One Track Mind: The Carpenters, "We’ve Only Just Begun" (1970)

Share this:

Here’s another one that was in the family household record rotation forty years ago.

It began as a ditty for a local bank seeking to attract newlywed customers and within a year turned into a big hit for soft rock titans The Carpenters. Released as a single in August 1970 and later a #2 Pop hit and Adult Contemporary hit, “We’ve Only Just Begun” quickly became a favorite theme song for weddings and graduations alike. With music composed by Roger Nichols and lyrics written by Paul Williams, this jacked up Williams’ career as a songwriter and before long, he was writing hits for Three Dog Night, Barbara Streisand, Helen Reddy and a couple more for the Carpenters.

I haven’t heard this tune that much since the 70s; avoiding soft rock radio stations and not making many weddings and high school graduations are to blame, but it’s never quite left that radio playlist in my head for very long. As a first grader I liked it but I never fussed over why I liked or disliked a particular song back then: life was much less complicated like that. These days in the Information Age, we seek answers for everything, and I struggle to pinpoint what I so appealing about a song that is considered a standard bearer of sorts for sappy, syrupy soft rock.

Is it Karen Carpenter’s voice — the female counterpoint to James Taylor’s — that is compellingly warm and reassuring even when she is singing about melancholy topics? Or is it Richard Carpenter’s admittedly masterful arrangements? Perhaps it’s those gorgeous harmonies tracked fifty times over? Or is it just plain old nostalgia?

Nostalgia could be close to the answer: the phrase “we’ve only just begun” is the ultimate expression of hope and untapped potential, the beginning of some exciting adventure. In 1970, that “adventure” was my entire life ahead of me. When you think about it, the unassuming piano/clarinet that bookends those vocal and horn-charged ebbs and flows does match the course of a typical life.

Looking back, the time when “We’ve Only Just Begun” ruled the radio was such a time of wonderment and imagination…two concepts my hardened, cynical self can’t grasp as easily. But the right music at the right time keeps that cynicism at bay.

Once in while, you need some vintage Richard and Karen Carpenter to ward off the 21st century blues.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
Share this:
Close