A wholesome family act, anyone? Doubtless you've heard of the Partridge Family, the Jacksons, the Osmonds, and Hanson, but did you know that the Cowsills started the whole thing?
Here's the way it happened: Bill, Bob, Barry, John, and eventually mother Barbara, brother Paul, and little sister Susan Cowsill were, in fact, the first family of pop, the prototype for similar acts to follow. Had it not been for the Cowsills, there might not have been any Jacksons or Partridges.
In the pre-Mom years, the Cowsill brothers were a competent bunch who played, sang, wrote, and harmonized well enough to land a Mercury deal in 1966. But after the first few singles tanked, the group was cut loose. Enter producer Artie Kornfeld with a tailor-made song and a plan. What do four nice teenage boys really need to attract attention? A hot chick out in front? Heck, no — they need their mommy! With Babs in the fold, the group entered the studio and cut Kornfeld's ethereal pop classic “The Rain, the Park, and Other Things,” its “I love the flower girl” refrain perfect for the trippy summer of '67. Bang — a million seller. Then the hits just kept on coming: “We Can Fly” and “Indian Lake” took off in 1968, and “Hair,” another million-seller, wowed fans the following year.
That's when the network executives stepped in and pitched the idea of a regular television series. But when it was suggested that actress Shirley Jones be used in place of Barbara, the siblings balked. A new lineup of child actors was hastily organized and later dubbed the Partridge Family - you know the rest of the story.
So what have the Cowsills done for you lately? Well, as a matter of fact, plenty. Since the '80s, Bill, Bob, Paul, John, and Susan have added their smooth vocal harmonies to recordings by the Bangles, the Smithereens, and others. Susan became part of the alt-pop outfit the Continental Drifters, and Bill wound up in the rockabilly-based Blue Shadows. In 1998, a re-formed Cowsills offered up a fresh batch of originals on the independently issued Global.
When one of our readers requested a "Lost and Found" on the Cowsills, I admit I was skeptical. But Dave Simons assured me that their story was worth telling, and he was right. Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Mike Levine