The Cowsills


Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1 (1965-66)

- Barry Cowsill (RIP 2005) -- vocals, bass

- Bill Cowsill (RIP 2006) -- vocals, guitar

- Bob Cowsill -- vocals, guitar

- John Cowsill -- drums, percussion

 

  line up 2 (1966-70)

- Barbara Cowsill (RIP 1985) -- vocals

- Barry Cowsill (RIP 2005) -- vocals, bass

- Bill Cowsill (RIP 2006) -- vocals, guitar

- Bob Cowsill -- vocals, guitar

- John Cowsill -- drums, percussion

- Paul Cowsill -- vocals, keyboards

- Susan Cowsill -- vocals

- William Cowsill -- vocals, guitar

 

  line up 3 (1970-72)

- Barbara Cowsill (RIP 1985) -- vocals

- Barry Cowsill -- vocals, bass

- Bob Cowsill -- vocals, guitar

- John Cowsill -- drums, percussion

- Paul Cowsill -- vocals, keyboards

- Susan Cowsill -- vocals

- William Cowsill -- vocals, guitar

 

 

 

- Blue Northern (Bill Cowsill)

- The Blue Shadows (Bill Cowsill)

- Bridey Murphy

- The Co-Dependents (Susan Cowsill)

- Barry Cowsill (solo efforts)

- Bill Cowsill (solo efforts)

- John Cowsill (solo efforts)

- Susan Cowsill (solo efforts)

- The Psycho Sisters (Susan Cowsill)

- The Rockabilly Kings (Bill Cowsill)

 

 

 


 

Genre: pop

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  The Cowsills Plus the Lincoln Street Zoo

Company: Mercury / Wing

Catalog: SRW-16354
Year:
 1967

Country/State: Newport, Rhode Island

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: gatefold sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 236

Price: $15.00

 

Technical this was a various artists compilation. but given there were eight Cowsills tunes, versus two Lincoln Park Zoo efforts ...   yes, it was essentially a Cowsills album.

 

In terms of chronology 'The Cowsills Plus the Lincoln Street Zoo" pulled together material dating back to 1966-67 when Mercury Records executive Shelby Singleton signed the group to Mercury’s Philips subsidiary.  What you got were six sides from the group's their three Philips singles, along with two previously unreleased numbers; the pop-psych 'Could It Be, Let Me Know' and  the original 'Hold On Tight'.  Rounding out the album were the "A" and "B" sides from a 1967 single by Chicago's Lincoln Street Zoo ( 'If You Gotta Go (Go Now)' b/w 'Love Theme From Haight Street').  Showcasing the group's original line-up (Barry, Bill, Bob, and John - no Susan or Cowsill mom Barbara), these tracks served to capture The Cowsills unique, but developing pop sound -  young and enthusiastic if occasionally a tad too MOR-ish for their own good.   (I suggest most listeners avoid the cloying 'Siamese Cat'.)   The two Lincoln Street Zoo sides were good, but not as good as some of their other releases.

 

"The Cowsills Plus the Lincoln Street Zoo" track listing

(side 1)

1) A Most Peculiar Man   (Paul Simon)  - 2:53

Nothing more than speculation on my part, but I'm guessing the decision to tap this as the band's fourth single was due to the tie-in to Simon and Garfunkel.  Nice orchestrated cover which highlighted their wonderful harmony vocals, but it wasn't going to make you forget the original.  rating: *** stars

2.) Could It Be, Let Me Know  (Artie Kornfeld - Steve Duboff) - 2:58

Cowsills-styled pop, but with a surprising Donovan-meets psych edge ...   Always laugh when I hear the lyric "psychedelically speaking ... ".  Hard to imagine that their father would have approved of this ballad.   rating: *** stars

3.) Most Of All   (Garry Geld - Pete Udell) - 2:51

Originally released as the group's sophomore single (and their debit for Philips), to my ears this one's forced "feel good" aura sounded like a hugely annoying Mamas and Papas tune.  One of those tracks that featured Mama Cass trying to do an "old timey" number.   Admittedly the guitar line was kind of cool.   rating: *** stars

