Sound Magazine, the third Partridge Family album, represented a major change in David Cassidy's vocal sound. It was the first album in which producer Wes Farrell ceased using pitch control to alter the timbre of Cassidy's voice. Thus, the lead vocals are somewhat deeper, making the singer sound older, more mature. The quality of the material, also, was more mature, and in some cases, downright contemporary. Let's examine the album and define the characteristics that make Sound Magazine the quintessential Partridge Family album.
One Night Stand opens Side One. This tune, written by Farrell and Paul Anka, is less bubblegum than previous Partridge songs. The use of a solo acoustic guitar to open the song reflects the singer-songwriter mentality that was prevalent in 1971. The lyrics, reflecting a singer's regretting life on the road, bring dimension to the persona of "Keith/David" that the producers had been creating thus far. Brown Eyes, also by Farrell and Danny Jannsen, starts with the popular Wurlitzer electric piano that became a staple of 70's pop music. The song builds dramatically and showcases Cassidy's breathy vocal style which breathes life into an otherwise standard pop song.
The album really begins to cook with the next track, Echo Valley 2-6809. Written by Rupert Holmes (Escape (The Pina Colada Song) ) and Kathy Cooper, this song deals with a childhood relationship gone awry. Well-crafted and highly produced, the song is remembered for the operator telling a forlorn Keith, "You have reached a disconnected number". The string and horn arrangements by orchestrator Mike Melvoin are exceptional on this track.
You Don't Have To Tell Me, one of my personal favorites, is a major departure from the usual Partridge Family formula. The song was written by main Partridge songsmith, Tony Romeo. The bluesy piano sets up the mood for the mournful lamenting lyrics dealing with a drifting relationship (an original topic for pop music in general and PF music in particular). Since David Cassidy's vocal background included Broadway material as well as rock and roll, this song really gave him a chance to shine in a way other Partridge songs could not afford. Simply put, You Don't Have To Tell Me remains one of Cassidy's strongest vocal efforts on any Partridge Family album. Also noteworthy on this cut are the choir-like background vocals, meticulously arranged by John Bahler. Bahler, a veteran of pop music orchestration and TV/Radio jingles, weaves the background vocals in a sea of emotion, providing vocal "exclamation points" to Cassidy's verses. Note the harmonized 7th chord after Cassidy sings "And I'm dyin' underneath". Bahler adds just the right amount of musical tension to take the song over the top.
Rainmaker, written by Farrell, Jim Cretecos and future Bruce Springsteen manager, Mike Appel, starts with delicate piano stylings, building to a cascading chorus. This track really moves! The string section is definitely the standout during the second verse, bringing the tension up, up, up...until...the horns blaze in for the insistent chorus, full of tom-toms and staccato trumpets. I'm On My Way Back Home complements Rainmaker perfectly. Pop veteran Bobby Hart and Jack Keller take writer's credits on this one. The six-string guitar and piano that start the song are joined by a joyful horn line which sets up the first verse. The jumpy melody of the verse is sung over an arpeggiated D chord, while the chorus is full of background vocals and chord changes. What really stands out is the bridge, which not only changes to half time, but changes in feel -- from moderate pop to an almost gospel sound. Once again, John Bahler & Co. use their vocal prowess to gently elevate the energy back to a rousing chorus (And it's LOVE....). Note Cassidy's trademark "On my way-hey" during the ending.
Side Two begins with Summer Days. What can be said about this song. It is pure pop masterpiece. The magnificent use of harpsichord, piano and bassoon for the opening riff explode into the majestic introduction. This is The Partridge Family at its peak. The song was written by Tony Romeo. Need we say more. I'd like to say that if you check the songwriter's credit on any Partridge Family/David Cassidy album and see Romeo's name, it's a sure bet the song is a winner. Summer Days features all the elements that made Partridge tunes special: melodic keyboard lines, lush background vocals, majestic horns and soaring strings. Hal Blaine's hi-hat work during the bridge gives the song an added lift. I Would Have Loved You Anyway takes us back to a more familiar sound. This song is reminiscent of the Up To Date sound. The harpsichord plays the main structure of the song, and the production is not as orchestrated as, say, Summer Days (this formula will pop up again on Shopping Bag in the form of Girl, You Make My Day). Another Romeo tune, I Would Have Loved You Anyway features clever chord changes and very strong keyboard playing. Also, who could forget David Cassidy's classic, "Whoa, whoooooa", before each chorus.
The team of Farrell and Jannsen return to bring us Twenty-Four Hours A Day. This song features very standard pop song chord changes, but is brought to life, once again, by an exceptional performance from Cassidy as well as Melvoin's string and horn arrangements. The next song, I Woke Up In Love This Morning, was the single off the album. Written by popmeisters Irwin Levine and L.Russell Brown (who brought us all those great Tony Orlando hits), this song also features the harpsichord front and center as well as minimal production. The guitar licks are reminiscent of the surf guitar sounds of the early 60's. David does get to shine a bit during the bridge (Do dreams come truuuuah. Well, if they dooooah, I'll have yooooooahh.)
The album ends with Love Is All That I Ever Needed. This song was co-written by Farrell and David Cassidy. The bass line, meticulously played by Max Bennett, is one of the finest pieces of groove ever laid down on tape. Drummer Hal Blaine, who MADE all the Partridge songs MOVE, is outstanding on this cut. His drum fills, sparse but meaty, give the song an edge not found on most Partridge tunes. David's urgent plea to connect with the object of his affection is heartfelt and comes across honestly. It is very obvious that he had a part in the song's creation, because his performance displays a vulnerability that gives the tune a bit more punch than others. It was probably closer to Cassidy's own personal tastes at the time, much like Lay It On The Line from Up To Date.
It has been said that Sound Magazine was the most critically acclaimed of all the Partridge Family albums. After careful listening, it is clear to see why. The songs were diverse enough to show many facets of David Cassidy's vocal abilities. And the fact that his vocals were not pitch-shifted gives the actual performance of the song more credibility and warmth. Just about every Partridge fan I know counts this as their favorite Partridge album. Sometimes the reasons are a bit intangible. What I have attempted to do with this review is to give some of those reasons form and life, and give you the opportunity to check it out for yourself.
Produced by Wes Farrell for Coral Rock Productions
Rhythm tracks arranged by Wes Farrell
Strings and horns arranged by Mike Melvoin
Vocal Background arranged by John Bahler
Drums - Hal Blaine
Piano - Mike Melvoin & Larry Knechtel
Bass - Max Bennett
Guitar - Dennis Budimir & Louie Shelton
Background Voices - John Bahler, Tom Bahler, Jackie Ward and Ron Hicklin
Partridge Family vocals by David Cassidy and Shirley Jones
Howard Pattow is the guitarist and founder of a Partridge Family tribute band called--what else--Sound Magazine.
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