The Carpenters Might Not Have Sung ‘Superstar’ If Not for Bette Midler
By Matthew Trzcinski L
August 24, 2021
The Carpenters and Bette Midler made pretty different music; however, the Carpenters probably wouldn’t have recorded “Superstar” if not for Midler. Notably, Richard Carpenter was hesitant to release “Superstar” as a single for a very specific reason. Interestingly, Carpenter said his attitude toward “Superstar” differed from that of many Carpenters fans.
How Bette Midler inspired the Carpenters
On his website, Carpenter discussed why his band decided to cover “Superstar.” “Karen and I came home from the studio relatively early one evening in early ’71,” he wrote. “She went to bed, but I tuned in The Tonight Show. The host, Johnny Carson, was championing a then relatively unknown performer named Bette Midler.
“One of the songs she sang was ‘Superstar,’” Carpenter added. “It was quite a bit different than what my arrangement turned out to be, but I knew it could be a hit. As the lyric never mentions the word ‘Superstar,’ I had to quiz a few people about it to find out its name in order to get a lead sheet or recording. It turned out that Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett had written it for Rita Coolidge and the Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen recording and tour. The album was on A&M and I owned a copy of it, but never got around to playing it.
Why the band almost didn’t release ‘Superstar’ as a single
Carpenter said he wasn’t as enamored with “Superstar” as many of the Carpenters’ fans. Elsewhere on his website, he said he wasn’t sure as to whether to release “Superstar” or not as a single from the Carpenters’ self-titled album. This was because he felt its lyrics were unorthodox for a Carpenters song. Ultimately, record producer Jerry Moss convinced him to release “Superstar.” Carpenter was grateful for Moss’ advice.
How the world reacted to the Carpenters’ ‘Superstar’
“Superstar” became a massive hit. The Carpenters released the track with the B-side “Bless the Beasts and Children.” “Superstar” reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, remaining on the chart for 21 weeks. The song’s parent album, Carpenters, was a hit as well, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and staying on the chart for 59 weeks.
“Superstar” was also a hit in the United Kingdom. The Official Charts Company reports the track reached No. 18 in the U.K., staying on the chart for 13 weeks. Meanwhile, Carpenters peaked at No. 11 in the U.K., remaining on the chart for 37 weeks.
The song had an impact beyond its time on the charts. Todd Haynes made an experimental film about Karen Carpenter’s life called Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, which is both named after the song and features it. The film uses Barbie dolls to portray her personal struggles. “Superstar” became one of the Carpenters’ classic songs — and it wouldn’t be if not for Midler.