The original Cowsills band, formed in the early 60s, consisted of four brothers, Bill (guitar), Bob (guitar and organ), Barry (bass guitar) and John, the youngest brother, added to the group at age 7 (drums). They worked hard as the months and years passed perfecting their sound, which included tight vocal harmonies. They played at local churches in and around Newport, Rhode Island, where they grew up; they also played at local school dances. They were largely influenced by the Beatles. By the time the Cowsills landed a weekly gig at a local club (3 nights a week actually), the boys could regularly be heard performing three or four hours of Beatles songs. The boys began to record for Mercury Records; one song, "Siamese Cat," spotlighted the youngest brothers, John & Barry. The best-known of the Mercury recordings was "Party Girl," which was somewhat of a success locally. It was Mercury's producer Artie Kornfield who, after the Cowsills parted company with Mercury, asked Cowsill Mom, Barbara, to sing along with the boys on a certain song that Kornfield had written with Steve Duboff, "The Rain, The Park, And Other Things." The song, recorded independently, was scooped up by MGM Records and wound up charting at #2 and selling over a million copies. This success was followed by 7 other hit singles, which could be heard on the various Cowsills LPs that were released; the first LP was entitled simply, The Cowsills. Joining the group after their initial sucess was then-7-year-old sister Susan on vocals, percussion and occasional bass guitar for live performances, and brother Paul on organ and vocals. The Cowsills were THE family act of the 60's. Under the management of Bud Cowsill (husband to Barbara and father to the others), the now-7-member Cowsills released the following LPs: We Can Fly (which featured "In Need Of A Friend," originally a short ditty composed by Bill and Bob entitled "I Had A Friend Of A Friend [One Day]"); Captain Sad and His Ship of Fools (which featured the hit "Indian Lake"); The Best of the Cowsills (reviewed below); and The Cowsills In Concert (which included a black-and-white photo of the Cowsills donning quite long "hair"). The last of the aforementioned albums was a compilation of cover songs that the group would throw in during their 1969-1970 live act, such as "Monday Monday" (Bill lead), "Reach Out (I'll Be There)" (Paul or Bob taking lead vocal, depending on which show you caught [Paul on the released version]), "Walk Away Renee" (Bob), "Please Mr. Postman" (Barry), "Act Naturally" (John), "Hello Hello" (Susan), and "The Cruel War" (Barbara [known to her many fans as Mini-Mom]). In my opinion, a finer version of "The Cruel War" just doesn't exist. Although live, Barry's performance of "Painting the Day" and John's of "Path of Love," both from "Captain Sad," were much stronger than the studio versions. The two singles that were out and charting when the live album was released were "Hair" and "Poor Baby." The studio version of "Hair" opened the live album in a new stereo version, and in 1970, "Hair" was the group's opening song in concert, which, when performed live, surpassed their studio recording. The Cowsills made many TV appearances and had a couple of TV specials to their credit, performing such songs as "Consider Yourself" and a very strong version of "What the World Needs Now Is Love"; the youngest member of the group, Susan, introduced the latter song, expressing a fervent wish that Dick Cowsill, Bob's twin, who was in the service and stationed in Vietnam, would return safely. Following such TV specials, the Cowsills were approached by Columbia Pictures Television about doing a weekly TV series. In the end, however, a family music act including Mom, brothers and baby sister was created for TV--the Partridge Family was born. (Only David Cassidy and Shirley Jones were actually related [mother and son], and they were the only cast members actually participating on Partridge Family recordings.) In 1968, the Cowsills sang the theme song of the movie "The Impossible Years," and in 1969 the Cowsills' version of the theme song for the popular TV show Love American Style could be heard weekly. The Cowsills disbanded in 1971 but came up with two more albums in the 70s without Bill Cowsill, On My Side and Two by Two; the latter featured one of the the group's last charting singles, "The Prophecy Of Daniel And John The Divine (Six Six Six)." Bill Cowsill had recorded a solo album and was not present for some of the group's later concert appearances. The Beach Boys had also considered Bill Cowsill as a replacement for Brian Wilson, who was no longer performing live with the Beach Boys. But nothing came of the idea, even after Bill visited Brian to discuss the matter. More Cowsill recordings were made in the late 70s, but they've never seen the light of day. In the late 80s, Bob Cowsill was singing Beatles songs again, this time for sing-along videos of Beatles music. The 90s have found the Cowsills as musically active as ever. Bill, now known as Billy "Bud" Cowsill, has formed a new band, the Blue Shadows, of which he is the lead singer; their latest album, Lucky To Me, was released in 1995. This band is known to produce quite good harmonies along with good, solid music. Susan Cowsill has done solo work, such as her contribution of a superb vocal performance of Sandy Denny's "At the End of the Day" on the CD True Voices (A Song-Writer's Tribute). You can visit Susan and her new band at her official website.
