Before beginning today, let me remind you of something I wrote in the very first post on this website 17 years ago: “Some of what we get into will likely be so personal that I’ll be the only one who could conceivably be interested in it.”
I am, as I have written many times over the years, a Partridge Family fanboy. It’s not that I like the show all that much—The Partridge Family is a bog-standard 70s family sitcom that has worn no better or worse than any other bog-standard 70s family sitcom. But the Partridge Family as a musical act is another matter altogether. Their songs were much, much better than they needed to be to accompany a bog-standard family sitcom: well-crafted pop, played and sung by top session performers, and foregrounding the not-insubstantial talents of Shirley Jones and David Cassidy.
At the end of 1971, the creative people around the Partridge Family could look back on a pretty good year. The show, midway through its second season, was improving in the ratings; it had ended the 1970-71 season in 26th place but would be #16 for the ’71-’72 season. “I Think I Love You” had done three weeks at #1 at the end of 1970; “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted” and “I’ll Meet You Halfway” had made the Top 10; “I Woke Up in Love This Morning” had gone to #13. In addition, three Partridge Family albums made the Top 10. In December, your local Top 40 station was all-Partridge, all the time: a version of the Association’s “Cherish,” billed as a David Cassidy solo record, would spend three weeks at #9 starting on Christmas Day, and “It’s One of Those Nights,” would reach #20 in January 1972.
But during a season in which Partridge penetration peaked, America was about to partridge even harder, with the November 1971 release of A Partridge Family Christmas Card.
It will surprise you not one iota that the album is a slab of cheese, albeit one made by artisanal crafters, including drummer Hal Blaine, keyboard player Mike Melvoin, the Ron Hicklin Singers, and producer Wes Farrell. The opening track, “My Christmas Card to You,” is the only original on the album, by principal Partridge songwriter Tony Romeo, an elaborate bid to create a holiday standard that doesn’t really get there. The rest of the album is about what you’d expect: slick Hollywood renditions of Christmas warhorses (all secular—no carols on this record) in the familiar Partridge style, tastefully garlanded with strings and flutes, sometimes crossing the line from sweet to syrupy. Covers of familiar rock songs songs such as “Blue Christmas” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” are fine, although they get swamped by the breathy backing vocals. (Listening to the album for this post, I was maybe four songs in before I found myself wishing they’d send the singers out for a smoke and let Cassidy sing a couple by himself.) Shirley Jones gets a rare solo vocal on “The Christmas Song.” The most interesting creative choice on the record results in the best song: doing “Frosty the Snowman” as a ballad. Two of the songs, “Winter Wonderland” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” were featured in the December 17, 1971, Partridge episode “Don’t Bring Your Guns to Town, Santa,” a fantasy in which the family is transported to the Old West.
Howard Pattow, who played in a Partridge Family tribute band, wrote of A Partridge Family Christmas Card: “It is at once joyous and contrived. Crass yet uplifting. The songs chosen for the album are non-denominational and innocuous. It is as sacred as a Rankin-Bass holiday cartoon.” And like the Rankin-Bass holiday cartoons themselves, it contains bits that are cringeworthy, followed moments later by other bits that are downright lovely.
A Partridge Family Christmas Card spent four weeks at #1 on Billboard‘s Christmas LPs chart in 1971, and it charted again in 1972. It is doubtful that a Top 40 station such as WLS in Chicago would have ignored it, so it was certainly on the air in 1971, and probably at Christmas 1972 also. But I don’t remember it at all. As somebody who had bought Partridge records and watched the show every week, I was quite literally the target audience for A Partridge Family Christmas Card, but I didn’t even know it existed until I saw it in a used bin over a decade later.
Did I buy it that day? Hell and yes.
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