320. David Cassidy – How Can I Be Sure (1972)

The Osmonds were the biggest teen-pop family in 1972, but The Partridge Family weren’t far behind. Unlike The Osmonds, they weren’t really related. The US sitcom, which began in 1970, turned David Cassidy, who played eldest son Keith, into a superstar. But Cassidy wasn’t happy to be a pop idol, and this first UK number 1 was his way of showing the world he wanted to be taken seriously.

David Bruce Cassidy, born in New York on 12 April 1950, was the son of famous singer and actor Jack Cassidy and actress Evelyn Ward, whose ancestors were among the founders of Newark, New Jersey. As his parents were on the road so much, Cassidy was raised in his early years by his maternal grandparents in West Orange, New Jersey. Jack and Evelyn divorced when he was four, and he didn’t find out until two years later, when his neighbours’ children told him.

Fast forward to 1968, and Cassidy had gained his high-school diploma and was living with his father, second wife and award-winning actress Shirley Jones and his half-brothers in Irvington, New York, working part time at a textile firm while he sought fame as an actor or singer. In 1969 he made his Broadway debut in The Fig Leaves Are Falling but it closed after four shows. However a casting director saw something in him and Cassidy passed a screen test, moving to Los Angeles. He signed with Universal Studios and starred in episodes of Bonanza and Ironside, before his big break landed.

The Partridge Family was loosely based on a real-life musical family, the Cowsills, who were popular in the late-60s. In a blurring of real-life and fiction, Cassidy’s stepmother Jones was already cast as the widowed mother Shirley Partridge when he got the job as her eldest son Keith. Studio bosses were impressed with Cassidy’s voice, and decided he would sing for real on the spin-off music recordings released under The Partridge Family name. Much like The Monkees, session musicians (often The Wrecking Crew) backed Cassidy and occasionally Jones. The rest of the cast were lip-synching.

The series became huge, and although it was mainly a US concern, several of their singles performed well in the UK. First single I Think I Love You reached the top 20. Meanwhile Cassidy became such a big star he began releasing material under his own name in 1971, which was what he had really wanted all along.

In early 1972 his debut album Cherish was released, and the title track reached number two on these shores. The fresh-faced Cassidy was four years older than his 16-year-old TV character, and much less squeaky-clean. The attention from young girls drove him mad – so much so, he decided to pose naked for the cover of Rolling Stone, for an article in which admitted to enjoying drink and drugs. Despite the controversy, he failed to capture a more mature audience, and the girls still loved him. Perhaps a ‘grown-up’ song could help?

How Can I Be Sure was originally a self-penned hit in the US and Canada (a number 1 there) for American rock band The Young Rascals in 1967. Three years later Dusty Springfield tried to make it a UK hit, but to no avail. Cassidy loved the song, and recorded it for next album Rock Me Baby, and it became its first single.

I often admire and sympathise with any pop star who tries to break out of the straitjacket being one often creates, and Cassidy is no exception. The introspective, uncertain lyrics of this song are certainly more palatable to my ears than Donny Osmond’s insipid Puppy Love that’s for sure.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t quite achieve what it sets out to do. Cassidy overdoes his vocal and tries too hard, and his voice doesn’t appeal to me. Fair play for aiming for the adult market, but I don’t think much to the song either – it’s too old-fashioned for 1972 and when it’s surrounded by bands like Slade and Alice Cooper, he still comes across too ‘light entertainment’.

So the girls still lapped it up, but because of that, they did give Cassidy his first UK number 1, so mixed blessings, all in all.

Written by: Felix Cavaliere & Eddie Brigati

Producer: Wes Farrell

Strings and horns arranged by: Mike Melvoin

Weeks at number 1: 2 (30 September-13 October)

Deaths:

Paleontologist Louis Leakey – 1 October
Footballer Syd Puddefoot – 2 October
Broadcaster Douglas Smith – 15 October

Meanwhile…

10 October: John Betjeman was appointed as Poet Laureate.

13 October: Bank rates were abolished and replaced with the Minimum Lending Rate.