Bob, Paul, John and Susan Cowsill have made recent recordings as the Cowsills, one song of which is featured on a compilation CD, Yellow Pills, Vol. 1: the Best of American Pop. Their contribution, "Is It Any Wonder" (written by Bob), lets the listener know immediately that the Cowsills not only have kept up with the times, but can still write, play and sing with the best of them. The four original members (the "Core Four" as they like to refer to themselves), who appear on the track, continue to perform occassionally as the Cowsills, playing the new along with some of the old Cowsills 60s favorites. A Cowsills fan club is still going strong and keeps its members up to date on all of the latest Cowsill happenings, including all of the many solo ventures.
If you would like to know more about what The Cowsills are doing today, you may write:
THE COWSILLS FAN CLUB
P.O. BOX 83
LEXINGTON, MS 39095
The Rain, The Park And Other Things (Kornfield/Duboff) - With a strong lead vocal by Bill, a tale unfolds about "the flower girl" who caught the narator's eye as she sat in a park. He and this girl with flowers in her hair, whose smile he fell in love with, somehow knowing she could make him happy, took a stroll in the park together as it rained. But when the sun suddenly broke through, she was gone, and he was left with a single flower from the girl's hair, and left to wonder if it was all only just a pleasant dream.
The Path Of Love (Tony Romeo) - John delivers a solid vocal and a postive message for the times (1968) as well as for today. In this song, addressed to little children, the narator speaks of a better way--of striving to be good, of being happy with what you have, counting your blessings and brightening the dark by following the Path of Love.
Meet Me At the Wishing Well (Cowsill/Cowsill) - A great original song with great background harmonies and orchestration, about a man who spends his days sitting by a wishing well, weeping, as he carefully tosses pennies into it, willing to pay any price if only his wish would come true, and thinking that maybe if we all joined him at the wishing well, sharing his wish, the world woudln't have to go away. Pretty deep. (The song, not the well, necessarily.)
In Need Of A Friend (Cowsill/Cowsill) - This song seems to be about a person in need of a friend whose search for friendship might best be achieved by befriending another lonely soul who feels the way he does. A later song by The Generic Band called "Write What You Feel" expressed a similar sentiment.
Mr. Flynn (Cowsill/Cowsill/Cowsill) - Mr. Flynn appears to be the miserable type of guy who, now in coveralls, never made it himself as a performer. Now having given it all up, he makes life hard on the successful performers he has to deal with, for example, keeping the band waiting outside behind a locked stage door when they should be setting up for their gig.
Captain Sad And His Ship Of Fools (Cowsill/Cowsill) - The ol' Captain can tell a good tale, and everyone wants to be just like him. However, there's no truth to the tales he tells, and his ship is going nowhere.
We Can Fly (Cowsill/Cowsill/Kornfield/Duboff) - Their second big hit. The addition of Susan Cowsill's high harmony vocal is very apparent and quite a nice addition to the Cowsill sound. This is quite an optimistic song. There is no one line from the lyric that can summarize this very positive song. It's The Cowsills, 7 voices strong, singing in flawless harmony.
Indian Lake (Tony Romeo) - Simply a great place to visit in the summertime, and it's easy to get to.
Grey Sunny Day (Cowsill/Cowsill/Sheppard/Powers) - A song that seems to compare the irony of the title to one who feels that same way.
A Time For Remembrance (Cowsill/Cowsill) - A great original lyric about a love lost, and beautiful music to support it.
Gotta Get Away From It All (Cowsill/Cowsill/Dean) - Every band has its original song about getting away from it all. This is the Cowsills' contribution to that vast pool of material. However, by the end of the song, it appears that our heroes need to get away fast before they lose their minds, as told in Cowsill harmony that has been sped up to double speed to bring home the point.
Newspaper Blanket (Cowsill/Cowsill) - Wow! This is quite a sad song. The narrator would like to have let a lonely man that he sees every morning know that he cares about his sad situation, not meaning to simply pass him by day after day as he begs. The poor man's only possession is a park bench that he covers with a newspaper. How long can this man whom no one loves continue on this way?
