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TV Themes: The Partridge Family

Forty years ago, it was one of the biggest TV shows in the world. Today The Partridge Family has a rather unfortunate and, I might add, unjustified reputation as tacky TV, but back then teenage girls swooned over the handsome David Cassidy, teenage boys looked in to perv at Susan Dey (and no doubt were delighted when the actress did a nude scene in the now forgotten 1978 film First Love), the moms could identify with mother Partridge Shirley Jones, of whom the dads surely approved as well, and little kids like myself followed with anticipation the adventures of Danny.

One would hesitate to call The Partridge Family a revolutionary show. To begin with, its concept borrowed from The Monkees; though, unlike that series, it was inspired by the real-life story of a family band called The Cowsills, who were still performing when The Partridge Family was at its peak.

But The Partridge Family occasionally captured and reflected a new Zeitgeist; it did so from the start, with its premise of (unexplained) single motherhood. In its first season, the show dealt with sexism (a bit clumsily but with good intentions). Better yet, in an episode starring Richard Pryor and Louis Gosset Jr as Detroit club owners who, due to a management mix-up, got the Partridge Family instead of The Temptations, the Black Panthers (though they are not called that) are portrayed sympathetically, with their local leaders inducting Danny as an honorary member. You almost expected Mom Partridge and Angela Davis to swap recipes.

There was some fine farce as well, for example the farce when, after a bureaucratic error, ten-year-old Danny is drafted into the army. Make no mistake, little Danny Bonaduce had excellent comedy timing.

Danny becomes an honorary Black Panther (though they are not called that) as Richard Pryor and Louis Gossett Jr look on

The show is now, inevitably, dated. But even now, watching it as an adult, it is still entertaining, mildly amusing and quite charming. There is also great fun in spotting the occasional celebrities and future stars making cameos. In the first episode, Johnny Cash introduces the Partridge Family on his show. At different times, three future Charlie’s Angels (Smith, Facett and Ladd) make an appearance. Others include a young Jodie Foster, Mark Hamill, Jackie Coogan, Slim Pickens and Dick Clark. Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow in The Wizard Of Oz, played the Partridge kids’ grandfather.

The show’s music is usually disregarded as disposable TV pop. Indeed, if one already treated, say, the Carpenters with suspicion, then one would not give The Partridge Family, with a kid drummer and ginger Danny on bass, a fair shot. And that is unfortunate, because often the music was of fine standard.

Obviously, the drums were played by neither incarnation of little Chris (in the first season played by dark-haired, fright-eyed Jeremy Gelbwaks, thereafter by blond and blue-eyed Brian Forster), and Danny couldn’t play a note, as actor Bonaduce has cheerfully acknowledged. The songs were in fact recorded by the famous Wrecking Crew, the collective of elite studio musicians who, in various combinations, backed everybody from Nancy Sinatra to the Carpenters and the Mamas & the Papas to Simon & Garfunkel and many Phil Spector productions. Wrecking Crew members also appeared on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the uncompleted Smile albums.

The Wrecking Crew accompanied David Cassidy’s fine vocals and his real-life stepmother Shirley Jones’ harmonies (with the Dave Hicklin Singers) beautifully. And the songs, especially by 1971’s Season 2, were often outstanding, some in the style one would soon associate with Elton John. The album of that series, Sound Magazine, is excellent throughout, and should be regarded as a pop classic of the early 1970s.

The songs were produced by the man who wrote most of them, Wes Farrell. As a producer, Farrell ranks among the great hitmakers; he also won an Oscar for the score of the film Midnight Cowboy.

Farrell wrote the long-running theme of The Partridge Family, C’Mon Get Happy, which replaced the original theme. We have the theme from the pilot (ripped from video), as well as the wah-wah dominated opening sequence of the pilot, during which mother Partridge is driving that funky bus through Hollywood, leading up to Johnny Cash introducing the family band on his show.

Partridge Family – Opening sequence of pilot episode (1970).mp3
Partridge Family – Having A Ball (1970, theme of the Pilot Episode).mp3
The Partridge Family – C’mon Get Happy (1970)
The Partridge Family – I Think I Love You (1970)
The Partridge Family – Brown Eyes (1971)
The Partridge Family – Summer Days (1971)

Luke Skywalker and Laurie Partridge ponder the identity of their respective fathers.

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  1. June 28th, 2012 at 06:41 | #1

    Wow, that pilot theme is bad. They went from generic instro TV theme into classic TV theme, thankfully.

  2. Andy
    June 28th, 2012 at 17:45 | #2

    Although I enjoyed the show when it was new, I don’t share your appreciation of the Partridge Family’s songs today. At least the Monkees reached for something more beyond teen-crush pop. I do think the baroque touches in “I think I Love You” are interesting even though I don’t like the song any more.

    But I was unaware of that 1978 movie with Susan Dey. That information was definitely worth the visit today, and tracked it down before even reading the rest of the post. Thank you. She was always the reason for watching, but I told my mom it was because Danny was funny.

  3. The Rumblecat
    June 28th, 2012 at 20:57 | #3

    Again a VERY interesting story with a few details I didn’t know.

  4. Geoviki
    June 29th, 2012 at 04:39 | #4

    I was a big Cowsills fan after seeing them at the Michigan State Fair in 1969, so I was a bit suspicious of anyone who tried to coat-tail on their (slim) fame. But you’re right and this is a great post to showcase the many charms of the Partridge Family.

