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Partridge Family Ties

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Millions of fans--declared and clandestine--have lots to be happy about lately. Not only did virtually every entertainment website and printed news column announce that Reveille and Geffen Records were collaborating on an updated version of the iconic '70s ABC-TV series, The Partridge Family, but also, after years of inaction on the DVD front, on October 14th, the third of four seasons of the 1970-1974 phenomenon finally will make it to DVD. That's not all. Courtesy of the niche label Collector's Choice Music, ending a five year freeze on CD releases, The Partridge Family Bulletin Board comes to the format for the first time, adding the bonus single "Ain't Love Easy"/"Roses In The Snow." What triggered this latest Partridge Family invasion? Probably serendipity since none of these camps coordinated their releases. But this kismet seems to occur every few years, when there is a new wave of interest in all that is Partridge for no apparent reason, resulting in new products or some creative reinvention of the vehicle. For example, Razor & Tie first reissued some of the Partridge albums on CD in the mid-'90s, coinciding with TV-Land's rerunning the series in one of its popular nighttime blocks. Next, in a vacuum, Buddha/BMG Heritage re-reissued the albums on CD--except Bulletin Board-- from 2000 through 2003, and there was VH1's sudden 2004 reality show, In Search Of The Partridge Family, that was to be the pilot for a reinvention titled--ah, you remembered--The New Partridge Family. And there was the TV movie. Then the first and second seasons were released on DVD in 2005. So what the heck is it about this series that makes it so darned endearing that these revisits keep recurring?

From the start, the 1970-1974 series grayed the area between reality and fiction by loosely basing itself on the musical family and MGM recording artists, The Cowsills. The group was teeming with good looking teen siblings, amassed a few poppy flower-power hits such as "The Rain, The Park & Other Things" (aka "I Love The Flower Girl"), "Indian Lake," and "Hair," the family's cover of Galt McDermot's Broadway musical's main theme. The Cowsills also participated in a famous television ad campaign for "milk," and contributed the theme song to another ABC-TV attraction, Love American Style. The kicker is that this troupe allegedly was approached first to star in the televised musical sitcom that was to be modeled after The Monkees, but rejected the offer. The aftermath was a reworking of the concept, resulting in the Friday night weekly series that launched David Cassidy into international superstardom and teen idoldom. Cassidy's overexposure from both his co-starring role as elder son "Keith" and his hooky hit Partridge Family and solo recordings resulted in his being one of the most celebrated international stars ever. In fact, Cassidy was the biggest teen idol since Ricky Nelson and Elvis Presley, the latter's white-fringed fashion emulated by the young faux-Partridge during his famed 1972 Madison Square Garden concert (trivia alert: backed-up by vocalist Kim Carnes). The show also starred Shirley Jones (Carousel, Elmer Gantry, Oklahoma) who played dual roles as both the fictional brood's mother "Shirley" and David's real life step-mom, her having married his father, stage actor Jack Cassidy. (For those wondering, that makes David half-brothers with Jack's and Shirley's sons Patrick, Ryan, and teen star and producer-director-writer, Shaun Cassidy.) Completing the starring roles were Susan Dey, playing Keith's sister "Laurie" (whose cool vibe would be revisited years later as a hot lawyer in NBC-TV's LA Law), and future radio personality Danny Bonaduce, son of television writer, Joseph Bonaduce, was hired as the show's lovable scamp, "Danny." Oh, and the always hysterical Dave Madden played manager Reuben Kincaid, whose on-screen relationship and banter with the younger Partridge could, these days, be reported to child welfare services. The flock's on-screen chemistry was the opposite of The Brady Bunch, the cast having a blast with its weekly wiseassery and borderline boundary-pushing of good taste (such as the pilot episode's featuring men's room stalls). At least initially, the sight gags, punch lines and the actors' timings were choreographed perfectly.

But The Partridge Family series, for all its kid stuff, made an effort to engage beyond its younger demo and catchy bubblegum music, occasionally addressing--albeit in sometimes awkward, but genuine ways--socially-conscious topics. One such adventure found the brood liberating a firehouse/club in a Detroit ghetto from a loan shark in the first season's "Soul Man" episode that featured guest stars Richard Pryor, Lou Gossett, Jr. and Herbert Jefferson, Jr., known to Battlestar Galactica fans as the original Boomer. In "My Son, The Feminist," Shirley pushed back against the neighborhood's Morality Watchdogs, and women's equality was the show's focus, though it was handled in a pretty un-PC way. "All's War In Love And Fairs" had the family promoting public awareness about life on Native American reservations. "See Here, Private Partridge" found a pubescent Danny accidentally getting drafted and the army wouldn't take no for an answer until the young'un showed up for his physical. The touching episode "Whatever Happened To Moby Dick?" was a commentary on saving the whales that included nods to the New York Zoological Society and Shirley Jones' sublime take on "The Whale Song," a folky protest tune that featured background "vocals" by humpbacks a la Judy Collins' "Fairwell To Tarwaithe." And Jones' solo recording, the above-mentioned "Ain't Love Easy" (produced by Bones Howe) was featured in the Partridge Family episode, "A Likely Candidate," one of two episodes whose plots involve an attraction between Shirley and a politician played by Bert Convey. The show had gotten so popular, it was one of those programs you HAD to be on, and it attracted well-known actors including Star Wars' Mark Hamill, All In The Family's Rob Reiner, Laugh-In's Arte Johnson, Alice's Vic Taybeck, The Dick Van Dyke Show's Morey Amsterdam, Family Ties' Meredith Baxter, The Patty Duke Show's William Schallert, Three's Company's Norman Fell, Kung Fu's Season Hubley, as well as Jodie Foster, Dick Clark, sportscaster Howard Cosell, The Wizard Of Oz's Ray Bolger and Brigham Young's Dean Jagger. And the short-lived spin-off series, Getting Together, starred another one-time teen idol, Here Come The Brides' Bobby Sherman. His Partridge Family appearance also featured a performance, albeit film-edited together, between him and Cassidy on a song titled, "Stephanie."