4.) Siamese Cat   (Regis Mull) - 2:36

The "B" side to their second single, 'Siamese Cat' showcased little brothers John and Barry, this was the kind of tune clearly intended to appeal to grandmas.   Cute enough to be nauseating.   rating: * star

5.) What's It Gonna Be Like   (Robert Cowsill - Bill Cowsill Jr.) - 2:40

One of two group originals and easily the best song on the album, 'What's It Gonna Be Like' sounded like the brothers had been listening to more than their share of Roger McGuinn and the Byrds.  The track  was the "B" side on the group's third single.  rating: **** stars

 

(side 2)

1.) Party Girl   (William Gilmore - Buddy Buie) - 2:41

Their third single was a remake of Tommy Roe's 1964 'Party Girl'.  With a blistering, double time melody and some lyrics that were bound to give feminists a heart attack (" ... instead of doing the Cool Jerk, you'll be learning how to cook ..."), the tune was very different from most of The Cowsills catalog.   Almost garage rock like, this one was through and through fun.   rating: **** stars  

2.) Hold On Tight (Robert Cowsill - Bill Cowsill, Jr.) - 2:15

Another Cowsills original, to my ears 'Hold On Tight' sounded like it had borrowed more than a little bit of inspiration from Chuck Berry's 'Maybelline'.    rating: *** stars

3.) I Know, Know, Know, I'll Never Love, Love  (Len Beadle - Mickey Clarke) - 2:32

The album's sleeper tune, in spite of the goofy title and early-'60s vibe, 'I Know, Know, Know, I'll Never Love, Love' had a great melody and enthusiastic performance that would have made for a great single.  rating: **** stars

Love Theme From Haight Street (instrumental)  (James Butler)  - 2:17

The piano-powered instrumental 'Love Theme From Haight Street' was one of two Lincoln Park Zoo offerings.  Musically it had a strong melody, but also had kind of an MOR feel - easy to see this one being used for a quicky 'B' film soundtrack.  rating: *** stars

4.) If You Gotta Go (Go Now) (James Butler) - 2:27

It's always reminded me of The Moody Blues song, but isn't the same tune.   Released as a single, their version was a nice MOR-ish pop tune which served to showcase Tommy Murray's likeable voice ... kind of a tougher Four Seasons vibe going on here.   rating: *** stars

 

Probably not an album most folks will need to have in their collection, though true Cowsills fans will want it.

 

For anyone interested, here are the singles compiled on the album:

 

   Cowsills 45s:

- 1966's 'Most of All' b/w 'Siamese Cat' (Philips catalog number 40382) # 118 pop

- 1966's 'Party Girl ' b/w 'What's It Gonna Be Like?' (Philips catalog number 40406)

- 1966's 'A Most Peculiar Man ' b/w 'Could It Be, Let Me Know' ' (Philips catalog number 40437)

 

   Lincoln Park Zoo 45:

- 1967's 'If You Gotta Go (Go Now)' b/w 'Love Theme From Haight Street' (Mercury catalog number 72708)

 

 

 


Genre: pop

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  II x II

Company: MGM

Catalog: SE 4639
Year:
 1970

Country/State: Newport, Rhode Island

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: gatefold sleeve; promo copy

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 236

Price: $25.00

 

C'mon, you're kidding - The Cowsills ?  Well guess what ?  1970's "II x II" was a pretty impressive effort.  Produced by Bob Cowsill (Bob Wachtel credited with handling one track), the album found the family Cowsill seemingly trying to break away from their sugary, top-40 pop image.  Mind you, original material like 'I Really Want To Know You', 'Start To Love' and 'Nigh Shift' was still quite easy going and commercial, but there were some cracks in the happiness facade. Chief songwriter Bill had recently been kicked out of the band for smoking dope and the Cowsills were facing all kinds of financial issues.  Add to that, it seems the album was intended as a concept piece.  On the Cowsill's website Bob Cowsill  talked about the cover: "It was all about mirroring the "flood" escapade Noah went through ... only this was involving people and getting off the planet." )  So the plotline had something to do with mankind creating a space age ark to rescue them from a dying planet ?   If that was the concept, if was fragmented and obscured across these eleven tracks, though the title track, 'The Prophecy of Daniel and John the Divine', and the rocker 'Anything Changes' had lyrics that made sense in such a setting.  Definitely a change in direction for these guys ...

