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The song was first recorded by Richard Chamberlain and released as a single in 1963 as "They Long to Be Close to You", without parentheses. However, only that single's flip side, "Blue Guitar", became a hit. The tune was also recorded as a demo by Dionne Warwick in 1963 and re-recorded with a Burt Bacharach arrangement for her 1964 album Make Way for Dionne Warwick, and was released as the B-side of her 1965 single "Here I Am". Bacharach released his own version in 1971. But the version recorded by Carpenters with instrumental backing by L.A. studio musicians from the Wrecking Crew, which became a hit in 1970, is the best known.
Karen and Richard Carpenter recorded the most commercially successful version of the song
In 1970, it was released by the Carpenters on their album Close to You, and it became their breakthrough hit. The song stayed at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks. This song was originally given to Herb Alpert as a follow up to his number one hit, "This Guy's in Love with You", another Bacharach-David composition. Alpert was not thrilled with his version and shelved the recording. Looking for a follow-up to their first A&M Records/Billboard number 54 recording "Ticket to Ride", in 1969 Alpert decided to give it to the Carpenters (Alpert's version was released in 2005 on the Tijuana Brass album Lost Treasures 1963-1974). Richard had stated that when Alpert introduced the song to him back in early 1970, he was a bit apprehensive about the song. He and Alpert collaborated on the song, and the finished product was a 4-minute, 36-second long song. When A&M Records decided to remove the extended coda and release it as a 3-minute, 40-second long single in May 1970, it became A&M's biggest hit since Alpert's "This Guy's in Love with You" from 1968. Billboard ranked it as the number 2 song for 1970.
Richard had originally written the flugelhorn solo part for Herb Alpert, but when he was unavailable, Chuck Findley was brought in. Richard later commented: "Chuck didn't play it that way at first, but I worked with him and he nailed it. A lot of people thought it was Herb - Bacharach thought so, too. But it's the way Findley is playing it."