Poor Baby (Tony Romeo) - One particular Cowsills fan, who won 16 Magazine's "Meet The Cowsills" contest, was among the first fans ever to hear this song; she heard it backstage in Atlantic City, NJ, when she was the guest of the Cowsills and got to enjoy the song live at the afternoon's Steel Pier performance. The song itself, however, is about someone who tends to see the bad side of things and needs to think of the good times that are coming and stop being so negative.
Hair (Rado/Ragni/McDermot) - From the hit play of the same name, the Cowsills' rendition is by far the best-known version of this song, which is a sort of hippie anthem. It was a brave move for the Cowsills to release it, considering their wholesome family image at the time.
Pennies (Cowsill/Kornfield/Cowsill) - The narrator chides a lost love because the two of them have become like strangers, in turn because she's become obsessed with material things, thinking that even love can be bought or sold. To the narrator, love means much more.
Thinking About The Other Side (Cowsill/Cowsill) - This one's an excellent example of just how very good a songwriting team Bill and Bob Cowsill were. With an equally good vocal performace from Bill, backed by angelic harmomies, we find the narrator strugglng with the temptation of crossing the line to the other side (if anything is even there), wondering if he will still be the same should he take that chance. Which "other side" the narrator has in mind is up to the listener to apply to their own search for answers, which is the beauty of this lyric.
Troubled Roses (Keelan) - This cover gives the listener an idea of how the original 4-member Cowsills used to like to get down at their early live shows.
(Stop, Look) Is Anyone There? (Cowsill/Duboff/Cowsill) - A lot of great stuff happens on this track. The basic rhythm track features an acoustic guitar, drums and a bass guitar, with a soft xylophone addition here and there, with electric guitar accents on the 2nd and 4th beats of each measure. Bill and Bob produce quite a good sound, trading off on the lead vocal here and there, which is supported by the background harmonies of the others. Giving this song a uniquely beautiful sound is the addition of a wood block and triangle at just the right spots, and a wonderful French horn/cello duet at the middle 8 bars, which lead to the snare (with brushes) accenting every beat. This creates quite a good feel with all of these instruments combining, as the lyrics further encourage the listener never to give up on love. In my opinion, this song is the highlight of the CD, despite that the group's best-known song, "The Rain, The Park And Other Things," and twelve other tracks are present on this CD along with the above song and two bonus tracks, "The Impossible Years" and "Love American Style."
What's It Gonna Be Like (Cowsill/Cowsill) - A very early recording of the original 4- member Cowsills. It's just the boys wondering what life might be holding in store for them, accompanied by their own music, which fits the title's question as well as it fits that 60s sound.
Hold On Tight (Cowsill/Cowsill) - A fast-tempo, "roller-coaster ride" type of song that delivers strong vocals and solid music by all. On this early 4-piece Cowsills recording, things are gonna start happening fast, so hold on tight! This song and the one above are from The Cowsills Plus the Lincoln Park Zoo (Mercury/Wing). This LP, which was a compilation of Cowsills recordings while they were with Mercury Records, was not an official Cowsills release but was released by Mercury Records after the Cowsills landed their first MGM hit.
What Is Happy? (Cowsill/Cowsill/Kornfield/Duboff) - The narrator names the the simple things in life as the answer to the title's question: looking at leaves as they fall and strollin' throught the park, among other things.
Yesterday's Girl (Morier) - Bill Cowsill shines in his vocal performance of this song. It is no wonder that The Beach Boys asked Bill if he would consider being a replacement for Brian Wilson, who was no longer singing live with the Beach Boys. The narrator has yesterday's girl very much on his mind; for her, he would give the world.
The Bridge (Gluck) - This is Cowsill Mom Barbara's first lead vocal appearance on a Cowsills track. There are many bridges in the world, but none as improtant as that bridge that we can build: the bridge that brings people together and leads from heart to heart. A beautiful vocal performance by Barbara to match the song's sentiment.
Ask The Children (Wonderling/Goldfuss/Allane) - Susan Cowsill got the lead vocal on this song; this shows just how optimistic children can be. Even at the tender age of nine, Susan was making strong lead vocal contributions to the songs she sang, such as at the Cowsills' live appearances and on their TV specials, including Susan's spotlight in the middle of the Cowsills' touching rendition of "What The World Needs Now Is Love." (The latter would make a fine bonus track should Razor & Tie ever get around to releasing Captain Sad on CD.) In concert, Bill and Bob, who handled most of the introductions, did much more than that but created an immediate rapport with the audience; as a whole, the group allowed the audience to have as much fun as they seemed to be having onstage. Each member of the group was featured in a vocal spotlight. This song was Susan's spotlight song at many of their shows in 1969.
