In the fall of 1970 I was 10 years old, a bit precocious to be devouring the Top 40 as obsessively as I did, but 10 years old nevertheless, and with the taste of a 10-year-old kid. And so my first favorite songs were light and happy and catchy and easy to sing. And that made me, and people like me, the prime target for a new TV show that hit the air for the first time 40 years ago today: The Partridge Family. For many boys of the ’70s, Shirley Jones would become their first MILF, and for many girls, David Cassidy would be their first celebrity love. And 40 years later, much of the music featured on the show still sounds mighty good.
And why shouldn’t it? The Partridge Family’s recordings were made by the group of Los Angeles session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew, the most celebrated studio group this side of the Funk Brothers, featuring Hal Blaine, Tommy Tedesco, Larry Knechtel, Carol Kaye, and others. Most of the other voices on the records were provided by the Ron Hicklin Singers, whose voices you have heard hundreds of times on hit songs, movie soundtracks, TV themes, commercials, and radio jingles. Jones and Cassidy were the only cast members to sing on the records, and Cassidy’s participation wasn’t part of the original plan. Early in the first season, he persuaded producer Wes Farrell to let him sing, and he became a teen idol as a result.
In honor of the anniversary, here’s one fan’s top five Partridge Family songs. Turn up your speakers until you can smell the polyester.
1. “I’ll Meet You Halfway”
The group’s third single, arriving in the spring of 1971, and the first cut on Up to Date, the group’s second album. It features Blaine on drums and Mike Melvoin on piano, and was written by Farrell and Gerry Goffin. And it’s beautiful.
The fade of “I’ll Meet You Halfway” is the best moment the Partridge Family ever had on a record. It’s the “Hey Jude” of bubblegum. (What, too much?)
2. “It’s One of Those Nights (Yes Love)”
The group’s fifth single, out at Christmas 1971, from the fourth Partridge album released that year. This thing is positively elegant, considering who we’re talking about.
Part of the appeal of The Partridge Family to teens and tweens (though the latter category didn’t exist as a marketing tool just yet) had to be the image of being a star and singing to the cute boy or girl in the audience, or being the cute boy or girl in the audience who’s being sung to.
3. “I Think I Love You”
The single that started the earthquake. A couple of years ago in another Popdose post, I described the song and the episode it came from like this:
In “My Son, the Feminist,” the December 11, 1970, episode of The Partridge Family, Keith’s girlfriend wants the band to perform at her women’s lib rally. The family is skeptical, but when a group of hostile, anti-lib parents threatens to run them out of town, Mother Partridge says “screw you” [loose translation] and the family decides to perform. The appearance nearly doesn’t come off when the hostile parents storm the psychedelic tour bus, and Keith’s girlfriend announces that the band has to sing “women’s liberation songs” — grim, unshaven-armpit agit-prop [loose translation] — but after threatening to quit, a rebellious Keith says goddammit [loose translation], the show must go on, and the family kicks into a song the girlfriend considers exploitative and demeaning to women: “I Think I Love You.” Lo, its powerful bubblegummy mojo wins over the girlfriend, the hostile parents, the school principal, and even Mr. Kincaid, and they all live happily until the next week’s episode. As well they might have: On the night “My Son, the Feminist” aired on ABC, “I Think I Love You” had already spent three weeks at Number One.
Probably the greatest harpsichord solo in top 40 history, too.
4. “Summer Days”
A monstrous hook-fest, and a cut from Sound Magazine, the Partridge album to buy if you’re only buying one that’s not a greatest-hits album. It features only one big single, “I Woke Up in Love This Morning,” but has a number of strong cuts that would have made better singles than that, including “One Night Stand” (see below), “Echo Valley 2-6809,” co-written by Rupert Holmes (and isn’t that obvious once you know it?), and “Rainmaker,” co-written by Farrell, Jim Cretecos, and future Bruce Springsteen manager Mike Appel.
Where did they stash the horn section on that stage?
5. “One Night Stand”
Another one never released as a single, co-written by Farrell and Paul Anka. All you really need to know about the Partridge Family comes around the 2:35 mark, where the family busts out a series of “doo-doo-doo”s at the point where other bands might put in a guitar solo.
Although the group was a hitmaking machine for only about a year, from late 1970 through early ’72, the show stayed on the air through the end of the 1973-’74 TV season, four seasons in all. All four have been released on DVD. I confess I haven’t rented all of them and hunkered down for a weekend’s viewing, partly because what I remember of these shows from syndication and more recent online viewing is that as drama, episodes of The Partridge Family don’t hold up particularly well. They often play like typical cheesy ’70s sitcom fare, with obvious jokes and predictable plots, slathered with the not-found-in-nature colors so popular back then. But damn, in the kid world of 1970, The Partridge Family was it. And 40 years later, a lot of the music still is.