The Partridge Family – Up to Date (1971)

Television family The Partridge Family, featuring stars David Cassidy, Shirley Jones, Susan Dey, Danny Bonaduche, Jeremy Gelbwaks and Suzanne Crough, may not have been a real band, but eight albums, featuring the vocals of David Cassidy, were released during the series and sold in the millions. The result is that they remain to be cheap and often overlooked gems at flea markets and thrift stores.

Since the age of twelve, I’ve had a love affair with The Partridge Family which continues today, and especially for their second LP, “Up to Date.”  Last week I pulled out “Up to Date” for the first time in a very long while and upon playing it found that it is still as familiar and as comforting to me as an old close friend, and listening to it was like a musical hug from the past.   I can still sing every lyric to every song and remember every piece of harmony.  A staple at flea markets and thrift shops all over, “Up to Date” has been disgarded by record collectors, ignored by critics, snubbed by music scholars and goes unloved and unlistened to by the modern listener.  However, I stand by this album as one of my very favorite lps of the 1970’s and a delicious, underrated album which will never get the respect it deserves.  Believe me, for years I’ve been trying to get people who love music to take a deep listen to “Up to Date” with new ears.  But I get why the album continues to stay criminally under appreciated because when I first discovered it, by sheer accident, I had the same immediate knee jerk bias that any album released under the name The Partridge Family continues to get from record collectors. 

I’m not sure exactly where the copy of “Up to Date” originally came from, but I found it in an unlikely way.  Stuffed deep into the crawl space of my childhood home, my parents had put a cabinet stereo hi-fi set which no longer worked correctly forever out of sight and out of mind under the foundation of the house.  Going down into the crawl space to retrieve anything was always an unwanted d chore when we were growing up, but sometimes when sent down for something or another I’d find myself exploring the boxes and bags for hidden treasures or forgotten items which would be a reward for crawling around on the hard cement floor which hurt your hands and knees. One afternoon when exploring in this fashion, I came across the hi-fi set, which I’d seen hundreds of times without much interest, but for some reason this afternoon I lifted the lid to find a treasure inside. Still sitting on the turn table, forgotten seemingly forever, was a viny7l record. I pulled it out and looked at it with curiosity, “The Partridge Family”  I had heard of the Partridge Family, but being only twelve years old at the time, I had never seen the show and really didn’t know what it was going to be.  But as a kid who was listening to Madonna and Prince at the time, I knew enough to have that preconceived idea that most people would have when holding an abandoned Partridge Family album in their hands.  I snickered and thought to myself “Wow, this record is going to suck.”

“I’ll Meet You Halfway” became the second single credited to The Partridge Family to make it to the Billboard Charts, making it all the way to #9 in 1971,

Carrying the abandoned piece of vinyl to my bedroom, where I had a record player of my own, I placed the copy of “Up to Date” on the turn table, partially out of curiosity but also to listen to just how bad this record was going to be.  Already as a tween I found a lot of joy in listening to music ironically, like one might listen to  Mrs. Miller or The Shaggs.  I was already a music hipster in the making. But as I dropped the needle on the first track on the first side, I wasn’t at all prepared for how this was going to effect me.  As the opening bars of “I’ll Meet You Halfway” played through my tiny speakers, my immediate reaction to the song was far from what I expected:

“Will there come a day when you and I can say
We can fin’lly see each other?
Will there come a time when we can find the time
To reach out for one another?

We’ve been trav’lin’ in circles such a long, long time,
Try’n’ to say hello,
And we can just let it ride,
But you’re someone that I’d like to get to know.

I’ll meet you halfway, That’s better than no way.
There must be someway to get it together.”

A selection of some of Sam Tweedle’s collection of Partridge Family memorabilia, which goes far beyond just the records.

The lyrics weren’t profound, and the sound wasn’t modern nor cutting edge, but something in the sincerity of the lyrics, matched by the sensitive delivery by lead singer David Cassidy, connected to my twelve-year-old soul.  I didn’t know much about love, but I was at that place in my life where I was girl crazy, and I had a very difficult time talking to the girls I had crushes on.  Part of it was the normal hormonal nonsense kids of that age go through, matched with what was, in all actuality, crippling low self-esteem.  But while I was prepared to snicker and jeer at this Partridge Family album, immediately I could feel a certain truth to the sentiments in “I’ll Meet You Halfway.”   From that moment forward I became was a die-hard The Partridge Family fan  It doesn’t matter how old or cynical or as much of a music hipster I become, I will fight my best fight at defending the music put out under The Partridge Family as being some of the best crafted pop recording of all time. 

Producer Wes Farrell with David Cassidy. Wes Farrell was the mastermind behind The Partridge Family’s hit making formula by teaming Cassidy up with The Wrecking Crew and The Ron Hicklin Singers to sing original music written by some of the best pop writers in the business.

