The Partridge Family Album

Reviewed by Howard Pattow

In 1966, a television show came on the scene that introduced the concept of a pre-fabricated musical group marketed through television. This union proved to be a commercial goldmine. That television show was, of course, The Monkees, and by 1967, the popularity gained through weekly exposure on the tube gave the group the number one record of the year, I'm A Believer. In 1970, Screen Gems decided to try the formula again. This time, the focus of the show would be The Cowsills, a real-life family of pop singers that had a string of hits in the 1960's. The show would follow them around in their multi-colored bus and feature a musical segment in each episode. As The Monkees did only a few years before, record albums would be produced in conjunction with the show.

After the initial idea to cast the real Cowsills was dropped, casting calls went out and The Partridge Family came in. Shirley Jones, David Cassidy, Susan Dey, Danny Bonaduce, Jeremy Gelbwaks (then later, Brian Forster) and Suzanne Crough were cast, along with Laugh-In veteran Dave Madden in the role of manager Reuben Kincaid.

Producer Wes Farrell was hired to create the music for the show. As with The Monkees, several of the top songwriters of the day were called upon to pen hits for The Partridge Family: Tony Romeo, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart and many others. The vocals were provided by John and Tom Bahler, formerly of the Love Generation, along with Ron Hicklin and Jackie Ward. These four voices were responsible for many famous pop songs. Over the next four years, the music would be performed by such session giants as drummer Hal Blaine, keyboardists Larry Knechtel and Michael Melvoin, guitarists Tommy Tedesco, Louie Shelton, Larry Carlton and Dennis Budimir and bassists Joe Osborne and Max Bennett.

The Partridge Family Album is unique among other Partridge records, in that it documents examples of the group's original sound. Had Farrell not discovered that David Cassidy could really sing, then the songs I'm On The Road and I Really Want To Know You would have been the standard for all the songs. In fact, the first experiment for David's vocal abilities can be found in To Be Lovers, where Cassidy is given one line to sing.

The album begins with Brand New Me, written by Wes Farrell & Eddie Singleton. With this song, we are introduced to David Cassidy's distinctive yet pitch-shifted vocals. This process, which was utilized in an attempt by the producer to make David's voice sound younger, would continue through the next album. Cassidy's vocals are also double-tracked for the most part, to give them that extra punch. Unlike future Partridge efforts, Album is mixed with a lot of reverb, giving it that distant, smoky feeling.

One of the most beloved and well-known songs is Point Me In The Direction Of Albuquerque. Emotional and theatrical, this Tony Romeo tune has the distinction of having an entire episode written around it. Sensitive piano and flute introduce the number about the "lonely little runaway with teardrops in her eyes". The brass section kicks in for the chorus as Hal Blaine pounds away on the bass drum. The song shines as one of the highpoints of Album. Bandala, also written by Farrell & Singleton, is "sort of an afro thing", to quote Keith Partridge. It is fondly remembered from Episode 18, which featured Richard Pryor and Louis Gossett, Jr. The tune has a groove that won't quit, layered with congas, cowbell and tambourine. A departure from most Partridge Family fare, Bandala also features a beautiful string arrangement which really adds flavor to the percussive nature of the song.

I Really Want To Know You, written by Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, is the first song on Album that doesn't feature David Cassidy on lead vocals. This song, which was also covered by The Cowsills, is a showcase for the talents of Bahler, Bahler, Hicklin & Ward. Shirley Jones can be heard in the mix as well, as the original intention was to feature both Jones and Cassidy in the album's production. Bahler, who also arranged vocals for The Fifth Dimension, creates a tapestry of voices, defining a sound that ushered in the seventies. The Beach Boy surf harmonies of the sixties were preparing to make way for more mature harmonies, which would be exemplified by groups like The Carpenters and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Bahler's contribution to The Partridge Family sound should be recognized as crucial to the group's success.

Only A Moment Ago is a beautiful song by Terry Cashman & Tommy West that pretty much sums up the nostalgia movement. The lyrics reflect looking back to a simpler time, and the mood of the song is one of timelessness. Lush strings soar at the beginning of the song, and carry on through to the end. Cassidy's performance is tender, supported by ethereal background vocals. All in all, one of Album's best tracks.

