The Cowsills were the best teen popgroup in late sixties America and a real life musical family; the blueprint for The Partridge Family and The Osmonds.
Their father William."Bud" Cowsill, began assembling the group at their Newport,
Rhode Island home, at the height of Beatlemania. Eventually it comprised
his sons Bill, Bob, Barry, John and Paul, seven year old daughter Susan and
their mother Barbara. The Cowsills created beautifully crafted vocal pop
and in 1967, after some false starts, their breakthrough single, "The Rain,
The Park & Other Things" reached number one on the national chart.
Produced by its co-author Artie Kornfeld, this sub-psychedelic masterpiece
was an imaginative blend of skillfully realised harmonies, orchestration and
sound effects; a kind of composite of in-form Beach Boys, Beatles, Mamas &
Papas and Monkees, which captured the public's imagination and sold more
than a million copies.
The Cowsills smart, intelligent style propelled them into the spotlight where they dominated the Tiger Beat/16/Flip teen magazine scene, featured regularly on television shows (such as their own A Family Thing special and as guests of Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson and Jonathan Winters) and where they secured a million dollar contract for product endorsement, as spokespersons
for the American Dairy Association.
After returning to the chart with "Indian Lake" and the exuberant "We Can Fly",
they recorded popular themes for the David Niven film The Impossible Years
and the ABC TV show Love American Style before their biggest hit arrived in 1969.
The Cowsills' cover of the title song of the rock musical Hair was especially significant as it was produced and performed entirely by the family. As the song's rebellious message somewhat contradicted the group's wholesome, cleancut image, MGM were less than enthusiastic and initially refused to sanction the release. Eventually however, they bowed to public pressure and the single soared to the top of the charts; a hippy anthem and remarkably the only song by anybody to be officially banned in Vietnam.
It was around the same time that Columbia Pictures' TV division sent a group of screenwriters to observe The Cowsills' daily lives for a possible series based on their story. The idea was for The Cowsills to play themselves but for Shirley Jones to replace Barbara; a suggestion quite unacceptable to the family.
Reality for The Cowsills was far from a sugar-coated Partridge family world. Maintaining their success was hard work and there were professional and domestic pressures. Their decline began when Bill was caught smoking pot by his father and was kicked out of the band. Bob kept things going without his songwriting partner, creating the ambitious and underrated "II x II" concept album and its labyrinthic hit "The Prophecy Of Daniel And John The Divine".
The Cowsills finally disbanded in 1972 and as a result of losses sustained through poor management filed for bankruptcy three years later.
Barbara died of emphysema in 1985 and her husband Bud of leukemia in 1992 while living in Mexico. The siblings continued in music to varying degrees and there have been a number of solo projects and partial reformations. Tragedy struck the Cowsill family in 2005 when Barry lost his life in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Susan's New Orleans home was also completely destroyed by the storm though fortunately she was away working in Oklahoma City at the time. Then on February 18 2006 Billy Cowsill passed away after a long illness.
Like the Monkees, the Cowsills outgrew their own success; restricted in their creative ambitions by the need to continue to have hit singles. Their lightness of style may at times have obscured their artistry from some but their best work is utterly timeless and is representative of all that is ^ood about classic American Pop.