The Number Ones

The Number Ones: The Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You”

In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.

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The Partridge Family – “I Think I Love You”

HIT #1: November 21, 1970

STAYED AT #1: 3 weeks

The Partridge Family were both a fake family band and, in a weird twist, a real family band. In the late ’60s, the TV executive Bernard Slade had the idea to make a TV show loosely based on the lives of the Cowsills, a band of six Rhode Island siblings who were making hits at the time. The first idea was to make the Cowsills the stars of the show, but the Cowsills couldn’t act. ABC somehow ended up casting Shirley Jones, a stage-musical veteran, as Partridge Family matriarch Shirley, and David Cassidy, her 19-year-old stepson, as her oldest son Keith. (The other Partridge siblings, including future LA Law star Susan Dey and future insane right-wing radio host Danny Bonaduce, were unrelated, but Jones and Cassidy were the only cast members who actually sang on Partridge Family records.)

The first season of The Partridge Family was apparently about this family out on tour. But the show ran for four years, and all the reruns I can remember seeing as a kid didn’t really have anything to do with what it’s like to be in a band with your mother or your siblings. Instead, it was just a standard-issue corny ’70s sitcom, with the added twist that every episode featured the members of this family sitting down in their garage or on some park bandshell to sing a song together.

The Partridge Family was a hit, so it ended up generating a whole lot of work for America’s pro songwriters and session musicians. The Partridge Family ended up making a lot of hits during that four-season run, but this wasn’t a Monkees situation where they became a musical entity unto themselves. (David Cassidy, in true Monkee fashion, felt uncomfortable with his teen-idol status, and he ended up posing naked on the cover of Rolling Stone and pursuing a fairly successful solo career. But he never fought for creative control the way the Monkees did.) And the Partridge Family’s biggest hit and only #1 was the first single that they ever released.

“I Think I Love You” came from Tony Romeo, a songwriter who’d written tracks for groups like the Everly Brothers and the Seekers. It’s an example of sharp, mechanistically precise early-’70s studio-pop, but it’s also, in its way, a weird song. There’s an oblique minor-key lilt to the melody, a quality that always makes me think of Russian folk music for some reason. The lead instruments are Cassidy’s chesty, hammy vocal and a sparkling harpsichord. The ba-ba-ba backing vocals make a eerie swirl, expressionless and near-robotic.

The song’s subject — having a crush but being too nervous to admit it — is a universal thing, but Romeo’s lyrics are so blunt-force obvious that they never evoke the actual feeling: “I’m sleeping, and right in the middle of a good dream / Like all at once, I wake up / From something that keeps knocking at my brain.” It doesn’t sound human. It sounds like aliens doing their best simulation of actual human emotion. And that makes it compelling.

Cassidy sang lead on the song, and Jones sang backup. The other cast members had nothing to do with the song. Instead, the members of the Wrecking Crew played on it, bringing their clean expertise, and session singers did most of the backing vocals. So here we have some of the greatest musicians in the industry lending their talents to this weird, clumsy crush-song so that America’s newest sitcom star and teen idol could burrow his way into national consciousness. Cassidy never quite escaped the shadow of “I Think I Love You,” no matter how hard he tried during his lifetime. But honestly, he could’ve done worse. It’s a pretty good song.

GRADE: 7/10

BONUS BEATS: Here’s underrated New York rap duo Nice & Smooth rapping over an “I Think I Love You” sample on their classic 1991 single “Hip Hop Junkies”:

BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the “I Think I Love You” cover that the Florida ska-punk band Less Than Jake contributed to the 1997 movie Scream 2:

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s audio of Paul Westerberg covering “I Think I Love You” at a 2004 show in his Minneapolis hometown:

Westerberg also covered “I Think I Love You” as part of his single-track 2008 album 49:00, but I can’t find that clip online.