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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

My thoughts on one of my father's favorite songs, "I Think I Love You"

Happy birthday, Dad. Thanks for all your love, guidance, and CDs.

Today is my father's birthday. With his collection of LPs and CDs and the breadth of musical knowledge he carries from his childhood, he's the biggest influence on my own musical tastes. He's the reason I'm such a big fan of Earth, Wind & Fire (about whom I recently wrote), Carole King (ditto, a little before EWF), Stevie Wonder, Electric Light Orchestra, and many more artists. With that in mind, I decided to ask him to choose the song for today's post when I called him this evening.

After asking if I'd done anything by Sly and the Family Stone — to which the answer was yes, on my third day — my dad paused for a couple seconds and then gave me his decision. He chose a song that's fascinated me for a while on multiple levels, between its instrumentation, its progression, and its lyrical content... not to mention the fact that it came from a made-for-TV band. My father chose The Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You."

Especially in more recent times, I've made-for-TV or made-for-film groups with a bit of unease. I think that feeling comes from how I view the acts' uncanny status — yes, nearly all musical artists have a visual side to their work, but for them to rise to fame primarily through television rather than through their music feels... a bit off. Then again, those acts are still backed up by record labels and contracts, so it's not like it's a completely different system through which they release their music. Also, I've tended to like the output of some of those bands, including the Partridge Family, the Monkees, and other media-made bands like the Wonders from the Tom Hanks-directed That Thing You Do! In retrospect, I've even come to enjoy some of the Jonas Brothers' catalog ("Year 3000" gets me to both sing and laugh), despite my ingrained trepidation towards Disney Channel as a guy.

Unbeknownst to me until I began writing this article, "I Think I Love You" was actually released before the TV show's premiere, seemingly as a way to generate interest for the program. I have to say, if I were around back then and heard this song, I'd definitely be intrigued, because it hooks me from the start with its harpsichord-laden intro. Yup, definitely your typical TV band opening: singers doubling a harpsichord as it outlines a diminished arpeggio. For a song wholly about love, its beginning couldn't give off that feeling much less. Honestly, it sounds more like a hazy dreamscape to me. In that respect, I'm sort of on the right track: the brilliant David Cassidy sings of waking up from a dream — a good one, though — with the song's title thought in his head. The thought is framed as one that's unwelcome and unnerving, between the lyrics and the descending bass line.

I'm fascinated by the perspective of that thought of love being intrusive, because it's a less common one in the world of pop. Love is sung about in all sorts of ways in popular music — from being embraced and celebrated to being lambasted in its falling out — but in writing this post I'm struggling to think of another song that touches on the fear of falling in love without putting it in the context of prior relationships damaging one's world view. "I Think I Love You" resonates with me for that reason, as it ties fear of love into more general anxieties like the unknown ("Though it worries me to say / That I've never felt this way") and the possibility of rejection ("And if you say "Hey, go away", I will"). I've struggled rationalizing these same fears when they've popped up in my own life, so hearing a narrative focused around that same reaction is comforting on a personal level. The comfort is definitely also assisted by the song's more positive outlook in its ending section, in which Cassidy sings of his narrator's resolve to go for it and tell his crush his feelings.

I hear the song's ending, with the repeated statements of the title, as a bit open-ended. Whether or not the narrator gets a response depends on how one interprets the backing vocalists. Do their difference in vocal timbre and being a bit further back in the mix serve a purely musical purpose, just adding some contrast and intrigue as the song starts to wrap up? Or are these sonic differences also relevant to the narrative? The great thing about music is that there's no one-size-fits-all reading to any song. Even if a songwriter or performer has given interviews or Genius annotations that present their perspective, listeners don't have to hear it that way — everyone's individual experiences color how they view any piece of art, and I find that beautiful.

Heck, it's fine to be caught between readings of a piece of art too. I'm still not sure as to whether the feeling of love is confirmed as being mutual, or if David Cassidy's narrator is awaiting his response as the track fades out. Perhaps that ambiguity makes the song even more relatable to the masses, as it can even further facilitate different readings. One could even argue that the narrator himself is caught between readings of himself: he doesn't simply sing "I love you," he sings that he thinks he does. I guess he, too, will have to process his own ambiguity and come up with his own reading.


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