n a way, Karen was like my little sister," says John Bettis, who wrote the lyrics to Carpenters' hits like "Goodbye to Love," "Yesterday Once More" and the duo's second number one single, "Top of the World." "In a way, she was like my big sister. Obviously she was 'a' and 'the' voice for my words for a lot of years. So that carries an awful lot of baggage emotionally for me."
Bettis was part of a duo that performed in the same mid-'60s southern California folk circuit that produced Jackson Browne and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. But he knew the pair's days were numbered when he heard "The Sounds of Silence," Simon and Garfunkel's 1966 chart-topper, and "realized we couldn't compete with that." His partner, Mary Manseau, went on to form the mellow-rock Sunshine Company ("Happy," "Back on the Street Again").
After college, Bettis ran hoot nights at a Berkeley folk club while the Carpenters signed with A&M and had their first number one single, "(They Long to Be) Close to You." For the group's fourth album, 1972's A Song for You, Bettis says, "Richard and I got together to write new songs because we had used up the old Long Beach material."
One of the new songs Richard and John wrote was "Top of the World." "I had already written a song called 'Top of the World' with another partner," Bettis reveals. "Richard hadn't heard the song, but liked the title a lot. He came up with that introductory lick which inspired a certain feel in it. And we just thrashed it out in a day. When we finished the song, Richard and I honestly did not realize that we'd written a hit. We thought it was a good album cut."
But while the Carpenters were on the road, the reaction to "Top of the World" convinced Richard it should be a single. Before it could be released, country singer Lynn Anderson cut a cover version that went to the top of the country chart.
"In the back of Richard's mind," says Bettis, "it was already brewing as a single and he just wasn't pleased with the production on the album. Lynn's record was going up the country chart while Richard was re-cutting the Carpenters' new version."
Bettis continued his longtime collaboration with Carpenter, aware that he was still searching for a new musical direction since the tragic death of his sister. "I doubt that Richard will ever find another single voice that can be to him what Karen was. Just because that kind of magic would be miraculous to find again. Being without her was something we never contemplated. In terms of our writing, I still find myself writing lyric ideas on bits of napkins and then shoving them away, saying, 'That's a Karen idea.' She was such a real person to me, and just like every other real person, she was varied. And just like every other creative person, she was very complex. But she was a delight, and I miss her very much."
- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.
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