Who Can Teach A Songbird How To Sing (Ogerman/English/Nash) - Bob delivers a wonderful lead vocal performance on this track. The narrator considers how funny it is that people would even try to do what the title asks. But there's much more to the song than that. The song goes smoothly from 4/4 time to waltz time and back as a harpsichord leads the listener to the harmonies at the close of the song. Although Paul is not featured in a lead vocal role on this LP, this song was one of his first to join in on background harmonies, having just joined the group.
Painting The Day (Barberis/Longa) - Barry got a turn at singing lead on an album. He was an "old pro" by age 13 and delivered quite a punch vocally in this song, which has a pretty wide range. The narrator explains that he's gonna take his brush and paint the clouds away; using all of the colors of the rainbow, he intends to fill the world with the glow of the sun. This song was primarily Barry's spotlight song on the group's 1969 tour, although he began performing "Please Mr. Postman" in its place as his solo spot. The latter song appeared as Barry's spotlight number on the Cowsills' In Concert CD (Razor and Tie).
The Sunshine Of Your Love (Brown/Bruce/Clapton) - Paul handles the lead vocal on this cover of Cream's big hit. In the group's 1970 tour, Paul also took over from Bill as lead singer on "Reach Out (I'll Be There)." Paul, the last to join the group, had the fewest vocal spotlights in their recordings. (from The Cowsills In Concert)
The Prophecy Of Daniel And John The Divine (666) - (Capra) - This song is a re-telling of some of the prophecies of Daniel from the Old Testament of the Bible and of the images described by the Apostle John from the Isle of Patmos, as recorded in The New Testiment. The narrator informs us that "six" is the number of a man, as the word "six" is repeated in hamony. An interesting song, complete with sound effects and a spoken part near the end by Barry.
Dover Mines (Barry Cowsill) - A very interesting lyric that reads like a poem, with music that suits it very well, and a fine lead vocal performance from the composer. The narrator wonders, with some uneasiness, when it might be his time to die, and thinks it quite unfair to have no choice in the matter.
On My Side (Wachtel/Pulver) - A strong lead vocal by John whose drum work on the song is also well done, giving the song a solid and enjoyable beat. The narrator is pleased to see that his lover is finally realizing just what love is, having learned from a certain big mistake, and that she, at last, is on his side.
There Is A Child (Bob, Paul, and Barry Cowsill) - Barbara's third vocal spotlight on a Cowsills record. This heart-warming song allows Barbara to express in song a mother's undying love and fondest wishes for her child. Quite a fitting song for the Cowsill Mom and beautifully sung, with the accompanying music of her children.
Heather Says (Wachtel/Pulver) - A great vocal performance by Susan, with equally good backup vocal support, and interesting guitar work. This is a very moody song about Heather, the queen bee at her school, whom none of the kids dare to cross. Heather frames her classmates, and she loves to torment the kid with the big ears. Everything that Heather says...goes, and she grins an evil grin when she gets her way, which is every time! The narrator and her classmates, especially Margaret, have had all they can stand of Heather's obnoxious behavior, and they intend to see to it that things change for the better. Wachtel and Pulver paint quite an interesting picture in this very well-written song, both lyrically and musically.
When Everybody's Here (Bill Cowsill) - This is the opening track of Bill Cowsill's first solo album. He takes a new direction on this album, however. This opening track is the only song on the album that Bill composed by himself; it is the most like the Cowsill sound, including the harmonies. The album is a bit more bluesy at times and heavier than Bill's former recordings with his family. But his lead vocal is strong and the overall message is the same: sunshine, love and peace, and how it is a happy song, when everybody's here.
Is It Any Wonder (Bob Cowsill) - Bob delivers a powerful vocal in this recent Cowsills recording, which includes original members Bob, John, Susan and Paul creating magic again, this time with a 90s pop flavor. The supporting vocals in this song are tight, and the music is today! While the Cowsills may be recalled by some as merely the big family act of the 60s, they were and are much more than that. The Cowsills were not a TV family who never really played a gig or wrote a song; they paid their dues, becoming musicians, singers, writers, performers and recording artists of the highest caliber, whose harmonies are still the standard in 1997. This track is as strong a song as they come in the 90s and really has to be heard in order to be fully appreciated.
Now this is Collins talking.
For more Cowsills info, courtesy Dennis Castanares, a non-family member who played with the band in the late 70s, click here.
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