In the car on the way home one night this week this tune came on 87.7 ME-TV FM and I turned it up. Then I turned it up again, and a third time, and then a fourth.
The vocals by Karen Carpenter on “Top of the World” are perfection — especially what she does with the verses.
You’ve surely heard it many times, and for most of us the tendency with pop music is to focus your listening on the chorus, which is sensible because for most songs that’s where the “magic” lies.
But on this song, I recommend listening closely to the verses, particularly her vocal range and control, as she travels up and down the register effortlessly with tone that lasts for days. Guitar players are always on a quest for “tone” and try all kinds of pickups, pedals, and amps to find it — she’s already got tone as her God-given natural voice.
Listen for these lines, and the way she lands on the bolded words — but especially on “dream” — and how satisfying that feels, starting at 0:27.
Not a cloud in the sky,
Got the sun in my eyes,
And I won’t be surprised if it’s a dream
And again, right after, at 0:48:
And the reason is clear,
It’s because you are here,
You’re the nearest thing to heaven that I’ve seen
The great ones make it sound easy. It isn’t. Most singers have a note or two in their range that sounds a little thin, or “pitchy”. She has zero of those. And there was no Autotune back then, or Pro Tools, or other fancy technology to turn average singers into good ones, as far as you know. This was all Karen and her amazing voice and vocal talent.
There are many great female singers — Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, to name a few — but to my ears she is in their league.
Here’s a live version — the vocals and the band sound markedly different— but her voice still sounds unbelievably smooth and in control.