THE WASTELAND A look at out-of-print releases

Cassidy Live

When Annie Liebowitz snapped that Rolling Stone picture of David Cassidy nude from head to the top of his groin (offering a generous glimpse of pubic hair and the stem of his rod), it transmuted the tin star into a dangerous artist. Tens of thousands of girls swarmed newsstands across the US to buy the counter-culture biweekly. Cassidy, the TV star of The Partridge Family who had first weaned a war-weary nation away from serious affairs to his carefree I-Think-I-Love-You pop, had suddenly dropped the pretence along with his pants.

You don’t think it’s a big deal? Consider what he was preparing to throw away: "By age 21, Cassidy was the world’s highest paid solo live performer. In the course of five whirlwind years he garnered multiple Grammy nominations, performed sold-out concerts in the largest stadiums and arenas all across the globe, and his fan club grew to become the biggest in history, exceeding even Elvis Presley and the Beatles. His career album sales -- highlighted by 18 gold and platinum recordings, including four consecutive multi-platinum releases -- exceeded a whopping 25 million units worldwide."


So Cassidy Live was to be his swansong for Bell, a live album to fulfill an obligation. It was recorded at his biggest fan base outside of the US, in England. Here was the case study of the rise and fall of pop stars. David Cassidy was about to make the transition from teen idol to serious artist. He went on tour with a band as talented as the Wrecking Crew who backed him in the studios. The Crew were the band of LA pros who played on every big album in California including the Beach Boys and Phil Spector. Cassidy primed his shows with two medleys of rock ‘n’ roll respectability and offered covers of hip, alt-culture heroes like Leon Russell’s Delta Lady and Stephen Stills’ For What It’s Worth. As a special treat for his English fans, he’d slip in a cover of The Beatles’ Please Please Me in his clean, big voice style. Guitars were allowed to solo and scream their independence from teen pop dictatorship. For a start, with the exception of the Partridge Family single which was a cover of Neil Sedaka’s Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, Cassidy steered clear of PF songs and stayed with the best of his solo works. These included the self-deprecating I Am A Clown, the wistful Daydreamer and the searching How Can I Be Sure?

While none can deny the earnest performance here, Please Please Me goes down so well with English fans, Cassidy lacks serious chops to pull away from his pretty boyish image to be the… "what?" He didn’t have Bowie’s strangeness to keep the lads on his side. Nor Lennon’s or any of the ex-Beatles’ songwriting capabilities. The closest he had of a map to follow was Elvis’. The King was also foremost a performer, breathing live into songs written by others and making them his. But then, the King was dangerous. And he never had to drop his pants or lay about naked to get where he was. He only had to wriggle his hips or look at you with that curl on his lips to convince all that he had "it".

Already at the start, Cassidy had no compass to guide his career. What he was seeing from the stage at this unidentified concert was the biggest mirage, a sea of fans going as far as the eye could see but how deep was their faith and love for him, was unknown. The self-deception comes when you hear the punter stirring the crowd of screaming girls to spell Cassidy’s name. Mr Wannabe Serious Rock Artist, don’t believe it when your fans behave like ninnies. That’s the behavior of sheep. You’ll only win loyal fans when your music transcends the moment and makes an emotional connection somehow, somewhere.

Automatically, that puts Cassidy Live into question. His two rock ‘n’ roll medleys may have been well-considered except that he can’t deliver the emotional content. Compare his r’n’b medley of CC Rider — Jenny Jenny and the rock medley of Blues Suede Shoes — Rock Around The Clock — Jailhouse Rock — Rock ‘n’ Roll Music and Rock Me Baby, next to Springsteen’s burnin’-with-molten-lava medleys and the Boss wins on showmanship alone before you count in his emotional bullets.

David Cassidy would go on to release three more solo albums with his new label RCA. Each was an attempt to grow himself into a singer of soft rock songs. The fatal mistake was he ignored the vehicle which propelled his career. There weren’t any strong singles in any of the albums. He even made the mistake of putting I Write The Songs, which Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys offered to him, as the b-side of his first RCA single. Barry Manilow pounced on it and made that a hit.

Cassidy Live remains a curiosity unavailable since 1974. It is urgently needed now. The current crop of teen idols have reached their sell-buy date and will need clues as to where they should now go. - Michael Cheah

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