Archive for June, 2012

TV Themes: The Partridge Family

June 28th, 2012 25 comments

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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Step back to 1981 – Part 1

June 14th, 2012 7 comments

For me the first few months of 1981 was dominated by Beatles, John Lennon, more Beatles, more Lennon, more Beatles, a bit of other solo Beatles and more Lennon, and a touch of Bruce Springsteen. Of course, Lennon had just been murdered, and if I was a bit of a Beatles fan with quite a few albums before that, I now bought all the British and US releases, plus all Lennon solo albums, including the Wedding Album with all the paraphernalia. Many of them were Japanese pressings. Over the years my collection became decimated by theft. The Wedding Album and Two Virgins are gone, as are all US releases (except Something New), and the Magical Mystery Tour gatefold with booklet”¦


John Lennon – Watching The Wheels.mp3
The songs that dominated the airwaves were Woman and Imagine. The latter has become so ubiquitous that it now is timeless; the former was so overplayed, I am still sick of it. Watching The Wheels , on the other hand, still takes me back to early 1981. It was quite sad: John Lennon, the professional troubled soul, had finally found contentment ““ and then the revolting Mark Chapman murdered him. I think Watching The Wheels is a little underrated in the Lennon canon; perhaps it”s not a classic, but it”s a very good song, the kind that makes one wonder what sort of music Lennon might have churned out had he lived. My guess is that by 1988 everybody would have been thoroughly sick of him until his comeback, appearing on stage with Oasis at the Reading Festival, rehabilitated his reputation with cover features in Q and Rolling Stone, and a big appearance at the Grammys, duetting with Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt and Seal, followed by ““ oh, classic TV moment ““ a bluesy medley Beatles and Stones hits with Mick & Keef.

Bruce Springsteen – The Ties That Bind.mp3
I had been aware of Bruce Springsteen, of course, but I had not really listened to his music. In February 1981 I heard Hungry Heart on the radio, and on strength of that I bought The River, which had been released in October 1980. It helped that Springsteen looked very cool, much like Al Pacino, on the cover. I was hooked with the first song of the first side, The Ties That Bind. In fact, the first two sides of the double album, so upbeat and joyous, were enough for me. I almost never listened to the other two sides; in fact, even as I love Point Blank and Drive All Night, some of the songs remain unknown to me even now. And I cannot abide by Cadillac Ranch. Above all, the album reminds me of being half-blinded for several hours after the optician shone a bright light into my eyes, just after I had bought the record. Coming home, I had to unwrap the record and place it on the turntable mostly by touch.

The Look – I Am The Beat.mp3
I might have been on a massive Beatles and Springsteen trip, but I still loved the British post-punk stuff. I Am The Beat was one of the very few singles I bought in 1981 ““ indeed, I”m struggling to think of any non-Beatles related singles I bought that year, though I”m sure there must some. But by then I was very much an LP-buying teenager of 14-going-on-15. The singer of The Look, Johnny Whetstone, had a strange accent: “I”m in demond”! It was the band”s only hit, reaching #6 in the UK in February 1981, and by 1983 The Look broke up. Apparently they reformed a few years ago and released an album titled Pop Yowlin” which got some good reviews.

Kim Wilde – Kids in America.mp3
Half a year earlier I would have loved Kids In America. I would have bought the single, and put up a poster of the lovely Ms Wilde. But with my Beatles/Lennon and Springsteen obsession I had very limited time for anything else. I heard Kids In America on the radio and saw Kim Wilde perform it on TV, but against Revolver and the White Album, or indeed The River, it was aural wallpaper. The good news was that my classmate Stefan, who had been a great Beatles fan, became so obsessed with Kim Wilde and the burgeoning Neue Deutsche Welle genre that he offloaded his excellent collection of Beatles posters and newspaper cuttings to me. And for that I have to thank Ms Wilde and the next act.

