We’ve Only Just Begun

We’ve Only Just Begun was the second gold record for the sister/brother duo of Richard and Karen Carpenter, known simply as The Carpenters.

The song was written by Roger Nichols, with lyrics by Paul Williams. It was a contract piece written for a California savings bank commercial; supposedly Richard liked the tune and thought it would be a good fit for Karen’s outstanding alto. Legend has it that he approached Williams about using the song, asking if there were additional verses. Whatever the actual circumstances were, “We’ve Only Just Begun” cemented the Carpenters stardom and became the first of many hits for the Nichols/Williams team.

Although the song did not top the charts as “Close To You” did a couple months earlier, it did reach #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Adult Contemporary charts. It also won a Grammy for Song of the Year and Best Contemporary Song. And unlike some pop standards that seem to become “anybody” songs — where the original performance is eclipsed or forgotten (think “Unchained Melody”) — “We’ve Only Just Begun” has remained indelibly linked to the Carpenters, even after countless cover versions and almost 40 years. Indeed, the cover version in the photo above never fails to garner a “what?!?” from the reader.  It’s a Carpenters song!

Hardline traditionalists may bristle at the idea that a 1970 song is ranked among the classic “standards” of American Popular Song. Pay no attention to them. Like any truly great standard, “We’ve Only Just Begun” serves to define a time and a generation, yet it is also timeless — sounding as current and musically compelling today as it did in 1970.

Recommended Listening

If you don’t have any Carpenters material in your CD collection, the best album to start with is Singles 1969-1981, which has 21 of their most important recordings…and the price is right. Top hits include Superstar, Top of the World, For All We Know, Rainy Days and Mondays, Sing, Hurting Each Other, Close To You, and of course, We’ve Only just Begun. While this is by no means a “complete” collection, it’s a darn fantastic place to start.

Passage was an album that The Carpenters released partly to answer critics who said that their music was too saccharine to be relevant. Richard was headed for a rehab center, Karen was trying to overcome her disorders. After seven years on top, it was time for a break, and Passage would be a good send off. It yielded hits like “Sweet Sweet Smile” and “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft,” but was mostly designed to show how the duo could stretch their musical boundaries. Behind the scenes, A & M Records was extremely concerned that the previous two Carpenters albums had not stormed to the top of the charts, despite the success of some singles. In his mind, Richard sort of stepped aside as producer, but his shoes were impossible to fill and his imprint is solidly on the album. The most critically acclaimed number was “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” which featured a 100 piece orchestra and a 50-voice choir. The result is stunning, but to this day Richard feels that it didn’t fit Karen’s voice properly. Either way, it’s a great recording, and the album has quite a range of sounds.