“I played something that was soft and easy. I just tried to stay out of the way…and Richard says 'No, no, no, no… go, just burn'”: The Carpenters' Goodbye To Love and the magic of Tony Peluso's guitar solo

BC TV CENTRE Photo of Karen CARPENTER and Richard CARPENTER and CARPENTERS, Richard Carpenter (keyboard) & Karen Carpenter (drums), performing on BBC 'In Concert' series
(Image credit: Tony Russell/Redferns)

Richard Carpenter was sitting in a London hotel room when the idea for the song Goodbye To Love came to him. It was 1971 and Carpenter was watching a film called Rhythm On The River. 

“I was watching a terrific old Bing Crosby movie and in it he plays a songwriter and in this film they keep referring to the greatest song that this writer had ever written, Goodbye To Love,” recalled Carpenter in the 1997 documentary Close To You: Remembering The Carpenters. “You never hear any Goodbye To Love, they just keep referring to it. [And I thought] ‘Goodbye To Love, that’s a great title’.” 

Carpenter began writing the song as he envisaged it might have sounded. Goodbye to Love would go on to be a Transatlantic hit for the Carpenters, the pop duo formed by Richard and sister Karen, whose moving and melancholic easy listening sound catapulted them to stardom in the early '70s. 

Goodbye To Love differed from previous songs the Carpenters had released. Lyrically, it had a darker and more despondent feel. More contentiously, the song featured a searing, visceral fuzz-drenched guitar solo, the very last thing Carpenters fans expected, or perhaps wanted, to hear.

To their credit, the Carpenters took real risks with Goodbye to Love. It’s not their best-known composition but it’s arguably their finest, a beautiful song that is rich in heartache and emotional resonance. 

By the time the Carpenters released it on 19 June, 1972, they were multi-million selling superstars, with a string of hit singles such as We’ve Only Just Begun (1970), the Burt Bacharach-penned (They Long to Be) Close to You (1970), For All We Know (1971) and Superstar (1971). 

For serious music ‘heads’ of the early '70s, the Carpenters were the absolute antithesis of counterculture cool. But while they may not have admitted it, many musicians and fans acknowledged that Karen and Richard were a uniquely gifted duo. 

Born in New Haven Connecticut, their parents had moved the family to Los Angeles in June 1963, in a bid to create better musical opportunities for 17-yr-old Richard. He would go on to become a songwriter, arranger and producer of real note although it was the voice of his younger sister Karen that really elevated the Carpenters’ sound. 

Karen Carpenter’s warm, rich timbre was steeped in emotion. While she had a three-octave range, many of the duo’s hits featured her low contralto voice, which prompted her to once quip “The money’s in the basement”. In the studio, her voice was close-miked, to capture its nuances and textures. 

Karen started out as a drummer and described herself as a “drummer that sings” but at just 5ft 4in, audiences complained they couldn’t see her behind the kit. When live reviews began to note that the group had no focal point in live shows, she was persuaded to stand at the microphone to sing the band's hits while another musician played the drums.

She was a formidable drummer and played on many of the band’s recordings although veteran Wrecking Crew studio drummer Hal Blaine was brought in for some studio work.  

Being the lead singer was a huge shift for Karen. She had felt secure behind the kit and wasn’t at all keen on being the focus of attention. Karen struggled with low self-esteem, became desperate to look slim on stage and was soon struggling with anorexia nervosa. It was a disease that would engulf her and tragically she became its first celebrity victim, dying of heart failure brought on by anorexia in 1983, at the age of 32. 

Throughout their lives, Karen and Richard Carpenter were close and had an innate understanding of melodic structure. In their early years they were fans of Les Paul and Mary Ford, particularly that duo’s experimentation with multiple overdubbed voices and instruments. On Goodbye To Love, Richard in particular saw a chance to push their sound in a whole new direction. 

The very shape of the song is odd, the melody lines are odd

John Bettis

When Richard returned from London to LA in 1971, the melody for Goodbye to Love was fully formed and he took the song to his longstanding co-writer, John Bettis. 

“Richard was very original in his melodic construction,” recalled Bettis in the 2014 documentary Carpenters: The 'Third; Carpenter: A Conversation With John Bettis.

“The very shape of the song is odd, the melody lines are odd. They’re long… I remember listening to it the first time and thinking ‘That’s a lot of words’ (laughs)... I got the Goodbye To Love idea [and thought] ‘This is going to be a sad song, John. You’ve got to write it well. You’ve got to write the hell out of this one. And if it’s a sad song you’d better knock it out of the park’".

I mean this in my heart of hearts, that Richard’s unbelievable courage and musical vision at the end of that song saved my so-so work if not flawed work in verse three

Bettis recalled thinking that there was “a strength inside the song” and that he liked it. He said he was happy with the first two verses that he wrote but not the final one.