Virtual soundtrack albums for the TV series with rich vocals by the charismatic and likeable David Cassidy, Partridge Family albums may not have the power of Led Zeppelin, the elegance of David Bowie, the provocativeness of Queen nor the mass appeal of Abba, but what they did have was some of the biggest heavy hitters in American music forging these albums into existence.  With superstar producer Wes Farrell at the helm of the projects, the Partridge Family sound was created by the coming together of two legendary musical groups – fabled studio band the Wrecking Crew and superstar sessions vocalists The Ron Hicklin Singers, who, along with David Cassidy, would essentially be “The Partridge Family.”  Add some fairly well written pop songs by a stable of capable writers who had a proven track record of penning top forty hits and you get some extremely delicious material which was produced over eight albums between 1970 and 1973.  But, while the majority of the eight albums have their standout gems (for perhaps the exception of “Bulletin Board,” which is a dud), un my opinion “Up to Date: is the “Sgt. Pepper” of the Partridge Family output.  Building off the success of “I Think I Love You,” which appeared on the previous release, “The Partridge Family Album,” Wes Farrell had perfected the formula of the Partridge Family sound.  As a result, each track on “Up to Date” stands on its own as a well-crafted pop masterpiece.

When cast in the role of Keith Partridge, being able to sing was not a requirement asked of David Cassidy. But when it was realized by producers that he had the ability to be an actual music front man, Cassidy became both the face and the voice of The Partridge Family.

Perhaps I love the music on “Up to Date” because I was at the exact age of its original intended demographic when I originally found it. As a result, I was in the perfect mindset to emotionally connect with the material.  I also think that having never seen the actual Partridge Family TV series at the time of first listening to the album also had a special impact on me, allowing me to connect to the music as its own entity without having an attachment to the characters or episodes and, instead, was listening to the music as its own product (I’d finally become a  hug fan of the TV series a few years later when Much Music started airing reruns nightly after episodes of The Monkees, prompting to set the VCR to tape it ever night),  But it wasn’t just “I’ll Meet You Halfway” that seduced my ears,  I found personal meaning in multiple tracks on the album.  Wes Farrell had brought together an impressive group of writers together for the album. Tony Romeo, who had written “I Think I Love You,” for five new songs: classic pop composer Gary Goffin for three songs, and Farrell himself shared co-writing credits on a lot of the material on the album.  “Up to Date” also featured David Cassidy’s first ever song writing credit on the first side’s final track “Lay it on the Line,” which was noticeably more electric than previous Partridge material.  It wasn’t quite the Deep Purple material that Cassidy desired to sing, but it was far more his personal vibe.

But what spoke to me as a twelve-year-old, which I still recognize when listening to “Up tp Date” today, was the deep sense of pathos in the majority of the songs on the album.  I’ll admit that my emotions might not have been the most complex at that time in my life, but the sense of confusion I felt in regard to girls, and especially my inability to talk to them, was very valid. The majority of the material on “Up to Date” are songs about failed romance, broken hearts, regret, unrequited love and a longing to be loved which were feelings I could already understand, and while they were packaged in a bubblegum album, they were delivered without being dismissive nor condescending.  In regard to bubblegum music, I can’t think of a time prior to this that songs for a younger audience had been done with that much seriousness or care.  I could offer a guess what what girls crushing on David Cassidy were hearing or feeling when listening to “Up to Date” in 1971, but as a tween boy listening to them in 1987 I really related to these songs in a profound way.  Feeling rejected and torn apart with “She’s Rather Have the Rain,” asking for a chance in “You Are Always On My Mind,” and longing for love with “I Meet You Halfway” and “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted” all reflected emotional toil I was going through, while “There’s No Doubt In My Mind” had a preconceived outcome of doom in a situation far to complex for the average tween to understand.  But, no matter what your age, these songs tapped into universal emotions, but were hand crafted for kids just starting to feel these often difficult feelings. 

Although “Up to Date” is primarily filled with melancholy songs, it has a few bangers including “Umbrella Man.” On the other hand it has one of The Partridge Family’s most devastating heartbreak songs, “She’s Rather Have the Rain.”

But “Up to Date” isn’t without its bangers and bops either.  “Umbrella Man” and “I’m Here, You’re Here” has a swagger to them that the earlier Partridge Family recordings lacked, and “That’ll Be the Day” almost had a political folk-rock vibe to it, although just what its politics were was unclear.  Meanwhile, “Morning Rider on the Road,” with some fairly unusual poetic metaphors and an unclear narrative (is this a song about a drifter or a metaphor for emotional absence – I’m still not sure), had a deep beauty to it which still resonates.

