(Pictured: A still from The Partridge Family shows Laurie wearing a chastity belt, apparently.)
Note to 2020 patrons: This tribute to the Partridge Family was originally written for Popdose for the show’s 40th anniversary in 2010 and rebooted below. I didn’t get around to doing anything new for the 50th anniversary because that’s the way it goes, but please enjoy.
In September 1970, I was 10 years old, 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 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.
Years later, much of the music featured on the show still sounds mighty good, because many of their songs were written by the biggest cats in pop. The Partridge Family’s recordings were made by the group of Los Angeles session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew. Most of the voices were provided by the Ron Hicklin Singers, heard on hundreds of hit songs, movie soundtracks, TV themes, commercials, and radio jingles.
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 straight Top-10 hit, arriving in the spring of 1971, features Hal Blaine on drums and Mike Melvoin on piano, and was written by Wes Farrell and Gerry Goffin. The fade of “I’ll Meet You Halfway” is the best moment the Partridge Family ever had on a record. Toward the end, somebody provides a high female harmony line that just destroys me every time. There’s no need for that level of craftsmanship on a bubblegum record, and yet. . . .
2. “It’s One of Those Nights (Yes Love).” A hit at the end of 1971, and positively elegant, as long as you remember 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 in the early 70s) was the image of being a star and singing to the cute boy or girl in the audience. Or, conversely, imagining yourself in the audience and being sung to.
3. “I Think I Love You.” At Popdose in 2008, I wrote:
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 #1.
Probably the greatest harpsichord solo in Top 40 history, too.
4. “Summer Days.” Sound Magazine is the Partridge album to buy if you’re only buying one (that’s not a compilation). The lone big single, “I Woke Up in Love This Morning,” is nothing special, but other cuts would have made better singles, including “Echo Valley 2-6809,” co-written by Rupert Holmes (and isn’t that obvious once you know it?), “Rainmaker,” and “Summer Days,” which is just fantastic. If you watch the video, however, you’re gonna wonder where they stashed the horn section.
5. “One Night Stand.” Another non-single from Sound Magazine, co-written by Farrell and Paul Anka. All you really need to know about the Partridge Family ethos 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 hits stopped in 1972, The Partridge Family stayed on the air through the end of the 1973-74 TV season. Honesty compels me to report it hasn’t held up particularly well. Episodes 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 years later, a lot of the music still is.