 

"II x II" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) II x II   (David W. Ray) - 3:17

Credited to 'David W. Ray' which was a pseudonym for disgraced brother Bill (remember he was fired from the band after Dad caught him smoking dope),  the title track was a catchy, slightly folk-tinged number with a modestly religious lyric to it ....    As mentioned above, I was trolling around The Cowsill's website and Bob Cowsill had uploaded some comments on various albums and songs - hopefully he won't mind me borrowing the comments pertaining to this song: "II X II, which is credited to the songwriter David Ray was actually written by Bill. He needed money at the time, we needed a song, so apparently my Dad bought this from Bill, publishing and all.rating: *** stars

2.) I Really Want To Know You   (Barry Mann - Cynthia Weil) - 3:39

Opening up with some of the prettiest acoustic guitar I've ever heard, 'I Really Want To Know You' was a lovely pop song spoiled by Barbara Cowsill's arch, slightly operatic vocal.  This one's always reminded me of one of the Catholic folk masses I use to attend on Saturday evenings.  For anyone interested, YouTube has a truly strange clip of the family performing the song and "II x II' for Hugh Hefner's Playboy After Dark television program.  Barry and Susan kick butt on the latter song.    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaAUY4SDRHE    rating: ** stars

3.) Start To Love   (Bill Cowsill - Bob Cowsill - Judi Parker) - 2:38

A fragile acoustic ballad with a plain, but pretty melody, 'Start To Love' was saved from the abyss by the siblings wonderful harmony vocals.  rating: ** stars

4.) Signs   (Bill Cowsill - Bob Cowsill - Paul Cowsill) - 3:10

Opening with some totally unexpected chunky feedback guitar and organ, 'Signs' was about as close to a rock song as they'd ever come.  Unlike anything else they'd done with some wild lyrics, this was fantastic and probably sent longtime fans running for their prayer books - the apocalypse was on its way !   rating: **** stars

5.) Goodtime Charlie   (Harvey Price - Dan Walsh) - 3:04

Sounding like Emmitt Rhodes, or perhaps Nilsson doing their best Paul McCartney impressions, the band's cover of 'Goodtime Charlie' was another surprisingly taunt performance.  rating: *** stars

6.) Anything Changes   (Bob Cowsill - Paul Cowsill) - 3:01

Opening up with a slice of atonal feedback, some tasty fuzz guitar, and some truly bizarre lyrics ( "half a million died on the road last year ..."), if anything 'Anything Changes' rocked even harder than 'Signs'.  And that was a good thing ...  Paul also showed that he had the best voice among the boys.   YouTube has a clip of them performing the song on The Barbara McNair Show.  The clip's also notable for Susan's brief appearance demonstrating she was the best dancer in the family:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUpTyr1i9BQ    rating: **** stars

 

(side 2)

1.) Silver Threads and Golden Needles  ((Jack Rhodes - Dick Reynolds) - 3:06

Having hear so many versions of 'Silver Threads and Golden Needles', my expectations for this one were zilch ...  and of course it turned out their country-rock arrangement was simply fantastic.  With John handling lead vocals and a cool jam middle section, it made of one of the album highlights.  Easy to see why MGM tapped it as a single.  