Ideal – Blaue Augen.mp3
Before 1980, German popular music consisted of the Schlager genre, which was becoming increasingly novelty-based when it didn”t exceed previous levels of banality; the Liedermacher (singer-songwriter) genre of angry lefty-wingers and non-conformists; and a clutch of individualists such as anti-establishment rocker Udo Lindenberg, who had long hair and a cultivated impertinence, former actor Marius Müller-Westernhagen, who specialised in mostly sneering lyrics for beer drinkers in leather jackets, and a few punk outfits such the Zeltinger Band. All that changed in the early 1980s with the emergence of the Neue Deutsche Welle (NDW, meaning New German Wave).

Until 1981 NDW was an underground phenomenon, led by groups like Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft (DAF) and Mittagspause. It was not  so much a musical genre as a label for post-punk and New Wave bands. In early 1981, NDW exploded into the mainstream, and Berlin-based band Ideal”s Blaue Augen, more post-punk than New Wave, was one of the pivots. Quite incredibly, Ideal had made their breakthrough as a support act at a Berlin open-air gig for prog-rockers Barclay James Harvest. Even more incredibly, and I hadn”t known this until I looked it up for this piece, it took until 1982 for Blaue Augen, first released on LP in November 1980 and as a single in early 1981, to become a hit.

Visage – Mind Of A Toy.mp3
At around the same time, the New Romantic thing was starting to get traction. It had been brewing for a while, with Gary Numan as a spearhead, but now the Bowie-influenced synth-based pop music was becoming quite ubiquitous, with Ultravox, the Human League and Duran Duran breaking through. Visage were heralds of the movement, first with their hit Fade To Grey, which was quickly followed up with Mind Of A Toy. The brilliant video for the latter was directed by Godley & Creme. Visage was fronted by eccentric nightclub owner Steve Strange, but the lead vocals on Mind Of A Toy are by Ultravox”s Midge Ure, with Ultravox”s Billy Currie on keyboards, and Rusty Egan on drums.

Yoko Ono – Walking On Thin Ice.mp3
Walking On Thin Ice was the song John Lennon and Yoko Ono were working on that 8 December, before Chapman shot Lennon dead outside the Dakota, apparently while John was holding the master tape of the song. It is easily Ono”s best song, a disco number with a new wave sensibility (or vice versa).  Lennon played the lead guitar on the song. I bought the single as an act of loyalty to Lennon, and quite liked it. Not everybody did, it seems. Despite widespread sympathy for Ono just a couple of months after the murder, the single stalled at #58 in the US and at #35 in Britain. Presumably Yoko”s monkey-like chants put off the average record buyer; in this context I quite like it (and, as I”ve stated before, I don”t bow to the musical genius of Yoko Ono).  Later remixes by the Pet Shop Boys and others managed to revive the song on the dancefloors.


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In Memoriam – May 2012

June 5th, 2012 4 comments

The Grim Reaper wreaked havoc in May. Robin Gibb, Donna Summer and Adam Yauch were the headliners, but there were also members of The Dillards and Crowded House who left us. Two blues and soul guitarists died: Charles Pitts, who played on so many of Isaac Hayes” records (his guitar helped make The Theme of Shaft such an iconic track) and Pete Cosey, who played on many Chess records.

In April we lost Andrew Love, who was involved in creating the iconic intro for Otis Redding”s Try A Little Tenderness. In May we lost another co-creator of a famous Otis intro: Donald “˜Duck” Dunn, who died at 70, provided the driving bass of I Can”t Turn You Loose. Fans of the Blues Brothers will know that intro; it”s played during the long introduction of the band as Jake and Elroy are trying to make to the stage. And on that stage was Donald “Duck” Dunn, the bassist with the white Afro and beard, appearing as himself. Check out the man”s discography.

We also lost Doc Watson, who did much to revive and keep alive the flame of traditional country and bluegrass at a time when the genre was tending towards the glossy pop sound.

First on the list this month is Jim McCrary, one of the rare non-musicians who warrant inclusion in this series. His contribution resides in album covers and rock photography. His LP cover portfolio includes Carole King”s Tapestry (and album cover which I will deal with in a couple of week’s time), the Carpenters” Offering and Now And Then, The Flying Burrito Brothers” Burrito Deluxe and The Flying Burrito Bros, and Joe Cocker”s Mad Dogs And Englishmen. He also took the famous series of photos of Gram Parson in the Nudie suit. Read more…