There are some people who read this entry and its title and who would think, “The Carpenters aren’t rock & roll. Why would they belong in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?” As it happens, Nat King Cole and Neil Diamond and Miles Davis are already in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame too, and none of them were rock & roll either. So the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has already established by its inductees that it is not recognizing those who fit some (arbitrary) definition of Rock & Roll, but honoring the most significant and influential artists of the Rock & Roll era, from 1954 onward. And by that standard, The Carpenters certainly qualify on several grounds, specifically their influence on future artists and the popularity of contralto voices, the enduring value of their musical record and immense popularity, and their larger social significance.
The Carpenters’ Contribution
The Carpenters had an immense contribution to Rock & Roll. Richard Carpenter is one of the innovators of the power ballad, from the side of easy listening, providing more power to the balladry for which The Carpenters were justly famous at the same time that Aerosmith was seeking to provide balladry for their power with the song “Dream On”  and at the same time that soul singers like Ray Charles were exploring cathartic release for their slower songs. The Carpenters deserve praise for their role in the innovation of the power ballad, making the mainstream soft rock of the 1970’s and beyond possible. Beyond this, the enduring relevance of the music of the Carpenters, even to alternative bands like Sonic Youth or contemporary singers like Christina Aguilera, Madonna, and Gwen Stefani as well as allowing a greater role for contralto singers like Anne Murray and Rita Coolidge within pop music , showing the worth and value of the blend between Richard’s technical prowess as a musician and Karen’s powerful and emotive and melancholy but not histrionic vocals. In addition to this, the Carpenters had an immense role in bringing the issue of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa to the general public, given Karen Carpenter’s death in 1982 because of an anorexia-induced heart attack. For all of these reasons, the Carpenters have an enduring place in rock & roll history, and are deserving of a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Why The Carpenters Are A No-Brainer For The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame
First, their larger social significance in public health and their share of the innovation of the power ballad (to provide the viable platform and market for soft rock to exist) are deserving of being enshrined alone–The Carpenters were easy listening pioneers and innovators (as odd as that might seem to critics). In addition to that, though, The Carpenters’ music is enduringly popular, with two of their songs having been given Grammy Awards as pivotal records in music history: “(They Long To Be) Close To You” and “We’ve Only Just Begun.” On top of this, the Carpenters have a solid record of successful albums and singles, including six multiplatinum albums, two additional platinum albums, and six additional gold albums–a solid body of work. In addition, the band had fifteen #1 hits on the Adult Contemporary charts, three #1’s, twelve top ten hits, and nineteen top 40 hits on the Hot 100 over a period of more than a decade . They have immense influence on modern music, they had immense popularity, and were major innovators in music, aside from having a key role in bringing the issue of eating disorders to public attention. That sort of massive social and musical importance should mean a place in Cleveland for this band without question. Essential Carpenters songs include: “(They Long To Be) Close To You,” “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “For All We Know,” “Rainy Days & Mondays,” “Sing,” “Top Of The World,” and “Superstar.”
Why Aren’t The Carpenters In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame?
Throughout their career, the Carpenters were savaged by the critics (one of the factors that led to Karen Carpenter’s early death over insecurity with her weight), and blamed for being bland artists. In fact, the Carpenters very intentionally chose a middle course between easy listening and rock & roll. The fact that music critics have been so hard on The Carpenters has led them to neglect the major virtues and influence of that band, though, and it’s pretty certain that critical hatred more than anything wrong with the Carpenters has kept them from their rightful honor in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Verdict: The Carpenters deserved to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame a long time ago. However, their entrance depends on critics recognizing their immense role in the creation of the power ballad and in the virtue of their middle-of-the-road approach in general. Recognizing the value of The Carpenters would be an important first step, along with recognizing Chicago  in reassessing the legacy of a lot of other adult-oriented bands who have been unjustly neglected by the rock & roll critical establishment for being popularly successful.