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The Partridge Family: Come On, Get Happy!

partridge family

First, let’s address the proverbial elephant in the room: the Partridge Family was not an actual band. They were a fictional family of pop musicians created by screenwriter Bernard Slade and honed with corporate care for the first half of the 1970s through their LPs and namesake sitcom.

On the TV show, the Partridges served up benign hijinks in their suburban home and traveled to music gigs in a groovy tricked-out school bus. The crew consisted of widowed mom Shirley, bright-eyed teen heartthrob son Keith, angelic daughter Laurie, scrappy son Danny, and the two youngest, Chris and Tracy, who didn’t do much more than follow adorably in everyone’s wake. Oh, and their hapless manager, Reuben Kincaid, who had great comic chemistry with scheming, red-headed Danny.

The Partridge Family was a sitcom hit from 1970-74, making a reluctant global superstar out of the late David Cassidy, who played Keith, and a career resurgence for his real-life stepmom, movie and stage star Shirley Jones. It was filled with wholesome humor, telegenic kids in crushed velvet costumes and minimal edge, concluding in a musical performance.

Only two members of the group (Cassidy and Jones) did any real singing or performing – the others just vamped attractively on-screen. In time, the show’s popularity waned and The Partridge Family was subsequently mocked for being pure bubble-gum in grittier times. But this seems an unfair rap to a gently witty show that holds up beautifully and remains a clever tribute to the love of family in a clean-cut alternate universe. They also gave us the #1 hit song of 1970. Their tracks are tuneful and go down easy. They are a sweet staple of an era gone by and deserve a fresh listen. Here are some of their best.

“I’ll Meet You Halfway” (1971)

 From the album Up To Date, this is a lilting, catchy song about a young man yearning for an elusive love. The Partridges tended to sing either upbeat love tunes or songs of romantic desire, and this skews towards the latter. Written by Wes Farrell and Gerry Goffin, two revered songwriters of the era, David Cassidy amps up his always-sweet vocals and does right by a song that stays with the listener and holds up nicely with the years.

“Brand New Me” (1970)

 Another Wes Farrell tune (along with Eddie Singleton), “Brand New Me” appeared on The Partridge Family Album, an early LP that mixed the pop confection genre with more soulful themes. The gorgeous harmonies and chord changes here are matched by Cassidy’s handling of the lyrics, “You’re gonna see/a brand new me/It’s you that’s on my mind this time/I’ll be around/I’ll never let you down/Can’t you see my feet are on the ground.”

“Come On, Get Happy!” (1970)

 Too brief to be played on the radio or on an album, this is the unjaded, joyful opening theme to their TV show. Opening with a waterfall of keyboards and a ruffle of drums, Cassidy sings this minute-long ode to happiness, love and good times. The words “Hello, world, hear the song that we’re singing – c’mon, get happy!” are known to darn near anyone of a certain age. Their original theme song was more of an expository laying out of the plot, somewhat along the lines of the “Gilligan’s Island,” but subsequent seasons let that go.

“Doesn’t Somebody Want to be Wanted?” (1971)

This track goes deeper than most Partridge Family numbers, with its aching lyrics that speak to existential loneliness and a desire to connect with the world. It’s got a great soulful vibe in its chord changes and harmonic back-up singing. The plaintive tune has a polished sophistication…with one notorious glitch. “Doesn’t Somebody Want to be Wanted?” is infamous for its cringeworthy “spoken word” bridge at 1:44 that is epic in its unintentional absurdity. David Cassidy hated having to do this in the studio and refused to sing it live. But it still doesn’t take away from the song’s impassioned sweetness.

“I Think I Love You” (1970)

 Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the best-selling single of 1970! “I Think I Love You” is The Partridge Family’s most successful song and the one with which they are most closely identified. It is a peach of a tune, written by Tony Romeo and rounded out by the best session musicians in the business at the time. Even the most jaded soul cannot help but love this upbeat number, filled with the joy of the discovery of new love. The subtle dissonance of the “Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba” in the opening bars builds up to one of the most delicious pop tunes of all time, a crowd-pleaser across the generations.

-Ellen Fagan

Photo: The Partridge Family (ABC TV via Wikimedia Commons)

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Ellen Fagan is a forever New Yorker, long-time Greenwich Village resident and vintage Duke University graduate with hippie-esque leanings. The best description of Ellen was given to her by a sardonic lawyer during the voir dire of one of her myriad Jury Duty stints: "...housewife, mom, voracious reader, freelance writer, copy editor, jewelry designer and frequent cyber-sleuth."

11 comments on “The Partridge Family: Come On, Get Happy!

  1. David S.

    Great tunes! I enjoyed the show in my youth and didn’t realize until later that they were loosely based on real life family group the Cowsills (who had some great tunes of their own!). Susan Dey was a near dead ringer for a Susan Cowsill (which I only realized after watching a few of their live performances on YouTube recently).

    • Ellen C Fagan

      Thanks so much! & that’s a fascinating observation about Susan Cowsill & Susan Dey. Wonder if the casting was deliberate or just a stroke of luck?

  2. “Five of us, and mom working all day, we knew we could help her if our music would pay. Danny got Reuben to sell our songs and it really came together when mom sang along.”

  3. Mr. Harry S. Steinmetz

    I was a huge fan in the early 70s. They were great fun. The interactions between Ruben and Danny were hilarious. This was a great example of prime time mad market entertainment. Even my mother, who had been divorced from my Dad for several years, enjoyed it. It was perfect for our white middle-class existence.
    Susan Dey was probably my first crush. And, of course, my older sister had David Cassidy’s poster on her bedroom wall. Thanks for the memory.

  4. Edd Davies

    Missing from the short list of songs is the absolute best song released by The Partridge Family: “It’s One of Those Nights (Yes Love).

  5. Stephanie

    Love this! So many fond memories of this show.

  6. Larry Lewis

    The story most often told in the Cowsills camp is that ABC not only took the idea for the show from the C’s success, but actually offered the show to that family. The C’s decllined, however, because Shirley Jones had already been signed in her role and the C’s didn’t want to do the series without their own mom, Barbara, in place. I suspect the truth regarding this lies somewhere in the middle.

    I’m a big Cowsills fan (grew up near their home area) and enjoy researching their history, but I have a hard time believing that a major entertainment corporation would have chanced a weekly series in the pre-cable/Internet/streaming days on a band with a few hits and no track record of acting. There was no David Cassidy in the C’s and Barbara Cowsill’s onstage presence was, put generously, pretty wooden. Still, this story makes for a fun exercise in, “What If?”

  7. They were my gateway drug into my love of music. I was 7 or 8 years old watching the show every Friday night. To this day their 3rd LP “Sound Magazine” is one of my favorite albums.

  8. My personal fave – love the production (especially on the guitar sound), the drop-dead, staccato drums, with the descending lines in the chorus. I’d put this up against any pop song from the era (& beyond!)………

    https://youtu.be/XB1tGJ3vwzk

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