Lead Sister

Lead Sister : The Story of Karen Carpenter

4.29 (7 ratings by Goodreads)
By (author) 
4.29 (7 ratings by Goodreads)

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When the Carpenters first toured Japan, a journalist mistakenly referred to Karen as the 'lead sister' of the band. This designation stuck and Karen liked it so much that she had a T-shirt custom-made with the slogan, which she wore while drumming on the band's 1976 world tour. The term also sums up the approach of this biography: a celebratory re-evaluation of a pioneering woman.

As one of the biggest-selling acts of the 1970s, sibling duo Richard and Karen Carpenter created lush soundscapes of melodic pop, producing global hits like 'We've Only Just Begun', 'Top of the World' and 'Close to You'. However, though Karen is rightly recognised as one of the greatest singers in popular music, the tragedy of her early death in 1983, at the age of just thirty-two, often overshadows all that she achieved. She has long been portrayed as a victim, controlled by her family and exploited by the music industry.

This book now seeks to reframe her life and legacy.

Through fresh interviews with friends, musicians and co-workers, bestselling author Lucy O'Brien's fascinating profile explores Karen's contributions in the studio as a singer, drummer, arranger and producer, as well as tracing the roots of the Carpenters' sound and of Karen's distinctive vocals. Forty years after her death, it also honours the lead sister's achievements in the face of her struggle with anorexia, as viewed through the lens of new perspectives on eating disorders and mental health.

Yet, despite the chronic nature of her illness, Karen Carpenter was, above all, a creative, dedicated and assured artist whose music delivers an emotional resonance that has transcended generations - and that is how she should be remembered.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 368 pages
  • 162 x 240 x 34mm | 592g
  • Nine Eight Books
  • United Kingdom
  • English
  • 1788708245
  • 9781788708241
  • 1,102

Review quote

'A book that dares to challenge orthodoxy and rewrites the story of the Carpenters. Lucy O'Brien brings a sparkling feminism to a remarkable pop act.' -- Stuart Cosgrove '(A) detailed, definitive and deeply empathetic portrait.' -- Jim Irvin (Mojo Magazine) 'O'Brien has succeeded in repositioning Karen Carpenter as something considerably more than just a haunted figure.' -- Bob Stanley 'Bravo to one of the all-time best authors of our time: O'Brien delivers again. Just when you think we could not learn anything else about a pop icon, Lead Sister (re)introduces Carpenter as a multi-dimensional, inspiring, complicated human. For too long, she has been canonised as a sugary yet tragic icon; O'Brien removes the shackles of simplified myth to expose the innovator and trailblazer while bravely examining the layered complications of family, fame, mental health and desire. I could not put it down.' -- Jennifer Otter Bickerdike 'In Lead Sister, O'Brien gives us Karen Carpenter the consummate musician, master of at least two instruments and a range of production techniques, the fun, funny companion - to both friends and bandmates - and the fully complex woman.' -- Dr Lisa Gee 'An insightful and sensitive biography that reframes Karen Carpenter as a supremely talented musician, who created great songs while struggling with a devastating illness. O'Brien colours in the era beautifully, explaining the trends in popular music, fashion and feminism, as well as describing the unique dynamic within the Carpenter family and how it contributed to Karen's illness. I found it incredibly moving and a worthy tribute to an extraordinary woman.' -- Gill Paul 8/10 -- Uncut 'A fascinating but tragic story.' 4/5 -- Mojo 'Empathetic in tone and unsparing in detail...O'Brien's Karen emerges as a smart but naive woman enslaved by both her disease and the expectations of those around her. She should have been treated better: Lead Sister treats her well indeed.' -- iNews
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About Lucy O'Brien

Dr Lucy O'Brien is a writer/academic and author of She Bop: The Definitive History of Women in Popular, Dusty: The Classic Biography and Madonna: Like an Icon, as well as co-authoring Skin's memoir, It Takes Blood and Guts.

Lucy was a judge for the Penderyn Music Book Prize in 2018 and has contributed to numerous publications including Q, Mojo, NME the Sunday Times, The Guardian, Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire. She is also a TV/radio broadcaster, having co-produced Righteous Babes, the Channel 4 film about women in rock, and scripted the BBC Radio 2 series She Bop.

Her PhD is on women's agency and power in popular music and, back in 1979/80, she played in all-female punk band, the Catholic Girls.
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Rating details

4.29 out of 5 stars
- 7 ratings
5 43% (3)
4 43% (3)
3 14% (1)
2 0% (0)
1 0% (0)
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