Friday, March 31, 2017

Ranking the Top 20 Partridge Family Songs


The Partridge Family and The Monkees are two Comfort TV sitcoms inextricably linked in my memory. In both cases I thought the songs they performed were even better than their respective shows. 


It took decades for the legacy and talent of The Monkees to be acknowledged, but that has not happened with The Partridge Family, which is understandable as the series was created with no regard for musical authenticity. The concept was to cast photogenic actors who would lip-sync to tracks recorded by professional singers and musicians. It was serendipity that David Cassidy, hired for his teen idol looks, asked executive producer Bob Claver if he could take a shot at singing as well. 



That, along with mixing Shirley Jones’ vocals into the backing tracks, shifted them toward the center on the manufactured TV band scale; they’re behind The Monkees, but still ahead of The Archies.   

How long have I been a fan? This was the first record album I ever bought that didn’t say Disney on the label. 



I bought every album after that, reacquired them all on CD, and their content still comprises one of my favorite go-to iPod playlists.  On this topic I know whereof I speak, and can confidently state that these are the 20 best Partridge Family songs.

#20: Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted
The group’s second highest-charting single (peaking at #6) is a classic example of the mid-tempo pop sound, escalating from the verses to the chorus, that can be found in many of their most popular tracks. However, it’s best remembered for Cassidy’s cheesy spoken-word bridge, which he hated doing. But producer Wes Farrell (who cowrote the song) guessed that his plaintive plea for love would make the Tiger Beat subscribers swoon, and he was right. 



#19: Brand New Me
It’s the first song on their first album, and was featured in what was arguably the series’ most famous episode (season 1’s “But the Memory Lingers On,” aka ‘the one with the skunk’). The powerful wall of sound arrangement highlights the talent of the top session musicians that play on most of the Partridge tracks, including 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.



#18: Hello, Hello
I’m kind of alone in my affection for this one, even among fellow Partridge fans. But I love the Dixieland jazz intro, something unique for a Partridge Family record, and the nostalgic feel of the entire track. 



#17: I Heard You Singing Your Song
By the time the group’s final album, Bulletin Board, was released in 1973, the magic was quickly slipping away and Ricky Segall had already started ruining the last few minutes of several series episodes. But this song and its marvelous vocal arrangements, reminiscent of The Beach Boys, offered one last blast of pop heaven. 



#16: I Really Want to Know You
It’s debatable whether any song recorded prior to when David Cassidy took over lead vocals should be considered for a best-of list. But “I Really Want to Know You” is a beautiful Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil ballad, and offers the best glimpse into what the band’s sound would have been had someone else been cast as Keith Partridge. 



#15: Only a Moment Ago
From our current perspective of 40-some years after the series debuted, “Only a Moment Ago” takes on added resonance. It’s a song about longing for happier, simpler times, which is something that many of us do every time we hear Partridge Family music. “Why has the music stopped,” indeed. 



#14: Point Me in the Direction of Albuquerque
No songwriter complimented the Partridge sound more than Tony Romeo. This classic, familiar to even casual Partridge fans, is the first of his songs in our top 20 but it won’t be the last. The evocative lyric about a “lonely little runaway with teardrops in her eyes” tells such a vivid story it’s not surprising it would be dramatized in a series episode (season 1’s “Road Song”). 



#13: I Woke Up in Love This Morning
The first single from the group’s third album, Sound Magazine, stayed on the hot 100 for ten weeks, peaking at #13. Even though I’m making the picks, it surprises me that we had to wait this long for a song featuring the harpsichord, given how the Renaissance-era instrument was a staple of the group’s sound. 



#12: My Christmas Card to You
The only Partridge LP to reach #1 on the charts was their Christmas album. “My Christmas Card to You,” another classic Tony Romeo composition, was the sole original song on the record. It has been a holiday tradition in my home ever since. The album also features the only duet between David Cassidy and Shirley Jones (on “Winter Wonderland”). It’s a shame they didn’t pair their voices more often. 



#11: Bandala
This was the song Keith described as “sort of an afro thing” to Richard Pryor in the memorable season one episode “Soul Club.” At the risk of designating any Partridge Family song that way, there is a street quality to “Bandala” that is about as gritty as this wholesome family band could get. It also features some unique instruments for a Partridge record, including a full brass section, congas and enough cowbell to satisfy Christopher Walken.



