By the time Wes Farrell & Co. reached Shopping Bag, the formula that had successfully launched and nurtured the Partridge Family sound was perfected. When this happens in pop music, one of two things can happen. One is that the formula will continue to work, selling more and more records than ever before. The other is that it will begin to stagnate and wane in popularity. With the release of Shopping Bag, The Partridge Family's fifth album, the score was split between the two.
First of all, at this point, the marketing machine was in full swing. Shopping Bag was released in the middle of the second season, when David Cassidy's popularity was at its peak. The phenomenal success of the first three studio albums (and the somewhat less impactful Christmas album) had firmly established the Partridge name as one to be reckoned with, as far as commerciality went. Cassidy's name and likeness were splattered all over the standard pop culture fare: bubblegum cards, beach towels, Colorforms, clothing, posters, you name it. The record albums were extensions of the television show, and the songs crafted for Shopping Bag represented the trademark sound.
Shopping Bag opens with "Girl, You Make My Day", written by the classic team of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. The sound of harpsichords became synonymous with "The Partridge Family", and this song hits you front and center with it. The orchestration is very well-crafted however, as are John Bahler's background vocal arrangements. The combined effect creates the classic Partridge mood.
One of the album's strongest cuts is next: "Every Little Bit O' You", by Irwin Levine & L. Russell Brown (of "I Woke Up In Love This Morning" fame). This song, beginning gently with the Wurlitzer electric piano, builds dynamically first with background vocals, then Cassidy's vocals, then a strong performance by the wonderful rhythm section of Hal Blaine, Max Bennett, Tommy Tedesco and the rest. This track remains one of the most joyful Partridge tunes, with nary a harpsichord in earshot.
Up next is "Something New Got Old", co-written by producer Wes Farrell and songsmith Bobby Hart. Clever vocal arrangements and instrumentation create the mood for this song about faded love. However, the tendency to rely too much on the formula is very evident here. Somehow, the magic eludes the listener and the song comes off a bit stale. You might say something new...well...got old.
"Am I Losing You", also by Levine & Brown, is also featured on the Greatest Hits package. Although it was never a hit single, it was one of those Partridge tunes that injected a bit of rock into its flavor. The song begins with a bluesy lick, probably played on a Fender Stratocaster. The tune was written in a minor key, something very common for Partridge tunes, due to its emotional effect on the listener.
Wes Farrell co-wrote "Last Night" with Tony Romeo, the man responsible for The Partridge Family's biggest hit, "I Think I Love You". This song has a very familiar swinging groove, very common for pop music of the era. Its infectious chord changes weave in and out of the verses and choruses so smoothly, you will probably find yourself tapping your feet or even bobbing your head on this one. The harpsichord is complemented by a wonderful string arrangement by Mike Melvoin. As with all of Romeo's compositions, this one remains one of the Partridges' more memorable tunes.
"It's All In Your Mind", written by Johnny Cymbal and Peggy Clinger, is fondly remembered from the episode where Danny and Reuben try to quit overeating and smoking...respectively, of course. It is a very listenable pop tune, very innocuous in nature, yet catchy enough to be one of the standouts on the album. This is most likely due to John Bahler's clever "answer back" technique of background vocal arrangement, as they urge the listener to "listen, listen". The horn section also adds to the energy of the song.
Side Two opens with a dixieland-styled instrumental that feels a bit out of place on the album. It was probably a reflection on the musical scene at the time, as the music of the 20's and 30's were also being revived by various artists and movies. This immediately segues into "Hello, Hello", by Farrell & Romeo. The piano leads us in with a tasty progression, and the horns and strings play a major part in weaving the tapestry that is this song. Unfortunately, it comes off a bit formulaic, even for Romeo, and leaves the listener feeling a bit malnourished.
Fortunately, the album's next song is like spring water in a desert. "There'll Come A Time", written by David Cassidy, is probably the most autobiographical of any of the Partridge songs. The lyrics reflect what Cassidy was feeling during the carnival-like atmosphere of his fame: "You know I've got feelings just like you. When I get lonely, I cry, too. Can't you see I'm not a circus clown." This song proves what you can do with a passionate lyric, simple arrangement, and beautiful background vocals. This remains the most emotional song on Shopping Bag, and definitely the one with the most meaning.
"If You Ever Go", again penned by Farrell & Romeo, again falls prey to the formula that stifled some of the songs on this album. This is not to say that it is a bad song. There is a difference between a bad song and a bad production or performance. A bad song is bad no matter what a producer or artist can do with it. But a bad production, or rather, an uninspired production, can leave a song limp and lifeless, giving the listener the feeling of a plane not quite making it off the ground. This is the problem that all pop artists must face after peaking in their success. Since The Partridge Family were not really artists, but session players brought together for a paid sit, the chances of a performance not clicking are greater than if a bonafide group were striving to reach a new peak in their career.
However, the album's next cut, "Every Song Is You", captures the magic that we'd come to expect from a Partridge Family song. Written by Terry Cashman and Tommy West, this tune begins plaintively with strings and horns beautifully arranged by Melvoin. David Cassidy's vocal is delicate yet strong, and Bahler's background vocal arrangements are perfect. The song also modulates at the end, giving it an added boost of emotion.
The only true hit single off this album is its closing track, "It's One Of Those Nights (Yes Love)", written by Tony Romeo. One of the most orchestrated of the Partridge songs, it remains a classic example of Romeo's writing style as well as Bahler's background vocal style. David really soars during the chorus, giving the song depth and focus. All in all, it ends the album well.
Shopping Bag left many listeners a bit disappointed. It lacked the musical edge of Sound Magazine or the playful feel of Up To Date. It is almost as if the producers couldn't make up their mind what kind of album to do. It may have been that the machine dictated the artists and not the other way around. By mid '71, The Partridge Family became big business. It was probably one deadline after another at this point, and the careful craftings of Partridge Past may have been sacrificed to the ghosts of Machine Future. Just send those songs in, boys. We'll crank 'em out in no time. This is not to say that it was all downhill from here. As we'll see with the next album, there was definitely a second wind to be experienced by the creative team behind The Partridge Family.
Produced by Wes Farrell for Coral Rock
Rhythm Tracks Arranged by Wes Farrell
Strings and Horns Arranged by Mike Melvoin
Vocal Background Arranged by John Bahler
Guitars - Larry Carlton, Louie Shelton, Dennis Budimir & Tommy Tedesco
Drums - Hal Blaine
Bass - Max Bennett
Keyboards - Mike Melvoin
Background Voices - John Bahler, Tom Bahler, Jackie Ward & Ron Hicklin
Partridge Family Vocals by Shirley Jones and David Cassidy
Recorded at Western Recorders (Studio 2), Los Angeles
Engineered by Bob Kovac
Assistant Engineer - Winston Wong
Howard Pattow keeps the Partridge Family alive as the guitarist and founder of Sound Magazine, the Partridge Family Tribute Band
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