istory repeated itself for the third time when the Carpenters' took "Please Mr. Postman" to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. The first Motown song to go to number one (by The Marvelettes in Dec. 1961), "Please Mr. Postman" was the third chart-topper of the rock era to be number one twice by different artists. The first two songs to accomplish this unusual feat were "Go Away Little Girl" by Steven Lawrence in Jan. 1963 and Donny Osmond in Sept. 1971, and "The Loco-Motion" by Little Eva in Aug. 1962 and Grand Funk in May 1974.
The Carpenters had released other singles that were cover versions, but all of them had been less obvious than "Please Mr. Postman" (with the exception of their very first 45, the Beatles' "Ticket to Ride." Songs like "Superstar" (Leon Russell), "Hurting Each Other" (Ruby and the Romantics) and "Sing" (from Sesame Street) became better known by the Carpenters than their original recordings.
"Please Mr. Postman" was their first single to heed such advice. The first 45 pulled from their Horizon LP, it debuted on the Hot 100 at number 77 on November 23, 1974. Nine weeks later it became the third and final number one single of the Carpenters' career.
The follow-up, "Only Yesterday," was the last Top 10 single (number four in May, 1975) for the duo. "Solitaire" and "There's a Kind of Hush (All Over the World)" made the Top 20, but beginning in 1976 the Carpenters entered a slump they found difficult to overcome. "Around the time of Horizon we started to get tired," Richard told Paul Grein in a 1981 Billboard interview. "It took a long time to do that album and I was wearing out."
The brother and sister took a self-imposed rest beginning in 1978. "I'd just had enough," Richard told Grain. "We'd always enjoyed our work, and when you get to a point that you're not enjoying it, you have to call a halt." Karen recorded a solo album in 1979 with producer Phil Ramone. After working on it for a year, the album was shelved in favor of a new LP with her brother. Made in America yielded their final Top 20 single, "Touch Me When We're Dancing" (number 16 in August, 1981).
There were three more singles from the album, ending with another Marvelettes cover version, "Beechwood 4-5789," which paled in comparison with "Please Mr. Postman." Less than a year later, the world was shocked by the sudden death of Karen Carpenter at age 32. She was found unconscious at her parents' home in Downey, California, on the morning of February 4, 1983. Paramedics rushed her to Downey Community Hospital where she died of cardiac arrest at 9:51 a.m. PST.
"Karen had no idea how ill she was," Richard stated in a press release accompanying the Voice of the Heart album in November 1983. "I believe in her heart of hearts she wanted to get better."
On the plump side as a child, Karen went on a diet in 1967 with the advice of her family physician. By 1975, she was suffering form anorexia nervosa, a disorder marked by compulsive dieting, often leading to serious health problems. At the time of her death, Karen had gained some weight back, and with it, some strength. The Los Angeles coroner said the cause of death was "heartbeat irregularities brought on by chemical imbalances associated with anorexia nervosa."
- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.
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