- 1970's 'Silver Threads And Golden Needles' b/w 'Love American Style' (MGM catalog number K-14084)  # 74 pop

YouTube has a clip of the family performing the song on the Music Scene television program:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSYSECCUSeY  rating: **** stars

2.) Night Shift   (Bob Cowsill - Judi Parker) - 3:22

With a distinctive 'Eleanor Rigby' feel and influence, 'Night Shift' was pretty, but highly derivative. (The track's always reminded me a bit of something Arthur Lee and Love might have recorded).   In fact the song's coolest attribute came in the form of Barry's elaborate bass pattern.  Damn, wish I could play with such skill.    rating: ** stars

3.) The Prophecy of Daniel and John the Divine   (Remo Carpa) - 3:10

Other than it was seemingly inspired by The Book of Revelations,  I'm still at a loss as to what to make of 'The Prophecy of Daniel and John the Divine'.  As if the songs complicated structure wasn't challenging enough, hearing the Cowsills chant 'six, six, six' was certainly unsettling which makes it even more surprising to see that MGM tapped it as the leadoff single.   Anyone surprised to discover it wasn't a major blockbuster ...  six, six, six !   

- 1969's 'The Prophecy of Daniel and John the Divine' b/w 'Gotta Get Away from It All (MGM catalog number K-14063) # 75 pop

  rating: *** stars

4.) Don't Look Back   (Barry Cowsill) - 2:17

Showcasing Susan's likeable voice, 'Don't Look Back' was an easy going, country-tinged acoustic number.  Imagine The Cowsills doing a CSN&Y cover and you'd have a feel for this beautiful number.  Darn, they were amazing harmony singers ...   rating: *** stars

5.) Father   (Bob Cowsill - Paul Cowsill) - 3:55

Opening up with some jangle guitar, 'Father' was obviously a sweet, biographical tribute to father/manager Bud Cowsill and the family's artistic career.   rating: *** stars

 

In spite of all of those winning attributes, the album sank without a trace.

 

 

 

 


Genre: pop

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  On My Side

Company: London

Catalog: PS 587
Year:
 1971

Country/State: Newport, Rhode Island

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: original lyric inner sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 861

Price: $25.00

 

Best time to play:  highway cruiser (preferably when none of your Rush friends are around)

 

 

Finally free of their longstanding contract with MGM, 1970's "On My Side" found The Cowsill signed to London Records.   Co-produced by Bob and Barry Cowsill, everything about the album indicate the siblings were looking to  toughen-up their image and make it on their own - note the pensive teenagers cover photo (with the exception of 'There Is a Child' mother Barbara Cowsill was nowhere to be seen, or heard).  And the funny thing is that even though the album was a commercial disaster, The Cowsills (without brother Bill), did managed to turn in a mature, highly impressive collection that largely avoided the pap pop moves that had fueled much of their earlier success.   With brothers Barry, Bob, and Paul picking up the writing chores (long time guitarist Waddy Wachtel contributing two tunes), the album found the group turning in a thoroughly enjoyable collection that included stabs at country-rock ('If You Can't Have It, Knock It'), social commentary (remember this was 1971 - 'Once There was a Time'), and  straightforward pop-rock ('Contact Mae').   It wasn't perfect - the first side was away better than side two.  'Down On the Farm' was a horrible, gimmick hoedown tune, while 'Cheatin' On Me' and  'Dover Mines' were too country for their own good.  Still, about 60% of the album was worth hearing.   It's easy to laugh at these guys, but based on this album they were good - damn good and if they'd been given a fair shake by radio and the buying public this would have been a success.   One of their better albums, shame more folks haven't heard it.  The good news is you can still find reasonably priced copies.

 

"On My Side" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) On My Side  (Randy Wachtel - Judi Pulver) - 3:05

One of three non-originals, 'On My Side' featured John (the youngest brother and band drummer) on lead vocals (he was great) and had a nice country-rock flavor.  Co-written by guitarist Waddy (Randy) Wachtel, the song's emphasis was more rock than country, with a nice blazing guitar solo ending the tune.   London tapped it as the album's lone single, but did nothing to promote it.   rating: **** stars.