#10: “I Can Feel Your Heartbeat”
We kick off the top 10 with the hardest-rocking Partridge song, one that should have been a second single off their debut album. The heavy reverb and Hammond organ accentuate Hal Blaine’s pounding drumbeat and one of David Cassidy’s most impassioned vocals. “I Can Feel Your Heartbeat” found a new audience after being featured in an episode of American Horror Story



#9: Echo Valley 2-6809
Long before Tommy Tutone tried to reach Jenny at 867-5309, the Partridge Family debuted the first classic phone number song. It’s about a boy and a girl who grew up together “with ferris wheels and sunshine laughter,” but who parted on bad terms. Should he call her again? The lush orchestral arrangement on this Rupert Holmes song demonstrates once again the remarkable behind-the-scenes talent that made these records so delightful then and now. 



#8: I’ll Leave Myself a Little Time
This gentle track appears on the group’s second album, Up To Date, which is surprising since it was featured in episode two of the show's first season. There isn’t one particular aspect of the recording to which I need call your attention – it’s just a really lovely song that I’m sure I’ve heard more than 500 times, and it still always makes me smile. 



#7: It’s One of Those Nights (Yes Love)
From the underrated Shopping Bag album (which also includes “Every Song is You” and “If You Ever Go”) this is another great Tony Romeo track that benefits from Phil Spector-levels of orchestration. It was also the band’s fifth and final top 20 song. 



#6: I’m On My Way Back Home
Slow to fast, soft to loud, soaring chord and tempo changes, and one of David Cassidy’s most self-assured vocals help make this track even more memorable than some of the group’s hit singles. 



#5: Every Little Bit O’ You
Bubblegum pop rarely gets sweeter than this blissful tune, written by the team that also contributed “I Woke Up in Love This Morning” to the Partridge catalog (L. Russell Brown and Irwin Levine). It was covered in one of the more eye-catching on-screen performances – from the roof of the Partridge bus under a beautiful blue sky – in the episode “I Can Get It For You Retail.” 



#4:  I Think I Love You
Surprised? Obviously this was the biggest Partridge Family hit, the one song that is probably familiar even to someone who never watched the show. “I Think I Love You” went to #1 in 1970 and stayed there for three weeks. It has everything fans love – memorable words and music from Tony Romeo, that ever-present harpsichord, and another great Cassidy vocal, double-tracked for added impact. It’s just that there are three other songs I like even more. 



#3: Together We’re Better
The best song on the Notebook album was immortalized in the episode where the family visits the King’s Island amusement park and hangs out with Mary Ann Mobley. The playful opening notes of the organ sound like a circus calliope, setting the perfect mood for one of the most ambitious Partridge records. Yes, Tony Romeo wrote this one too. But from that foundation a lot of gifted people crafted an intricate musical arrangement and vocal backing tracks that complement Cassidy’s lead. There’s a lot going on here in just 2 minutes and 30 seconds, and it’s all pretty wonderful. 



#2: I’ll Meet You Halfway
After lavishing praise on 18 other Partridge songs, it might seem strange to commend “I’ll Meet You Halfway” by saying it doesn’t sound like a typical Partridge Family record. But if you’re familiar with the song you know what I mean. There’s sophistication to it, an almost classical quality to the strings and piano arpeggio that set the mood before the singing starts. Wes Farrell wrote it with Carole King’s songwriting partner Gerry Goffin. 



#1: Summer Days
The fifth Tony Romeo song on our top 20 is irresistible from start to finish. From the explosive opening riff to Cassidy’s exuberant vocal to a buoyant chorus that bounds and rolls out of your speakers with unbridled joy. Why “Summer Days” was never released as a single remains a classic TV music mystery. It’s not just my favorite PF song – it’s one of my favorite records from any group and any musical era. The 1970s may not have been as carefree and innocent as the song suggests, but for those three minutes you can close your eyes and pretend they really were that wonderful. 


4 comments:

  1. Great choices, but my favorite PF song of those that I've heard is "That'll Be the Day", also written by Tony Romeo and featured on the PF album UP TO DATE. I love the video sequence from S1's "Danny and the Mob" that used this song in the background too.

    I had to watch the video "Together We're Better" (good song, BTW) because I haven't gotten around to watching the PF episode at King's Island yet, and I don't recall ever seeing it, where I've seen the Brady Bunch King's Island episode perhaps dozens of times. I also should watch their episode on a cruise as well.

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  2. Too bad David Cassidy has dementia now! *sigh*

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  4. What a tragic thing to happen to a talented man. No I was not going to any DC concerts, Led Zep,Aerosmith,Bad Co was my thing. But it amazes me how PF songs are stuck in my head. My 2 favorites are rather obscure. Singing My Song and Rainmaker

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