It’s always been a joke amongst me and my friends: Mike owns Partridge Family records. I could offer the explanation that, one year, my grandparents brought me a big box of records that my mother and her sisters had declined to take with them when they moved out, and I kept all of them; that these also included the first Osmond Brothers’ record, Saturday Night Fever, Grease (the one record I threw into the incinerator out of the whole batch), and three Partridge albums; but that these also included the first seven excellent Elton John albums, Crosby Stills & Nash (& Young), and a well-preserved Beatles’ 45 that turned out to be worth $200, so there. And that’s a hell of an explanation, but it doesn’t do much to explain why I kept the Partridges. I’m not actually sure why I did, except that they’re hot collectors’ items now, and owning them really says, “Man, that Mike West, he listens to everything!”
Well. I have a system with my records. They sit in a big gold trunk (sometimes known as the Ark of the Covenant) next to my ancient but wonderful record player (always known as EXCALIBUR) with the top propped open and two stacks of records standing up inside it. One of these is the Most Sacred of Sacreds, my beloved, decrepit copy of the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed that is my most cherished possession; the other changes every week. I take a record out and put it on the second stack for a week, during which I MUST play that record at least once. This both shows off my collection to guests and keeps me from having scores and scores of albums I never play. One thing you probably know is that when you only play an album every now and then (which is inevitably the way this turns out), you are always re-discovering something you like on the album, then forgetting about it, and repeat.
Well, this week’s record was that stirring 1970 debut, The Partridge Family Album. And I really wasn’t looking forward to putting on such blatantly trashy, artistically bankrupt music.
I’m listening to it now.
…It’s really effin’ good.
Now, you and I both know that you’ve secretly always kind of liked “I Think I Love You”. Admit it. It’s silly, mindless bubblegum, but goddammit, it’s got hooks out to here, and despite the obvious teenybopper appeal of both his face and his voice, David Cassidy really can sing.
And there are even more great songs here. A pop-rocker called “Singing My Song,” a Latin-flaired piece called “Bandala,” and a beautiful melodrama called “I Really Want to Know You” — written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, the songwriting team who gave the world “You’ve Lost That Loving’ Feelin'”. When you think about it, that kind of compositional pedigree shoulda kept me from being surprised that the record is so good.
WARNING WARNING WARNING: Historical Perspective Approaching
What DOES remain surprising is that the music is very rich in the genre experiments of the 1960s. Most of today’s American Idol brand of teenage bubblegum is pretty much an exact copy of the R&B sap crooners, white and black, a tradition that has remained pretty much unchanged since Boyz II Men, ca. 1990-91. Sure, it’s hip-hopped up a bit more here and there, but overall everybody sounds just like R. Kelly, Mariah Carey, and the Britney/Christina/Justin powerhouse.
This record, on the other hand, throws in lots of harpsichord (traces of the short-lived Baroque rock movement, 1966-69), harmonies and country-ish guitars a la the Byrds, lush post-Sgt. Pepper’s strings, early British Invasion melodies and arrangements (the aforementioned “I Really Want To Know You” sounds a hell of a lot like Gerry and the Pacemakers’ “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”), sunny sub-folk-rock pop from the likes of Spanky & Our Gang and The Mamas & the Papas, and good old fashioned bubblegum, with the feelgood tunes and the “Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba” backup vocals.
The people who were crafting this music may have been industry hacks, but they knew the pop scene of the day inside-and-out.
Now I sound like one of those old geezers who talk about how great bubblegum music was back in the day. Ugh. So I’ll both remind myself that most old geezers hate the Partridge Family, and just plain old shut up.
WARNING WARNING WARNING: Implausible but Technically Correct Comparison Coming
Anyone who likes The Velvet Underground’s “Who Loves the Sun?” and other songs from Loaded has no business poo-pooing The Partridge Family Album.