Don’t watch it. Don’t. The 2017 Concert footage of David Cassidy, forgetting lyrics, slurring words and clinging to a guitar led to clips on “Inside Edition,” personal embarrassment, an appearance on Dr. Phil, and his acknowledgment that dementia that had begun overtaking his brain. You don’t want to see it. He wouldn’t want you to, either. It’s more devastating than the DUI mug shot from a few years before. It’s living color, lights and sound of David Cassidy unable to perform. A performer, which is who he was from the time he was a teenager. It won’t wreck your memory of him, but it will do lasting harm.
Teen idols matter. They can be as cherished as first loves, and sometimes broke the hearts of their fans. Though teen magazines eventually disappear into the garbage or up in the attic, the people on the cover live in our hearts as reminders of childhood and simpler times.
David Cassidy was one of those teen idols, inheriting the cover boy status from The Monkees’ Davy Jones and Bobby Sherman. Cassidy was something of a reluctant member of the club.
The son of actor Jack Cassidy, he was fresh from a short-lived Broadway show, and appearances of several drama series. Now he had been cast into a new television series, “The Partridge Family,” based on The Cowsills, a 1960s musical group made up of a mother and her children. To David’s surprise, his own stepmother, Shirley Jones, would be playing his mom on the show. Originally none of the cast would be singing on the songs used in the show. Evidence of this plan remained in early episodes of the show, including the song, “Together (Havin’ a Ball)” which featured vocals by Ron Hicklin, and was featured on a Partridge Family greatest hits compilation. When producers discovered David Cassidy’s singing voice, this plan was abandoned, the band had a lead singer, the show had a higher degree of authenticity, record producers had a new cash cow, and the world had a new teen idol.
The show had problems. How this sixteen year old Keith Partridge character wrote so many bubblegum songs was a little eyebrow raising, even to a kid watching reruns. The first season’s theme song “When We’re Singin’” existed as a show explainer, before changing to the more famous “C’mon Get Happy.” The writing was mostly average, The strength of casting Cassidy, Shirley Jones, Susan Dey, Danny Bonaduce and Dave Madden make it more watchable than most sitcoms of its age. And, of course, there was the music, and it was worth sticking around for.
The power of a hit television show and a teen idol propelled the first three Partridge Family albums into Billboard’s Top 10 album charts. They scored a #1 hit single, “I Think I Love You,” which won a NARM Award for best selling single of 1970. A string of hits followed. “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted,” reached #6, “I’ll Meet You Halfway,” made it to #9,“I Woke Up in Love This Morning,” to #13, and “It’s One of Those Nights (Yes Love)” hit #20.
The Partridge Family became something of an heir to the Monkees. A pop group on television needed plenty of songs, Wes Farrell, the show’s creator enlisted the talents of former Monkees songwriters Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart and Diane Hildebrand, and used members of The Wrecking Crew to record the backing tracks.
David Cassidy’s musical tastes were for much harder rock, and rebelled against some of the songs. In fact, the hit “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted,” became a point of contention between the new star and the producers. If featured a spoken word section, “Y’know, I’m no different than anybody else. I start each day, and end each night. But it gets really lonely when you’re alone. How, where is love? And who is love? I gotta know.” Cassidy first refused to cut the song altogether, and then attempted to prevent its release. He could not have been happy to see it ascend into the Top Ten, and remained the song’s fiercest critic through his life.
Cassidy penned a song for the group’s second album, “Lay It On the Line,” which was never used on the television show, but gives a better indication of where his musical preferences lay.
He also contributed “Love Is All I Ever Needed,” and “ There’ll Come a Time,” on subsequent albums.
As far as musical legacy, many consider “Sound Magazine,” the group’s third album, it’s zenith.
Far more catchy than cringe worthy, it is one of the finest examples of early 1970s bubblegum pop and well represented on all of the Greatest Hits compilations. Cassidy’s delivery had become more assured, and his vocals elevated even the most pedestrian songs.
The producers cashed in on the group’s popularity with the top selling Christmas album of the year, remarkably released just a few months following “Sound Magazine.”
Cassidy was admittedly being worn then by the hectic schedule of making the television show, recording and performing concerts. He granted a behind the scenes interview to Rolling Stone in 1972, and posed nude for the cover. It was his first concerted effort at indicating enough was enough. He speaks about drug use, the business of being a star but also the immense high he got from walking on stage.
He went through three and a half years of therapy and began working with horses, in a self-imposed exile.
As a number of former feel idols do, he became content with his legacy, and took pride in knowing that he brought happiness to so many people. Over the last twenty five years of his career I had seen him appear on television numerous times. He had a way of making those in the audience feel like he was singing to them. Davy Jones did it well. David Cassidy did it better.
Cassidy put together a reunion record of sorts, getting together with musicians and background singers that made the Partridge Family albums to update classic songs and take on some new ones. It wasn’t bad. Cassidy never totally disappeared again. He would continue to perform and make music, and The Partridge Family would continue to air on stations across the country.
His final years contained dark moments. The DUI arrests, filing for bankruptcy, divorce, estrangement from his daughter, bad investments and health problems. Big stars provide fans an escape through their art, but remain as fallible as the rest of us. Cassidy’s daughter revealed his last words to be, “So much wasted time.” A useful reminder for everyone, but as for spending time enjoying his work and appreciating his talents? We didn’t waste a second.
Rest in peace, David.