2.) Once There was a Time   (Bob Cowsill - Paul Cowsill) - 3:32

With a nice Buffalo Springfield-styled vibe and a surprisingly activist lyric ("Once there was a time we moaned oh Lord bring our soldier boys home, but now if you lead we will follow ..."), 'Once There was a Time' simultaneously toughened up and darkened their sound without sacrificing their commercial edge.  rating: **** stars

3.) If You Can't Have It, Knock It   (Bob Cowsill - Paul Cowsill) - 2:40

Penned by Bob and Paul. 'If You Can't Have It, Knock It ' was one of the sweetest country-rock tunes I've ever heard.  With a breezy melody, wonderful jangle guitars, great bass line from Barry, and their impeccable vocal harmonies, hard to believe this wasn't a hit for them.   rating: **** stars

4.) Contact Mae   (Bill Cowsill) - 3:10

Written and sung by Bill before being tossed out of the band, 'Contact Mae' was a fantastic straight-ahead rocker with an nifty lyric having something to do with long range truckers ...  Their trademarked harmony vocals were still front and center, but who would have ever thought they'd write a tune like this ?   Anyone under the impression these guys were still loveable teenagers needed to hear this one, complete with Wachtel's backward guitar solo.   rating: **** stars

5.) Can You Love ?  (Bob Cowsill) - 3:22

'Can You Love' had an interesting mid-'60s summer-of-love pop-psych feel and an engaging, vaguely religious lyric with those patented harmony vocals.   I'm simply a sucker for stuff like this one.   rating: **** stars

6.) Mystery of Life   (Bob Cowsill) - 3:55

With a plaintive, reflective melody and subtle, religious-tinged lyrics, the highlights on 'Mystery of Life' came from Wachtel's lead guitar and those harmony vocals.  rating: *** stars

 

(side 2)
1.)  Heather Says
  (Randy Wachtel - Judi Pulver) - 3:01

With then-12 year old Susan on lead vocals, 'Heather Says' has always reminded of a Free Design track with a slightly more pop melody - it just oozes that odd '70s vibe.   Namesake and school "mean girl"  'Heather' wasn't exactly someone you'd want in your class.  Would love to know what led Wachtel and Pulver to write this one ...   rating: *** stars

2.) There Is a Child   (Bob Cowsill - Paul Cowsill - Barry Cowsill) - 1:50

Mother Cowsill Barbara's one moment in the spotlight.  Brothers Bob, Paul and Barry wrote a nice enough track from their mom.  Pretty acoustic ballad with some nice Hallmark lyrics, but not in the same league as some of the other tunes.  rating: *** stars

3.) Dover Mines  (Barry Cowsill) - 1:59

Normally a country tune like 'Dover Mines' wouldn't do much for me and while it wasn't an album highlight, Barry's performance was at least marginally entertaining.  rating: *** stars

4.) Cheatin' On Me   (Bob Cowsill - Paul Cowsill) - 2:28

Straightforward country song that sounded like  parody.  Needless.   rating: ** stars

5.) Down On the Farm   (Barry Cowsill) - 3:25

One of the album's major missteps, 'Down On the Farm' found them falling back on their cutesy, television personality identity.  Horrible country-cute tune that most people will only want to hear once.  rating: * star

6.) Good Ole Rock and Roll Song   (Gary Usher - Glen Campbell) - 2:17

In spite of the title, 'Good Ole Rock and Roll Song' was a dull, mindless slice of old rock and roll.  Another forgettable trackrating: ** stars

 

 

The single vanished without a trace:

 

- 1971's 'On My Side' b/w 'There Is a Child' (London catalog number 45-149)

 

Sadly, with little support from London Records,  commercially the collection barely made a dent, peaking at # 200 on the album charts.   The family undertook a tour of overseas US military bases and in early 1972 declared bankruptcy and called it quits.

 

For hardcore fans, in 2010 the Cherry Red label reissued the album with three bonus tracks (Cherry Red catalog number CRNOW23):

 

- On My Side (single version) - 2:29

- There is a Child (singer version) - 2:28

- You In My Mind 

 

 

 

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