In October 1970, The Carpenters released “We’ve Only Just Begun”. The song started as a commercial for Crocker National Bank. Written by a young Paul Williams and Roger Nichols and sung by Williams, the commercial depicted the marriage of a young couple and their bright future. Aimed directly at bringing that youth market into the bank for loans, Crocker quickly realized that those young customers lacked collateral for those loans and they suspended the campaign.
The Carpenters had gotten off to a rocky start with A&M Records. Their first album sold less than 20,000 units. While some at the label wanted to drop the act, Herb Alpert decided to try to launch a single with the group. He chose a Burt Bacharach song, “Close To You”. His gamble paid off and the song became their first #1 single.
Richard Carpenter recognized fellow A&M artist, Paul Williams as the vocalist on the Crocker commercial and asked if there was a full version of the song. Williams delivered it and “We’ve Only Just Begun” became the second Carpenters hit and a preview of what was to come for both The Carpenters and Williams.
The album “Close To You”, including “We’ve Only Just Begun” won two Grammys and launched a record run of hits on the Top 40 and Adult Contemporary charts. Before Karen’s untimely death in 1983, the group sold more than 90 million records…making them one of the most successful groups in record history.
As for Paul Williams, that first hit launched a career that saw him write hit songs for artists across the spectrum of popular music from Three Dog Night to Barbara Streisand to The Muppets. Along the way he won three Grammy Awards an Oscar and two Golden Globes. Looking back on this 30 second commercial, who could have predicted the impact on the careers of these artists who had only “just begun”?
Like most people at the time, I was truly moved by this bank commercial and the ensuing hit record. It was an upbeat, positive song about our journey.
“Before the rising sun, we fly…. So many roads to choose…. We’ll start out walking and learn to run”
But the song was bittersweet for me. I had already been in Los Angeles for six years struggling to survive…looking for that big break. Was I at the beginning of a career or was it time to go back home?
“Sharing horizons that are new to us… Watching the signs along the way”
I decided to stay because each day was exciting and new and I was doing what I loved… even though those signs along the way were few and far between. “And when the evening comes, we smile… So much of life ahead… We’ll find a place where there’s room to grow… And yes we’ve just begun”
In the evening of that 30+ year career, I could indeed smile. In those dark early days I had already met and worked with people who would appear and re-appear in my life… people who helped me get my start in records, film and TV…people who became my musical family and lifelong friends. I certainly didn’t have the career of The Carpenters or Paul Williams but I did work everyday doing what I loved and looking back… along with them, I had truly just begun.
The life lesson in all of this is that each day is precious…each day is a new beginning. ..each day we are “sharing horizons that are new to us”. Seize the moment. Make the best of it because “We’ve Only Just Begun”.