It was so easy to laugh at the music of the Partridge Family when the show first aired, but I’ve recently been listening to some of this pop magic from Shirley, Keith and the gang lately and it is very difficult to deny that there is a quality to this bubblegum music that has managed to attain a certain level of timelessness. Especially when compared to similar incursions into chewy goodness from the Brady Bunch kids or any contestant from
American Idol who ever got a record produced that was later played in retail store, the only place I have ever heard music from these talent-challenged folk. Hard to imagine that 35 years from now the musical stylings of any American Idol contestant will be holding up as well as “I Think I Love You” or “I Woke up in Love This Morning.”
One of the greatest ska-punk remakes of the past decade or so was a high octane reworking of the signature Partridge Family classic “I Think I Love You” and its success actually serves to highlight just how perfectly crafted a pop song the original was. Of course, to call this music the work of the Partridge Family is utterly misleading since only David Cassidy and his stepmom Shirley actually possessed even an iota of musical talent. The fact that the Partridge Family records sold tremendously well lifted them from the miasma of gutter music generally associated with TV characters who try to have musical careers. In a sense, the Partridge Family were not terribly far distantly related from The Monkees. It doesn’t really matter whether Susan Dey played keyboards on the records; what matters is how well the records stand up.
Most of the lasting success of the songs can probably be placed at the feet of David Cassidy. “Hello Dave…Is that Dave?…Okay, is Dave there?” In listening to songs like “I’ll Meet You Halfway” or “Point Me in the Direction of Albuquerque” you eventually come to recognize that you are listening to a nearly perfect voice for pop songs. Cassidy was said to have hated having to seeing most Partridge Family songs, preferring to see himself as a more gutsy rocker, but it is interesting how so many of the Partridge Family songs seem more fresh today than so many of the rock songs from that period in the early 1970s that gave rise to the dinosaur rock against which punk rock railed. Punk would rail against bubblegum music as well, but there is also an undeniable embrace of this kind of music by punk and new wave that was never extended to the dinosaurs.
Beyond the strength of Cassidy’s vocal delivery, the music backing him up on those Partridge Family songs also is worth noting. Especially interesting is the wonderful use of the organ. The organ is an instrument sadly missing in action in contemporary music, but one upon which the history of rock music rests. That cheesy Farfisa organ sound dominated such early classics of rock music as “99 Tears” and the Musitron organ sound is a vital element in songs ranging from Del Shannon’s “Runaway” to Scandal’s “Goodbye to You.” It is impossible and impossibly sad to think what pop and rock would be like without the organ. The composers and producers of the Partridge Family songs recognized the value of that contribution to the standard combo of drums and guitars and as such there is an elegance to the Partridge Family songs that lifts them above the entirely kiddie fare associated with the music made by the Brady Bunch kids as well as so many other prefab music groups such as today’s Naked Jonas Brothers Bands in Montana ilk.
Do yourself a favor and grab out those old Partridge Family songs or download them. “I Think I Love You” is as good a pop love song as was ever written. In fact, it may well be the single greatest Joy Division song that Ian Curtis never wrote. “I Woke Up in Love This Morning” shows that David Cassidy really did posses some pretty intense vocal abilities. It is his conviction that leaves you with the sense that this really quite simplistic song has a deeper lyrical context than is immediately apparent.