    I presume that only Father Who Is Dead, Nobly But Irrevocably, was acceptable in the 70’s as a reason for his absence. Gay Mom Shirley was certainly read only between the lines. Did we ever see her date men though? Still in perpetual mourning, eh?

  5. halfhearteddude
    June 29th, 2012 at 08:53 | #5

    Geoviki: At one point, Mother Partridge dated a very nice gentleman, but the kids sabotage the budding relationship after they see him buy a necklace for a young woman (played by future Charlie’s Angel Jaclyn Smith), who turns out to be his niece. A valuable lesson was learnt by all.

    Andy: I trust the search was worth it.

  6. RG
    June 29th, 2012 at 13:15 | #6

    Andy, take it from an old perv: if you enjoyed First Love, seek out the aptly titled “Looker”…

  7. June 29th, 2012 at 14:02 | #7

    Great post. I was 10 when the Partridge Family premiered, and among the 10-year-old set, the show was huge. Now that I’m no longer 10, I still enjoy a lot of their songs. Recommended listening: “I’ll Meet You Halfway.”

  8. June 29th, 2012 at 14:45 | #8

    Nice post. The music has lasted longer than I thought it would (I paid the show scant attention back then but could not help hearing the tunes, especially when “I Think I Love You” went to No. 1). And I do well remember “First Love”!

  9. RonNasty64
    June 30th, 2012 at 00:46 | #9

    Can’t wait to listen to this one. I have a copy of the original theme from a CD of TV themes from years gone by. One day I’m going to rip “Snakes Theme”, played by Rob Reiner, unless you can do it for me… ;)

  10. Jerry Lee
    July 3rd, 2012 at 04:47 | #10

    This is a joke, right? Right?? The Partridge Family was a steaming pile of a TV show, and their “music” was as bad as pop music gets. Without teen idol David Cassidy, it doesn’t last a full season. The episode with Pryor and Gosset Jr. was probably the only one where a non-white person had significant screen time. Adult Danny Bonaduce has proven himself many times over to be a giant douche. Aside from this, your blog’s entries are usually quite good. But this is a joke, right?

  11. July 3rd, 2012 at 16:38 | #11

    Jerry lee is obviously still steamed that “I Think I Love You” charted 110 positions higher than “”Touching Home”.

  12. Jerry Lee
    July 5th, 2012 at 03:18 | #12

    Chart position doesn’t equal quality, spine. Example: “My Ding A Ling” was Chuck Berry’s only gold record. The TV show was popular, so was Brady Bunch. They were both terrible. Without the Wrecking Crew and Wes Farrell, the Partridge Family doesn’t exist. Maybe I should blame them… oh, and Bonaduce will probably always be a douche. Happy 4th, I’m gonna drop a cherry bomb down a toilet at the Arcade.

  13. July 5th, 2012 at 04:55 | #13
  14. July 5th, 2012 at 04:56 | #14

    [sound of point going over Jerry Lee’s head}

  15. July 5th, 2012 at 04:58 | #15

    “Without the Wrecking Crew and Wes Farrell, the Partridge Family doesn’t exist.”

    That’s like saying “Without the Saturn V rocket, landing on the moon doesn’t exist.”

  16. July 6th, 2012 at 05:08 | #16

    “Live At The Hamburg Star Club 1964” didn’t chart as well as “Sound magazine” either.

  17. July 6th, 2012 at 05:17 | #17

    Didn’t sound as good or have as good musicians, either…

  18. July 6th, 2012 at 05:27 | #18

    Guess it should have been a flexi-disc

  19. SteveCarras
    October 9th, 2015 at 09:51 | #19

    @Andy
    I enjoy the show..was 10 when it debuted..adored Suzanne Crough as though she was a young kid sister and loved..LOVED…LOVE Susan Dey.And the famous font!

  20. SteveCarras
    October 9th, 2015 at 09:52 | #20

    @spinetingler
    I love the Cowsills,too, never got to see them,though..

  21. SteveCarras
    October 9th, 2015 at 09:53 | #21

    Jerry Lee :
    Chart position doesn’t equal quality, spine. Example: “My Ding A Ling” was Chuck Berry’s only gold record. The TV show was popular, so was Brady Bunch. They were both terrible. Without the Wrecking Crew and Wes Farrell, the Partridge Family doesn’t exist. Maybe I should blame them… oh, and Bonaduce will probably always be a douche. Happy 4th, I’m gonna drop a cherry bomb down a toilet at the Arcade.

    All due respects:
    To each their own.

  22. j.denino57
    December 11th, 2017 at 03:35 | #22

    I got the show on dvd for only $22 for the 4 season set after David Cassidy passed away and I think the music is very good. Spike Lee used a clip from the show with the song, “I Woke Up In Love This Morning” in his movie “Crooklyn.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9e3Nruxg9TU So Spike must have had some love for that song! “The Partridge Family” is still entertaining imo. RIP David Cassidy.

  23. halfhearteddude
    December 11th, 2017 at 23:31 | #23

    And Spike’s favourite of theirs is also mine. I’ve got the first two season of The Partridge Family and think it holds up well. The episode with the “Black Panthers” is fantastic.

  24. Otis Applepie
    December 17th, 2017 at 20:26 | #24

    Worthy of an expanded repost ;>)

  25. MsGail61
    April 19th, 2019 at 04:16 | #25

    This article was just posted on David Cassidy’s website. I agree, the Sound Magazine/Shopping Bag era was the best. Regarding Shirley’s dates, there was also Dr. Applebaum, the Ambassador, and Cuddles.

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