I was never much of a fan of the TV series "The Partridge Family." It came out when I was in 8th grade and while I was kinda in love with Susan Dey, she wasn't in enough scenes to make up for the rest of the show. Which was kinda tough to watch if you're a rock & roll-loving teen growing up in the Midwest.
But I've always had an appreciation for David Cassidy's singing. Both in the Partridge Family series and in his subsequent solo career he was often saddled with embarrisingly lame songs. Tunes so bereft of soul that Donny Osmond would have laughed them off as hopelessly "square." But Cassidy could make you care about songs that didn't deserve the attention and there was always something a bit comforting to hear him connect with a song that had a hook ke could latch onto.
This COVID-19 pandemic has been emotionally difficult for everyone at some point. Faced with so much chaos and confusion, we've all reached out to embrace things that comfort our soul. And while some of you fell back on baking or gardening to calm your mind, I've been delving deeply into the blood pressure-lowering magic that is early 1970s pop-rock. Lobo, Seals & Croft, England Dan & John Ford Coley. And going deep down into that rabbit hole, I ended up listening to the Partridge Family.
To be clear, a good 60-70% of the music released under the Partridge Family name is absolute crap. Lame, predictable lyrics that often sounded more like half-baked ideas rejected by other groups. But the music was provided by the famous studio group named The Wrecking Crew, who seemed to play on just about every album recorded in L.A. in the late 1960s and early 1970s. And vocals were provided by a studio group that included veteran singer Robin Ward (who had a hit of her own in 1963 with "Wonderful World"). The original plan was to have David Cassidy just lip sync to someone else's vocals on camera. But he was able to convince producers he could sing, which was good for both the show and his eventual solo career.
The group's first album was the self-titled "The Partridge Family" and it's a really solid example of 1970s pop-soft rock. There isn't really a weak track and it included "I Think I Love You," which not only went to #1, but the single went on to sell more than five million copies, more than The Beatles iconic single "Let It Be." There are a couple of tracks written by Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil and another by veteran songwriters & producers Terry Cashman and Tommy West. The album isn't flashy, but I've been a sucker for lightweight ear candy and listening to "The Partridge Family" album is like finding yourself floating in a pool of warm water heated by the sun. It's wholesome enough to wash away the effects of even the most depressing events of the day.
Album number two was 1971's "Up To Date," and while it overall wasn't as musically consistent an album as the group's debut, the album did include the hits "I'll Meet You Halfway," "You Are Always On My Mind" and "Doesn't Somebody Want To Be Wanted." The next album up is "The Partridge Family Sound Magazine,: which is probably the group's most consistent and fun to listen to album. It only spawned one big hit - "I Woke Up In Love This Morning" - but the album included tracks co-written by Paul Anka and Rupert "Pina Colada" Holmes. And several of the tracks are familiar ones to anyone who watched the television show, with highlights including "One Night Stand" and "I Wuld Have Loved You Anyway." The holiday album "The Partridge Family Christmas" followed later that year and is a surprisingly fun and awkwardly earnest good time.
After releasing three albums in 1971, the quality of the albums predictably began to suffer. 1972's "Shopping Bag" included the #20 hit "It's One Of Those Nights (Yes, Love)" and the minor hit "Am I Losing You." But that's about all on the album that is worth listening to. "The Partridge Family Notebook" was released in November 1972, just in time for the holiday shopping season. And fans of the group probably would have preferred a lump of coal, given the slapdash quality of the album. "Looking Through The Eyes Of Love" was a minor hit and to be honest, it didn't deserve its modest success. The rest of the album is a collection of filler tunes and odd cover versions. Although it you've ever wanted to hear The Partridge Family sing "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place," here's your chance.
The album "Crossword Puzzle" was released in 1973 and the group's label didn't even bother to release a single from the album. The group's final album "Bulletin Board" was released later that year and the release coincided with the TV show's fourth and final season. Other than the track "Lookin' For A Good Time" (which was a very minor hit), there isn't much to recommend the album.
I ended up putting together a list of tracks that is heavy on the group's hits and songs from the first three albums. And the result is a playlist of sweet, borderline vapid pop songs anchored by David Cassidy's earnest, guileless vocals. It's not fancy and it's probably well in the land of corny. But in a pandemic-filled year that has been emotionally taxing, this a playlist that you can just turn on and let it sweep you away on a wave of warm mindlessness.
The Partridge Family Helps Me Forget The Pandemic
It's common to hear someone describe a piece of music by saying "I can't believe that wasn't a hit!" But with a few rare exceptions (*cough* Big Star *cough*), the reasons why a single or an album didn't find wider commercial success is that while the music might be good, it wasn't any better than dozens of other worthwhile releases.
But when it comes to the 1979 Ian Lloyd album "Goosebumps," it's pretty easy to wonder why the album didn't find an audience. Lloyd had one hit as part of The Stories - the memorable "Brother Louie" - and after a rocky start to his solo career, this album seemed almost guaranteed to be huge. He had a new label, his new manager Bud Praeger also managed the red-hot band Foreigner and the album was produced Bruce Fairburn, who went on to produce Loverboy's biggest albums, Aerosmith's comeback releases and other classic rock iconic albums like Bon Jovi's "Slippery When Wet" and Poison's "Look What The Cat Dragged In."
The band for the album included former Aerosmith guitarist Jimmy Crespo, along with various members of The Cars and Foreigner. And there were original songs from Ric Ocasek, Ian Hunter and Corky Laing and a pre-solo artist Bryan Adams. And there is barely a weak track on the album, especially when you listen to it in the context of what else was on the radio in 1979.
And yet it died a slow, painful death. The Ric Ocasek track "Slip Away" was originally considered for The Cars "Candy-O" album, but as you can tell from the demo track below, he and the band didn't quite have a handle on it. But the version that appeared on "Goosebumps" offers up some subtle nods to The Cars sound, while still allowing Lloyd to make it his own. Add to that bass and backing vocals from Ben Orr as well as backing vocals from Ric Ocasek and you end up with a song that sounds like it would have been a hit in some alternate universe. In fact, a number of the tracks from this album and the follow-up album "3WC" sound like they could be part of some greatest hits album from another reality.