And, obviously at the time of the album’s release, I wasn’t the only kid who knew it!  Following the success of “I Think I Love You,” matched with the popularity of the television show and the teen idol star power of David Cassidy, two tracks from the album climbed to the top of the Billboard charts.  Although neither managed to hit the top spot like “I Think I Love You” had earlier, “I’ll Meet You Halfway” got as high as the number nine spot, and “Doesn’t Somebody Wanted By Me” made it all the way to number six.  Furthermore, “Up to Date: would be the biggest selling lp under the Partridge Family name, making it as high to the number three spot on the Billboard Top 200 Records chart.  The albums that prevented it from getting higher were Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and Janis Joplin’s “Peal.”  Not bad for a bubblegum album for a group that wasn’t even really a real band!

“Doesn’t Somebody Wan to Be Wanted” would be the Partridge Family’s second biggest hit climbing to the #6 on the Billboard charts. It’d later be immortalized on the pop culture ziegiest when it was mentioned in the Quinton Tarantino film “Reservoir Dogs.”

But despite the track’s success, throughout his life David Cassidy was always extremely vocal about his hatred for “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted,” despite it being possibly his most well-crafted hit.  Far more mature than “I Think I Love You” and more structurally complex than “I’ll Meet You Halfway,” “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted” paints a picture of Cassidy as a nice guy looking for love but looking in all the wrong places.  It fulfilled a fantasy about Cassidy that tied into his squeaky clean TV image, but couldn’t have been further from the truth to his hedonistic bad boy reality.  But what Cassidy hated about the song was the break down at the end where he had to give a frank confessional in a vocal narrative:

“You know, I’m no different from anybody else
I start each day and end each night
It gets really lonely when you’re by yourself
And where is love?
And who is love?
I gotta know.”

Personally, I found this kind of deep, but then I was twelve. What did i know?

David Cassidy, who would forever have a personal conflict with his good boy image, hated “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted” and initially refused to record it. Although it’d go on to be one of his biggest hits, he’d forever be vocal about how much he loathed it for the rest of his life.

Cassidy hated the narrative so much that he initially refused to record it.  This was possibly the first of what would be many stormy moments of Cassidy’s discontent over both his Partridge Family material and Keith Partridge image which would continue be a bone of contention for the rest of his life.  Although he eventually did record the part as instructed, his attempt to have the song kept off the album, and then released a single, all failed and, much to his irritation, it became one of his biggest successes.  I wonder how he must have felt when it’d hit the pop culture zeitgeist again in the 1990’s when it was referenced in Quinton Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs,” where the lines written about it even got immortalized on the best selling soundtrack album.

What I find astonishing is that no matter how much time goes by, nor how more sophisticated my taste and understanding in music has gotten, I can still find a beauty and wonder when relistening to “Up to Date.”  “Up to Date: would be an album that would follow me for the rest of my life and, at times, even sink my credibility with people when they found out my love for it and everything Partridge Family.

Released at the height of The Partridge Family’s popularity and David Cassidy’s reign as a teen idol, “Up to Date” was the third highest selling album of 1971. The top two which blocked it were Webber and Rice’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” and Janis Joplin’s “Pearl.”

When I was a senior in high school  a friend of mine who was doing a student co-op class class in an elementary school asked ne abd a friend to disc jockey a dance for her students after we had done a similar job at a few of her summer parties.  Well, when one of her students’ older siblings, who happened to go to school with me, found out I was doing this she told her kid sister that I’d play nothing but The Partridge Family, making her come to school the next day crying and telling her friends the terrible news about my questionable tastes.  Of course the dance went on as planned and we didn’t put a single Partridge Family song in rotation and gave the kids a healthy dose of the Spin Doctors, Beastie Boys, Janet Jackson and Red Hot Chili Peppers that they wanted and everything ended well,

Later, I remember performing “You Are Always On My Mind,” which was a song that still resonated with me as an often moody university student, at a campus coffee house.  I remember a friend asking me later if I had written that song because it had seemed so deeply personal to me.  I revealed to him it was by The Partridge Family, only to have him say with surprise “Wow.  I can’t believe I enjoyed it” (“You Are Always On My Mind” is still my favorite song on “Up to Date”). This is the lack of respect that The Partridge Family legacy continues to receive.

But every now and then I run into someone who has listened to these albums and they know what I’m talking about. I’ve met Partridge Family fans over the years, and we bond over our love for these albums, and marvel at just how good they are and share the same story of not being able to convince the world to give them a critical listen. 

“Hello world! Hear the song that we’re singin’. C’mon get happy!”

I am not delusional at what I’m listening to with “Up to Date.”  I know it’s a bubblegum album by a “fake band.”  But, my god, the craftmanship seen on this album is fantastic.  It has all the right elements coming together by some of the best that were working in Los Angeles at that moment in time.    The only people who will ever understand the Partridge Family may be the Partridge Family fans themselves.  The music industry was too dismissive in 1971, and it is too cynical now.  Perhaps the time was never right for the Partridge Family to be seen as anything other than bubblegum pop, but it was right for me at the time that I found it and, as a result, is still one of the pivotal albums of my life.

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