As far as the music, each week promised a new, ultra-poppy song that included all of the fictitious group's genuine hits such as "I Think I Love You," "Doesn't Somebody Want To Be Wanted," "I'll Meet You Halfway," "I Woke Up In Love This Morning," "Am I Losing You," "It's One Of Those Nights," and their remake of the Neil Sedaka oldie, "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do." The recordings, including eight hugely-selling albums, were produced by Wes Farrell, co-writer of The McCoys' hit "Hang On, Sloopy." Almost all the lead vocals were piloted by David Cassidy with background vocals by Shirley Jones (except for their Christmas album on which she sang lead) and credited singers John Bahler, Tom Bahler, Jackie Ward and Ron Hicklin. Musicians included famed LA session players such as drummer Hal Blaine, bassists Joe Osborne and Max Bennett, guitarists Louis Shelton and Dennis Budimir, and keyboardist Mike Melvoin (Wendy Melvoin's dad). Some of the era's best pop songwriters also were drafted, like Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Terry Cashman and Tommy West, Jim Cretecos and Mike Appel, Danny Janssen and Bobby Hart, Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown, Gerry Goffin, Mark James, Rupert Holmes, Johnny Cymbal, Paul Anka, Jack Keller, Austin Roberts, Adam Miller, and John Hill. Wes Farrell and even David Cassidy contributed songs, but the king of the songwriter hill was the late Tony Romeo, writer of "I Think I Love You," that single having sold a skillion units in the '70s, and later recorded by countless easy listening vocalists of the era. Even Less Than Jake and Voice Of The Beehive took a swing at it. By the way, the ten second recap on Romeo's career highlights include "Right Right Now Now" by the Beastie Boys who sampled his Partridge Family original, "I Would Have Loved You Anyway," for their album, To The 5 Boroughs. "Come On Joe" was recorded by both George Jones and Jo-El Sonnier. "Walk Me In The Rain" was taken by the country vocal quartet, Girls Next Door, and "Milk Train" was covered by The Everly Brothers. His bubblegum hits included "Indian Lake" by The Cowsills, "Blessed Is The Rain" by The Brooklyn Bridge and "I'm Gonna Make You Mine" by Lou Christie. Oh yeah, he produced Christie's album Beyond The Blue Horizon whose title track was used during the Gus Van Sant-esque travel scene in the movie Rainman. Trivia includes his outing as the MGM Records group Trout, plus he recorded a beautiful unreleased Beach Boys-inspired solo album titled Moonwagon for Lifesong Records, owned by the above-mentioned Terry Cashman and Tommy West.

Speaking of this pair, in addition to their Partridge contributions and their own recording careers as Cashman & West on ABC/Dunhill Records, they were Jim Croce's producers. Had it not been for Terry Cashman and Tommy West's Partridge Family royalties, Jim Croce's first album, You Don't Mess Around With Jim--rejected by every single label at the time--would never have been recorded. That's right, no "Operator," no "Time In A Bottle," no title track and therefore, no "Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown," "I Got A Name" or "I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song." Other Partridge songwriters benefited from the series as well. Rupert Holmes' original "Echo Valley 2-6809" featured on the group's best album, Sound Magazine, indirectly connected the young singer-songwriter with Epic Records, home of his first album, Widescreen. That LP made a fan of Barbra Streisand who collaborated with Holmes on the music of A Star Is Born, and also had him produce her Lazy Afternoon album. And it's assumed that Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos used their Partridge royalties to set up shop where they eventually would record a young whippersnapper named Bruce Springsteen.

Sadly, most of our big brothers and sisters rejected the show because it wasn't cool, so it also strangely served as an unintended generational divide in many families. The older kids already had moved on to Led Zepplin, the Stones or the Allman Brothers, and they had no time or patience for either us or our Partridges no matter how much we begged them to come on, get happy. Perhaps The Partridge Family played substitute sibling during that really confusing time, and that's one reason it's so loved and embedded in the culture. The show was never hip, but what did we know. We just loved it. And if the players involved in the remake include hipsters like writer Jeff Rake and Interscope/Geffen/A&M's Jimmy Iovine and Ron Fair, that's just proof that we probably were on to something pretty decent all those years ago.