May 07

DAVID CASSIDY – “How Can I Be Sure?”

FT + Popular27 comments • 10,141 views

#320, 30th September 1972

davidcassidy63.jpg“How can I be sure, in a world that’s constantly changing?” – this is one of the great pop questions. Who’s for real? Who’s leading me on? Who isn’t going to take me down? Will I still love you tomorrow? Here’s a teenpop idol singing it, and singing it well – Dusty Springfield sang it better, in the version I knew first, but Cassidy does a creditable job. Vulnerability is generally one of teenpop’s strongest suits because teenpop stars are always vulnerable. Cassidy sings to a fanbase who are making their investment in him, and he’s telling them, if you take your love away it might destroy me. Cynical, perhaps, but no less honest for that.

Of course, the way the question’s phrased takes it wider: our lives move so fast, and often pop is a celebration of that, an exultant shout as the wave surges forward and we somehow keep our footing. But there’s also the moments where the fear behind the exultation comes quietly through a crack and more rarely pop mirrors those too. The soft lonely pulse at the start of this record and Cassidy’s shy murmur captures one such moment and the rest of the song shrinks back from it into (still attractive) bluster.



  1. 1
    jeff w on 29 May 2007 #

    I can’t decide if that’s the greatest or the worst Cassidy photo I’ve ever seen. But pr0n either way. :)

  2. 2

    he looks like iggy pop BECAUSE HE CAN

  3. 3
    Doctor Casino on 30 May 2007 #

    After one listen I’m deeply underwhelmed – I feel like Cassidy here should get the same rap as Humperdinck did a while back. Too much performance, not enough feeling the song. I dunno though.

  4. 4
    Marcello Carlin on 30 May 2007 #

    I unsurprisingly disagree.

    There isn’t any real vulnerability in the Rascals original or in Dusty’s more or less xerox cover since the question is resolved at the end of both recordings (i.e. graceful landing, “I’ll be sure with you”) whereas at the crucial moment (his desperate “weather/whether” cries, he doesn’t know whether to be exultant or fearful, or whether he can be allowed to be both simultaneously) Cassidy veers away from a conclusion (the upward change back from major to minor at the “ing” of “constantly changing”) and hurls himself into a whirlpool of possibly self-destructive indecision – see its descendents, “Ghosts” by Japan (what happens when you emerge from the other end ten years later) and “Aftermath” by Tricky (who was I again?).

    In addition the Dusty version is irretrievably marred by a ghastly orchestration which sounds more appropriate for Harry Secombe.

  5. 5
    Erithian on 30 May 2007 #

    Marcello may remember a passage in “The Story of Pop” magazine suggesting that 70s teenyboppers were more sophisticated than those of a generation earlier, as witness the fact that when a magazine published a photo of David Cassidy showing more than a hint of pubic hair, they received a record number of requests for copies of the photo which had not been cropped in any way. Evidently this must be the photo in question! Makes it a little dodgy to refresh this page here in the office.

    I always thought Cassidy was a cut above the other teeny stars, and this is a case in point in terms of vocal performance and drama.

  6. 6
    Marcello Carlin on 30 May 2007 #

    Not only do I remember it, but I too got stimulated by it in my own extremely youthful “How Can I Be Sure?” phase…

  7. 7
    Brian on 30 May 2007 #

    I now understand why I haven’t been posting. For a while there I didn’t recognize any of the songs that you had in the UK. Canadian charts were very different. WIth the exception of Gary Glitter & Rod Stewart – none of your # 1’s hit it here.

    Example : Same week in 1972 – we had 1)Three Dog Night, 2)Chicago & 3)Hot Butter ( who ? ) . And hopefully we won’t be entering another phase of only in the UK # 1’s.

    I’ve always throught that the UK charts were more democratic in their recognition of different musical types. But I can’t , even for the sake of democracy, listen to David Cassidy without laughing out loud.

  8. 8
    jeff w on 30 May 2007 #

    Hot Butter ( who ? )

    Hot Butter were fine purveyors of Popcorn.