“My least favourite line of any song we ever wrote is in that third verse, which is ‘No one can predict the wheel of fortune as it falls’. Firstly, wheels don’t fall…”

Bettis acknowledged that the line does work on the context of the song but says much of that has to do with Richard Carpenter: “Richard liked it and it does work and it does wrap the song."

“I believe, honestly, I mean this in my heart of hearts, that Richard’s unbelievable courage and musical vision at the end of that song saved my so-so work if not flawed work in verse three," he added. "Because had he just ended the song regularly I think that people might have been dissatisfied with that lyric ending.”

Bettis was referring to the soaring triumphal outro of the song, which kicks in at 2:25 with strident choirs, strings and a blistering guitar solo. 

Goodbye To Love would feature on the duo’s fourth album A Song For You. The song was recorded in early 1972 during sessions for the album at A&M Studios, at 1416 La Brea Avenue, near Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

When I wrote the song and pictured the arrangement, I imagined it with the oxymoron of a melodic fuzz guitar solo and asked Tony

Richard Carpenter

Richard Carpenter already knew exactly the kind of guitar solo he was looking for and that he wanted a guitarist called Tony Peluso to play it. Carpenter had seen Peluso playing with Instant Joy, the backing group of singer Mark Lindsay, who opened for the Carpenters early in their career. 

"Tony Peluso was a very talented guy," Richard told Mojo magazine in 2022. "So when I wrote the song and pictured the arrangement, I imagined it with the oxymoron of a melodic fuzz guitar solo and asked Tony."

It was Karen who made the call to Peluso. “One night I’m sitting at home and the phone rings and I pick it up,” recalled Peluso in the documentary Close To You: Remembering The Carpenters. “[She said] ‘Tony, this is Karen Carpenter’. I didn’t know who it was. I said ‘very funny’. And she was like, ‘This is Karen Carpenter’ and all of a sudden I realised it was her. My heart raced, it was just incredible. You’re talking to one of your idols. ‘Richard and I are down here and we’re working on a record right now and we think you’d be perfect for what we’re doing in this song’.” 

Richard Carpenter recalled the session in his 2022 Mojo interview. “He showed up and said, 'I don't read music'. So I sang and played the melody for him and said, 'When you get to here, just take it away'. And he did. Ninety-nine percent of that solo was done on the first take.”

Peluso, who died in 2010, recalled the session in Close To You: Remembering The Carpenters. “They were working on Goodbye to Love and a big spot comes in the middle… and Richard says ‘That’s where you play’. And I’m thinking ‘Okay, what would be right for this record?’. So I played something that was soft and easy. I just tried to stay out of the way. It obviously didn’t happen and Richard says ‘No, no, no, no… go, just burn’.”

Peluso played the solo in an F# open tuning on his Gibson 335, through an Electro-Harmonix ‘Big Muff’ fuzz box straight into the desk. For the first ten bars, he simply echoes the topline melody before launching into a wonderfully fluid solo at 1:40. 

Karen is back in for the third verse at 1:49 but it’s on the outro at 2:48 that Peluso’s soloing really takes off, with its gritty, visceral inflections and soaring melodicism transporting the song from one of sadness to one of triumph and hope.

I heard the solo and I was stunned

“Today, it’s very commonplace to hear these big power ballads with raging guitar solos,” reflected Peluso. “But nobody had ever done that before. This was totally crazy. I take a bit of credit for it for being there and playing it but it wasn’t my idea. It was Richard’s and he was always the guy with the great ideas.”

The first time John Bettis heard the finished track was when he was sent an advance copy of the 1972 album it appeared on, A Song For You. 

“I took it home and put it on,” recalled Bettis. “I heard the solo and I was stunned.”

Viewed in the context of Karen Carpenter’s tragic death, the lyrics of the song take on a whole new level of poignancy. “I'll say goodbye to love / No one ever cared if I should live or die / Time and time again the chance for love has passed me by / And all I know of love / Is how to live without it / I just can't seem to find it.”

Goodbye To Love was released as a single on 19 June 1972. It reached No. 7 in the US Billboard 100 and No. 9 in the UK Singles Chart. It was the first song written by Carpenter/Bettis to reach the Top 10. But some Carpenter’s fans were horrified by the searing fuzz guitar solo. The duo received hate mail from fans claiming they had sold out by shifting their sound to hard rock. 

Such objections are now lost in the mists of time. Over five decades on, the song stands as a real high point in the Carpenter’s illustrious back catalogue. 

In 2021, In a Top 20 chart of the Carpenter’s greatest songs in The Guardian in 2021, Goodbye to Love came in at No. 1. “Karen’s vocal is a masterclass in restraint,” wrote Alexis Petridis, “its eerie calmness only amplifying the song’s emotional punch. Scoff about easy listening at your peril: this is an awesome record."

Neil Crossley
Contributor

Neil Crossley is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in publications such as The Guardian, The Times, The Independent and the FT. Neil is also a singer-songwriter, fronts the band Furlined and was a member of International Blue, a ‘pop croon collaboration’ produced by Tony Visconti.