Years later, I expressed these made feelings in a song I wrote called “Beautiful Beige.” (“Black is black and white is white, You’re so hung up on day and night, Is it that important to you, Can’t you let the sun come shining through? Let Beautiful Beige come into your mind like it came into my mind.”) I was saying what a wonderful world it would be if everyone were beige. I guess I was naïve, but maybe we should all be a little naïve and the world would be a better place
This was, again, the idea behind my song, “Beautiful Beige.” It was at this time that I had my first interracial date. I say that now and it sounds so weird. But I certainly didn’t think about it any differently than two normal teenagers going on a date together.
I knew deep inside that Koppelman and Rubin (since I was their discovery) had built me up to Donny Kirshner to get me this production. This was my first session with no budget limits and forty musicians that Kaplan booked. It was a lot more than when we had four musicians and three hours to complete three finished demos and masters. Jimmy Wisner, who would later do that great arrangement on my first Cowsills album, arranged my Davy Jones project.
Mercury soon assigned me to an interesting group from Rhode Island called the Cowsills, which consisted of a mother and her children. I said, “Come on, these are ten- to sixteen-year-old kids and they’re going to come off like the Lennon Sisters.” (Remember The Lawrence Welk Show?) I said, “Young people are turning hip now and they want to see musicians with longer hair, like the Beatles. They don’t want to see an All-American apple pie and coffee band.” But when I saw the Cowsills perform, I was blown away by the quality of their voices and skills as musicians. Soon after, I started to believe that with the right song they could happen. I thought to myself, America was founded on the family unit. So why not write the hit song they needed and see if we could break the band.
Then, at an A&R meeting, meeting after I’d fully embraced the band, Mercury dropped them. I had gotten to really know the Cowsills as a family, and I believed the band could be a strong seller. If Steve Duboff and I could compose the right song, this band could be number one. I was stunned, and I quit Mercury that week on principle I thought the philosophy behind dropping them was flawed. As I said before, I never make decisions based on money alone. You have to believe in wht you’re doing in order to succeed, especially in the record business.
Duboff and I worked and worked on songs for the Cowsills, which wasn’t easy because it had to be something that worked for them specifically, as opposed to a song that could be sung by almost any artist. It was a long year as I financially supported the band. We called “I Love the Flower Girl.” Based on that song we did a show for MGM Records, which probably had their whole staff down there that night. The band played the song and the next day MGM called and said they wanted to sign the group.
My partner Lenny Stogel and I negotiated a $250,000 deal for the band, which was a huge sum in 1967. But I was told a week prior to release to change the title because Scott McKenzie’s song, “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)”, had just been a Top Five smash. So I scrambled for a new title, and it came from me panicking in front of ten MGM executives, I ad-libbed, and out of my mouth came: “The Rain, the Park & Other Things.” All these years later when asked about the title, I reply, “I’m still trying to figure it out.” Our song went to #1 on Cash Box and #2 on Billboard. It made the Cowsills a major group, and most people refer to it by my original title, “I Love the Flower Girl.”
I also got a budget from MGM to release an album for the Cowsills. We wrote most of the songs, I produced it, and The Cowsills LP started to take off. We then landed The Ed Sullivan Show. I couldn’t believe it. I’d watched every act I admired on the Sullivan show, and for me it was another dream come true. Within four weeks of appearing on the show, the single was neck and neck with “Daydream Believer” by the Monkees. The Album reached #20 on Cash Box and #32 on Billboard. It made me feel like I’d made the right decision sticking with Koppelman and Rubin, and passing on the Monkees. For me, it has usually paid not to sell out, although not so with when I passed on the wrong project.
But I knew it was time to leave the Cowsills when I witnessed their father – a former military man – slap a thirteen-year-old in the face for missing a note. I physically threw the father out of the studio. His attitude eventually destroyed the Cowsills’ career. He also turned down a television show that would have featured the kids (a series already sold), because the studio wanted Shirley Jones to play the role of the mother, instead of Barbara Cowsill. Barbara didn’t even want to be in the show. It came out with Shirley Jones and David Cassidy in the lead roles and was called The Partridge Family. It ran for four years on the ABC network. After having believed in a band that no one said could happen, and after I’d taken them to number one, their father decided to take control. There were internal family problems, and I sold my share on principle.
The band went on to sell over twenty-million records and made a fortune with “Indian Lake,” “Hair,” and “Love American Style.” Billy Cowsill later told me, the week before he died, that the kids never saw any royalties. Johnny Cowsill is now the drummer with the Beach Boys’ touring band, and Barry Cowsill tragically drown in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
After selling my share of the Cowsills, I started my first publishing company, Luvlin Music. I brought Steve Duboff, with Koppelman and Rubin still watching over my career as managers. I was pretty wealthy for a twenty-four-year-old kid. It all started at fifteen with nothing but a dream. By good fortune, I was in a position to dance with the gods.
“The Rain the Park & Other Things” was my first really successful independent production. We followed it up with “We Can Fly,” which hit #17 on Cashbox and #21 on Billboard in early ’68. A cover version by trumpet virtuoso Al Hirt, “We Can Fly/Up-Up and Away,” also made the Top 30. These tunes landed me on the list of BMI award-winning songwriters.