  9. 9
    O SOBEK! on 30 May 2007 #

    The photos presumably from the Rolling Stone covershoot right? One of the better “I want to be taken seriously” moves ever in that it simultaneously manages to give yr (old) fanbase EXACTLY what they want. Don’t know this song, though I’m thinking if the Rascals and Dusty Springfield did it it would surely be familiar. I think all I know about Cassidy are his daddy issues, the Rolling Stone cover and fallout from it, the two Partridge Family songs everyone knows, the ‘Who/Cincinatti’ moment he had (right around this time right?), and too many failed comebacks. Recall liking him in Spirit of 76 (those Coppola kids aren’t bad at period pieces). Marcello’s tracing “Ghosts” and “Aftermath” to this have piqued my interest I must admit.

  10. 10
    Murdoch on 31 May 2007 #

    This was the first single I ever bought. I was in love with my best friend’s big sister, who was in love with DC, so at the tender age of nine, I thought I’d better be in love with him, too. I think I actually fell for the slightly dishevelled faded Levi’s flares, velvet jacket and rumpled white shirt with frankly to-die-for-hair look he sported (when not teasing teens with his “public” hair). In fact, I have noted such indiepoprock luminaries as members of Kaiser Chiefs and the Killers have tried to rock that selfsame look less successfully than the beautiful young Cassidy did. Luckily for all the straight girls in the world (or summink), I discovered that I only had a crush on the way he looked and didn’t actually fancy him.

    Anyway, his version of “How Can I Be Sure?” is still the best I’ve heard. It’s beautifully sung and arranged and it IS a great pop ballad. The b-side, “Cherish” was also stunning and I love it still.

    Soon after, I discovered Roxy Music and Sweet. No more obsessing about slightly androgynous popstars for me, eh?

    I’m now in my 40s, bald, overweight and grumpy. “How Can I Be Sure?” still makes the hairs on the back of my neck (they’re nearly the only ones left) stand on end. Tragically, I still try to pull off the velvet jacket/Levi’s? thing every once in a while, but with increasingly unconvincing results. “How Can I Be Sure?” Because my wife said so. She also thinks the song’s les ballons du chien.

    By the way, I la-la-la-la LOVE music.

  11. 11
    Waldo on 31 May 2007 #

    Christ, Marcello, that’s some cough!

    As for me, I managed to escape the pains of a “How Can I be Sure?” phase, as I was far too busy under the sheets contemplating Susan Dey, Cassidy’s screen sister, whom he was joyfully bonking on and off (if you pardon the expression) whilst filming “The Partridge Family”. They were supposed to be the “all-American family” and the show’s producers had to keep the news away from Nixon.

  12. 12
    Marcello Carlin on 1 Jun 2007 #

    I have to admit that I also had a thing for Shirley Jones…

  13. 13
    Erithian on 1 Jun 2007 #

    Something I should be sectioned for remembering – the “Mad” magazine satire on the Partridge Family called “The Putrid Family” in which lead singer Teeth Putrid was shown recording this song: “Last evening / I woke from sleep in horror / Cos I’d had an awful nightmare / That I was just a nameless average kid / Not famous, God forbid / With little girls not screaming / I’m glad I was only dreaming / Cos I dig that I’m so big… I Think I Love Me…”

  14. 14
    Waldo on 1 Jun 2007 #

    Sorry, Erithian, but I can get sadder than that, at the risk of this turning into Python’s Yorkshiremen sketch, but I used to collect Partridge Family bubblegum cards, God help me. This was a small package, containing two flat pink portions of gum and about three cards featuring pictures of Cassidy and the rest taken from the series. I did not “cherish” them. “I think I’ll Throw Up”.

    Marcello – Shirley Jones, of course, was Cassidy’s real life step-mom and, yes, a bit of a sort. But topping everyone, surely, was Clodagh Rogers, who at about this time was doing Eurovision for the UK dressed in hotpants with legs which went on forever. The song was called “Jack in a Box” and contained the line “I’m going to jump up and down on my spring”.

    Oh, yes, please.

  15. 15
    Brian on 1 Jun 2007 #

    My wife was/is very fond of Cassidy and still sings his songs around the house. Gratefully my kids shut her up , ah well, I think I lover her, all the same.

    But, to take Partirdge Family a bit further , did anyone see
    ” Breaking Bonaduce ” – a reality TV show starring Danny Bonaduce ? Not sure if it aired in the UK – but it’s testimony as to how early stardom can really screw you up……..

  16. 16
    Waldo on 1 Jun 2007 #

    Well now, Danny Bonaduce (or more properly his character) always deserved a good toeing in my view. He was a pig-ugly little ginger porker, who was supposed to be the “wise guy” kid, whilst Cassidy and Dey were being groovy and whatever else. There were two other sprogletts, the litle girl was called Suzanne Crough and neither were up to much.

