Forty-five years ago tonight we gathered around the TV to watch a new show that would turn our little baby-boomer lives upside-down. Already we’d been introduced to family acts on the radio. The Osmond Brothers and The Jackson 5, and there were The King Family and The Cowsills before them. Imagine how we felt when a family band would be the subject of a new TV show.
I was an eleven year old scrawny 6th grader. We had a sleep over that night, because it was Friday. There was me, and my little brother Thom and a school chum of mine also named John. So we gathered around the TV set at 8:00 to watch The Brady Bunch (which was already a hit show in my house) and this Friday night it was followed by the premier of The Partridge Family.
Like most of us in the US and Canada, I remember watching that first night, and a couple of things stood out for me:
1) How cool it would be to have a garage band and
2) I began my life-long (one-sided) love affair with Susan Dey.
Funny that I was the same age as Danny Bonaduce, but I related more to David Cassidy who was 9 years older than me. They say we emulate up. I remember liking the show a whole lot more than the songs, but we knew all the songs and sang along when they came on the radio (certainly the sub-conscious impetus for the “Guilty Pleasure Song” feature on my radio show). I don’t think I ever bought a Partridge Family record in my life, but I’ve seen all 98 episodes of the show, some three and four times, thanks in recent years to Nickelodeon.
After I was grown, I learned the shocking truth that The Partridge Family didn’t sing or play instruments on any of their songs! What? No Laurie singing or playing keyboard like Veronica on The Archies? And I suppose The Monkees weren’t a real TV band either! Actually, the songs were all performed by the now famous “Wrecking Crew” and the vocals were sang by the Ron Hicklin Singers who, like the Wrecking Crew, performed as other groups and sang on hundreds of records in the 60s and 70s (think Ray Coniff Singers…and you’ll find members of The Partridge Family). In fact, some of the Ray HIcklin singers were also The Archies…but I digress. It’s no wonder we’ve become the “therapy” generation.
The one sound that made the Partridge songs unique,of course, was David Cassidy singing lead. True story: when David was cast, the producers weren’t aware he could sing, and they hadn’t originally planned on anyone singing from the cast. In fact David didn’t sing on any of the songs in the pilot episode. And if memory serves, Shirley Jones only sang on the show recordings, she wasn’t on the records.
Almost immediately The Partridge Family was a hit. It was also rife with controversy, from David’s disdain for playing pop music (he wanted to be a rocker) to the death of a fan at one of his concerts, and Danny’s alleged abusive father IRL, to rumors about Susan Dey’s mysterious all-carrot diet (IDK if there’s any truth to that rumor, but they say she ate so many carrots that her skin turned orange). And don’t forget David’s nude spread for Rolling Stone magazine. For such a milquetoast show, they seemed to have their share of drama off camera. But perhaps the most ironic thing was how everyone grew up Partridge. For the cast, David would make a career out of The Partridge Family, performing those songs he hated so much night after night (and he still does when he’s not busy in rehab). Danny would go on to fight Donny Osmond in a boxing match and become radio’s bad-boy second only to an earlier version of Howard Stern, and Shirley Jones would write a steamy tell-all, TMI memoir! Good times!
When I catch an episode of the show on cable now, it’s a walk down memory lane, and makes me ache for my youth, which was over way too fast. And then I go searching for an episode of my favorite 1980s-90s show starring my favorite non-singer, non-keyboardist turned attorney, at the LA Law firm of MacKenzie-Brackman, and I ache even more. I always thought it would be a hoot to have Grace Van Owen represent Ruben Kincaid in a case on LA Law.
We never forget our first love!