By contrast, I Can Feel Your Heartbeat is a rocker. Drenched in reverb, Heartbeat pounds away with wah-wah guitar, Hammond organ and driving background vocals. To this day, David Cassidy still opens his concerts with the song, which was written by Wes Farrell, Jim Cretecos & Mike Appel. The album jacket erroneously lists this tune as I Can Hear Your Heartbeat.

Side Two opens with I'm On The Road, a wonderful Mann & Weil tune. The Bahler group harmonies are front and center with Shirley mixed in. The song features some wonderful chord changes in the verses, complemented by Mike Melvoin's orchestration. The song embodies the spirit of The Partridge Family. Who could forget Episode 4, in which we see the family in the studio, "recording" this song? With To Be Lovers, we see the last Bahler spotlight. David Cassidy sings one line in the bridge, giving the illusion that he is part of the song's vocal choir. To Be Lovers was written by Mark Charron and features some delicate piano playing and an intricate chromatic run on the acoustic guitar at the end.

Somebody Wants To Love You, written by Farrell, Cretecos & Appel, is another rocker. The intro features a melodic play between the acoustic and electric guitars. Wurlitzer piano and Hammond organ fill out the arrangement, giving the tune a decidedly 70's sound. David's vocals are again double-tracked, and the background vocals get to shine in the "Maybe I'm Amazed"-inspired bridge section, which features some bluesy guitar licks.

I Think I Love You is the song that put The Partridge Family on the map. Phenomenally successful, the song hit number one and stayed there for sixteen weeks. It was voted the number one song for 1970, and is still permeating the public consciousness to this day. The song features the harpsichord, which Farrell decided to utilize for The Partridge Family due to its light and cheerful sound. The chord structure is a classic example of Tony Romeo's songwriting style, which uses inverted chords to maintain a chromatic bass line. Larry Knechtel's harpsichord solo seems inspired by George Martin's piano solo on The Beatles' In My Life. Reportedly, as Knechtel was recording the solo, he broke into laughter which had to be edited out of the final mix. Cassidy's classic double-tracked vocal works extremely well in this song, no doubt the prime mover of its success.

The Partridge Family Album comes to an end with Wes Farrell & Diane Hilderbrand's Singing My Song. Acoustic guitar strums at the beginning, followed by a screaming fuzz guitar lick. David "sings it out to the people", joined by a wonderful singalong background vocal arrangement in the chorus. The bridge features a subtle string line over a driving rhythm section. Album is probably the best-known Partridge Family release. It was no doubt the Christmas present for many kids in 1970, and it still maintains an innocent quality most likely because it was the first album. It would be interesting to hear what The Partridge Family would have sounded like without Cassidy's vocal contribution. The indication here is that the sound would have had a very melodic yet generic quality to it. The success of The Partridge Family is largely due to David Cassidy, but the efforts of the songwriters, musicians, engineers and producers should be recognized as well. The Partridge Family was, after all, a carefully constructed enterprise designed to make money. Fortunately, the product delivered was able to touch many people as probably the last vestige of innocence for a generation.

The Partridge Family Album

Produced by Wes Farrell for Coral Rock Productions
Recorded at Western Recorders (Studio 2), Los Angeles
Engineered by Bob Kovach
Arranged by Mike Melvoin, Billy Strange, Wes Farrell and Don Peake
Vocal arrangements by John Bahler, Tom Bahler, Jackie Ward and Ron Hicklin
Partridge Family vocals by Shirley Jones and David Cassidy

Hal Blaine - Drums
Mike Melvoin - Keyboard
Larry Knechtel - Keyboard
Joe Osborne - Bass
Max Bennett - Bass
Louie Shelton - Guitar
Dennis Budimir - Guitar
Tommy Tedesco - Guitar

Howard Pattow sings it out to the people as the producer and guitarist of Sound Magazine, the Partridge Family Tribute Band

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