    Bonaduce, however, featured quite heavily in the series but his irritation reading was through the roof. Brian – No, I personally haven’t seen the show to which you refer. Danny must be well into his fifties by now. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s involved in reality tv or that he’s screwed up. Those damned Partridges would have done for any bugger.

  17. 17
    intothefireuk on 4 Jun 2007 #

    My Missus had a teenage crush on young David – she is of the opinion you were either in David or Donny’s *camp*. David being the slightly seedy older (& therefore knowing) alternative to antiseptically clean Donny. I have to admit I liked his slightly husky voice and like others here was in love with his image. I liked the song too. In fact I think I like it more now than I did then (which doesn’t always happen).

    As a ‘treat’ – I took my better half to see him in concert a couple of years ago (she never actually made it to see him first time around). It was a slightly disappointing experience in that he spent most of his time lapping up the attention of the now 40/50 somethings rather than concentrating on singing the songs. So much so that HCIBS was interupted several times to allow him to add unnecessary asides & innuendo in the middle of it. He still has a decent voice though – I guess I expect too much of a fallen teenage idol.

  18. 18
    Rosie on 18 Jun 2007 #

    As teenbop idols go, Cassidy was better than the average. More of a real man than Donny, a better singer, and not a bad actor either. I saw him in Blood Brothers at the Bristol Hippodrome[1] a few years ago – his attempts at being Scouse left something to be desired but he had some presence.

    [1] Venue of Eddie Cochran’s (qv) last gig. If only he hadn’t been in such a hurry to leave town!

  19. 19
    Waldo on 20 Jun 2007 #

    Rosie – Eddie Cochran was fatally inconvenienced somewhere in Wiltshire, I think. And one of the traffic police who arrived at the scene was Dave Dee.

  20. 20
    Waldo on 21 Jun 2007 #

    Aha! I see you guys already discussed this when contemplating “Legend of Xanadu”.

  21. 21
    Caledonianne on 18 Jul 2007 #

    ITF’s missus is right. There definitely were two camps – David and Donny. I was never really in either camp (I was Gilbert’s girl!), but always thought David was by a big margin the less objectionable of the two.

    It wasn’t until about 10 years ago, on one of those nostalgia fests – either the Beeb’s I luv the Seventies or one of those Channel 4 chart countdowns that I realised just how stunningly goodlooking (not to say pretty) young Mr Cassidy was – and I’m astonished that I was not more smitten at the time. The greatest hits was repackaged last year, I downloaded four tracks for old times’ sake, and I have to say that this gets more play than the others combined.

    It’s a relly well-executed piece of candyfloss, skillfully arranged and engagingly sung.

  22. 22
    Mrs. Beasley on 21 Aug 2007 #

    Com’on get happy! This has got to be the sexiest photo of any man ever published…well, with the exception of the pic just like it that shows pubic hair! (teehee)visit me at http://www.myspace.com/ilovemrsbeasley

  23. 23
    Alyssia Lee on 8 Aug 2010 #

    I think this picture of David Cassidy is sooooooooooooooooo hottt and you’re an asswreck if you don’t agree with me. Peace my hippies.

  24. 24
    Ken Shinn on 28 Mar 2012 #

    Ye Gods, I’m a mostly straight chap and this shot doesn’t ‘arf give ME The ‘Orn…Never realised that the young Cassidy was quite so provocatively pretty…corks!

  25. 25
    lonepilgrim on 15 Nov 2018 #

    At the time I remember being irritated at how DC’s popularity meant that the singers/bands I liked were given less air time. There was an episode of TOTP celebrating x number of years or episodes featuring The Who among others where he was revealed as the mystery special guest who stepped off a plane and sang on the tarmac IIRC. It all seemed a little underwhelming but I guess if you were a fan… Nowadays I enjoy hearing (most of) his songs in a way I would never do so with Donny’s but I can’t imnagine wanting to search out his songs.

  26. 26
    Ben Wainless on 23 Jun 2020 #

    and new joiner today. Hello, this site is a remarkable achievement.

    I have nothing else to say about this particular record but hope to chip in on some no.1s which do mean a lot more to me. Think I’ll probably do #554 first…

  27. 27
    Gareth Parker on 28 May 2021 #

    I would go 7/10. A good song, and in my view Cassidy puts it over nicely.

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