', not by joining it, but by ignoring it altogether and relocating to space.

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