Karen and I had always been fond of Christmas music and in interviews, as early as 1971, were stating that we would soon be working on one.  In hindsight, of course, we can see that it wasn’t about to happen.  With the schedule that presented itself following the success of “Close To You” and “We’ve Only Just Begun”, we were fortunate to complete a regular album each year.  (As previously mentioned, in 1974, even that did not happen.)

On December 8, 1976, ABC aired our first television special: “The Carpenters’ Very First Television Special”, which placed No.6 in the Nielson Ratings for that week.  This led to our being offered more specials, the second of which was “The Carpenters at Christmas”, airing December 9, 1977.  It was while selecting and recording music for this special that Karen and I decided the time had come to finally record a Christmas album.  To a degree, our project was patterned after a favorite of ours: Spike Jones’s 1956 “Xmas Spectacular”, in that it features more than the average album's number of songs, both sacred and secular, along with some top-notch choral singing.  Selecting Christmas music is, indeed, dealing with an embarrassment of riches and I ultimately chose, and we recorded, more than enough for even “Christmas Portrait”, which stretched the limit of how much music could fit on a LP. 

What was saddening to me then, and even more so now, is that I was at my nadir dealing with the sleeping pill problem.  If I were at my best, I could have and would have contributed a lot more in both creativity and spirit to “Hush”, “Passage”, and the first four television specials.  By the time Karen and I began recording on the Christmas album, I was not interested in more than production work, and an occasional lead and some minor piano work. Arranging (something I truly enjoy doing, especially with Christmas songs) was turned over, by me, to veterans Peter Knight and Billy May.  With Karen’s marvelous leads, combined with an oversize studio orchestra and chorus, terrific arrangements and timeless music, “Christmas Portrait” was, and is, an almost incomparable Christmas album.  It was a hit in 1978 and every year succeeding; I receive compliments on it every holiday season.  What I should have realized then, although I don’t know if A&M would have gone for it, is that “Christmas Portrait” is Karen’s album, and should have been titled accordingly, not Carpenters.  (I did oversee the mixes, of course, but that falls under production.)

Many a listener will notice that this album is not as originally released.  Ave Maria was arranged from the start for chorus, as well as orchestra.  With so much music, not to mention people, around the studio while the album was being made, the choral parts were misplaced, only to be discovered after the album was “in the can”.  The multi-track was retrieved, and the chorus recorded, in 1984, during the “An Old Fashioned Christmas” sessions.  To all of us involved, it was a great addition.  The song was later remixed (and an editing error in the lead vocal fixed) in 1990.  Some others were remixed at the same time for inclusion in “From The Top”, and ultimately all except Merry Christmas Darling, were remixed for the “Carpenters Christmas Collection” two CD set for Japan. 

1.                  O Come, O Come Emmanuel***  :28

2.                  Overture*  4:38

a.      Deck The Halls (With Boughs Of Holly)

b.      I Saw Three Ships

c.      Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

d.      God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

e.      Away In A Manger (Luther’s Cradle Hymn)

f.        What Child Is This? (Greensleeves)

g.      Carol Of The Bells

h.      O Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles)

3.                  The Christmas Waltz*  2:15

4.                  Sleigh Ride**  2:39

5.                  It’s Christmas Time/Sleep Well, Little Children*  2:53

6.                  Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas**  3:55

7.                  Santa Claus Is Coming To Town*  1:05

8.                  The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)**  3:39

9.                  Silent Night*  3:19

10.             Jingle Bells*  1:10

11.             The First Snowfall/Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow*  3:35

12.             Carol Of The Bells*  1:39

13.             Merry Christmas Darling+***  3:05

14.             I’ll Be Home For Christmas**  3:48

15.             Christ Is Born*  3:13

16.             Winter Wonderland/Silver Bells/White Christmas**  5:31

17.             Ave Maria*  2:35

Produced by Richard Carpenter

Associate Producer Karen Carpenter

Lead Vocals: KAREN CARPENTER and Richard Carpenter

Arranged by Peter Knight*, Billy May**, and Richard Carpenter***

Keyboards: Pete Jolly and Richard Carpenter

Bass: Joe Osborn

Drums: Ron Tutt and Cubby O’Brien

Guitars: Bob Bain, Tony Peluso and Tommy Tedesco

Harp: Gayle Levant and Dorothy Remsen

Oboe: Earl Dumler and John Ellis

Tenor Sax: Bob Messenger

Vocals: The Tom Bahler Chorale and Karen & Richard Carpenter

Engineered by Ray Gerhardt, Roger Young and Dave Iveland

Mastering Engineer: Bernie Grundman

+"Merry Christmas Darling" Produced by Jack Daugherty

Special Thanks to: Ed Sulzer

Personal Management: Jerry Weintraub / Management Three

Art Direction & Design: Tim Bryant / Gribbit

Illustration: Robert Tenenbaum

© 1978 A&M Records, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Click on an underlined Song Title to go to Song Notes


Last Updated June 4, 2008
May 2004  © Richard Carpenter

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