To say the Cowsills possessed one of the most harmoniously pleasing vocal blends in all of popular music would really just be scratching the surface. In addition, they created, without proper credit, the blueprint for countless other 'family bands,' especially that other teen sensation with a singing mom: the Partridge Family. An even more perplexing circumstance is the fact that in 2005, well over twenty years into the CD age, the Cowsills piece de resistance, 1967's We Can Fly, has never been legitimately reissued on compact disc anywhere in the world.
By the time the Cowsills commenced work on We Can Fly, they were already seasoned music industry veterans with two label affiliations behind them. They had also seen their M-G-M debut single "The Rain, The Park, And Other Things" rocket to the upper reaches of the charts. The definitive flower pop anthem landed at the Number 1 and 2 positions in Cash Box and Billboard respectively in December of 1967, with the Cowsills' accompanying self-titled LP reaching the Top 40 as well.
For their second M-G-M LP, We Can Fly, things would be different. Unlike The Cowsills, which was produced by future Woodstock Festival co-organizer Artie Kornfeld. We Can Fly was produced by brothers Bob and Bill Cowsill. Bill explains from his residence in Canada: "(We Can Fly) was the first one that we produced. My dad fired Artie; there was a business thing that went down between him and my father."
Artie Kornfeld and the Cowsills became acquainted when the band was briefly signed to Mercury Records, for whom they recorded the Kornfeld-Duboff tune "Could It Be, Let Me Know" on their sole Mercury longplayer, The Cowsills And The Lincoln Park Zoo. Shortly after the Cowsills were dropped from their Mercury contract, Artie had co-authored "The Rain, The Park," and financed (without record label support) the Cowsills' recording of the tune. Kornfeld pitched the master to M-G-M, and a sure fire hit was born. Bob Cowsill reflects proudly: "I graduated from high school in June of '67 and The Rain, The Park' hit Number One later that year. So we had our first big, giant hit and we were rich and famous and we were on MGM and everything was great"
The accompanying Kornfeid-produced M-G-M LP, The Cowsills, was fleshed out with several Kornfeld-Duboff penned cuts, along with some Cowsill-Kornfeld collaborations. All in all, the LP showcased a burgeoning band with far more talent and sophistication than their tender individual ages would ever imply. With a major hit record behind them, and Kornfeld out of the producer's chair, the Cowsills' leaders Bob and Bill were ready to explore the creative possibilities afforded them for their next LP, We Can Fly.
We Can Fly commented on track-by-track with Bob Cowsill:
"We Can Fly":
I remember we wrote that with Artie at his apartment. It was our second single (for M-G-M) and only made it to the Top 20 or something. It wasn't a big Number One hit. We recorded "We Can Fly" twice... I don't even have the original that we didn't like. We started it all over with another arranger and everything. Al Hirt and Lawrence Welk covered "We Can Fly."
Bill Cowsill adds: "Initially, when we recorded the trumpet part of 'We Can Fly,' there was a flat note that the trumpet player hit. We were just about starting to mix everything, when we realized it was flat and we had to get a trumpet player out of bed at three in the morning to come down and overdub the trumpet part again!"
"Grey Sunny Day":
After "We Can Fly" went top 20, (M-G-M) felt this sappy ballad, "In Need Of A Friend," should go out. And we were going, "Agh, you gotta be kidding me!" We thought "Grey Sunny Day" shoulda been the follow up. We now know the Ramones loved "Grey Sunny Day." We didn't find that out until we did Howard Stern's TV show in 1990. And the Ramones were pulling up in their limo and "Grey Sunny Day" was playing in it. They thought the vocal arrangement on that in particular was great. That was a big deal to us.
I think Bill is still the greatest singer in the family,- he'll out sing me from a wheel chair. Of course, he and I shared lead vocal on "Heaven Held." I remember doing the soft verses and Bill would come in on the torch singing. Man. that track was beautiful. That was done at Olmstead Studios. The Tokens worked there, .too,. The first record I ever bought was 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight."
"In Need Of A Friend":
We wrote that when we did "Time For Remembrance," in the same apartment at around 3:OOAM, We were enamored with the E to G thing. There's a lot of great songs that go from E to G. "In Need Of A Friend" follows that pattern. I think the strings are beautiful on it. As a single, it only made it to Number 50 or something. So you can see the pattern there: "Rain the Park," Number One, "We Can Fly," Top 15. and "In Need Of A Friend" only gets to 50. That's where panic began
at the record company.
Now that's a great song. That was a popular song for us atthe time in terms of radio play. It's an anti-racist song. That was the message: throw it all in, mix it all up and you got beige. Boy, to this day. for instance there was a group, Telegraph Roadsign. who recorded "Beautiful Beige" just a few years ago. And they did a good job. "Beautiful Beige" to this day is still touching people, and you can read threads about it on our website. They still talk about it.
We had been touring, it seemed, our whole life. Even before high school, through the northeast. Mr Flynn represents a song we wrote about the unhappy stage guy who's gonna give you trouble. It seemed that every college and every stop along the way had a "Mr Flynn" there. Didn't like his job and wasn't gonna make it easy on you. We'd just say, "Oh, Mr Flynn is here." So we wrote a song about it. I'm singing lead on that one.
Engineered by Roy Cicalla, We Can Fly was recorded in late 1967, mostly at A&R Studios, a top New York studio also used by Simon and Garfunkel, the Four Seasons and scores of other legends. Both Bill and Bob recall the recording We Can Fly being a fairly laborious process. "We spent hours on that album mixing and recording," Bob recalls. "And we spent a lot of time on our vocals. A lot of double tracking... A lot of times, you mixed as you recorded. I remember thinking, 'Wow, we have eight tracks!' Little did I know twenty-four was soon gonna be the standard."
Besides being Bob and Bill's first foray into production, We Can Fly also marks the first appearance on album for Susan Cowsill. "I was
so glad to be asked into the band," Susan offers. "It was very exciting; I can even remember the first night coming out of the studio at the end of the day, feeling mighty large. I was put in the band right when they were becoming a hit. Prior to We Can Fly, I was just standing in. With We Can Fly, at least I was lip-syncing my own parts (that I sang on the record). It was a wonderful experience and I wouldn't trade it for anything."
Despite its many artistic merits. We Can Fly's commercial performance was lackluster. In late March of 1968, the LP peaked at Number 89 in Billboards Pop Album Charts, well below the expectations of M-G-M. Bob laments; "MGM took a gamble (having us produce) that did not pay off. Artistically and critically acclaimed, yes. Great piece of work... but that doesn't always translate into sales."
The accompanying single, "We Can Fly," faired much better, landing at Numbers 21 and 17 in Billboard and Cash Box respectively. Regardless, M-G-M quickly paired up the Cowsills with producer Wes Farrell for their next album, a transitional piece called Captain Sad Arid The Ship Of Fools. There begins yet another chapter in the band's rich history.
Today, Bob continues to be marveled by We Can Fly's staying power, thirty-seven years after its original release. He closes with these thoughts: "You would not believe the emails that come in from all over the world... Songs from the We Can Fly album have been mentioned in the context of having some special memory for (our fans). We Can Fly gave us credibility and established us as producers. It was amazing and I was really glad we got to do it. If you ask any of us our favorite album of the eight or nine that we did. We Can Fly's gonna be number one. We did an OK job for kids."
email@example.com Los Angeles. CA September, 2005