Band members Related acts
line up 1 (1970)
- Barry Bostwick -- vocals
- none known
Rating: 3 stars ***
Title: Ringling Bros & Barnum & Bailey
Company: RCA Victor
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: gatefold sleeve
Catalog ID: 2207
Shame they weren't paying attention to rock and roll rule number twelve - never dress up as Clowns (or Klowns)
I guess if you had to parcel out blame for this marketing nightmare it would have to go Jeff Barry. The corporate sponsor for this poorly thought out concept was Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey. They were apparently interested in cashing in on the public's sudden appetite for cartoon rock acts. Following his successes with The Archies, Barry was apparently the perfect guy to translate corporate desire and greed into a product that could be used to grab some of America's disposable income stream. Musically The Klowns wasn't all that different from Barry's bubblegum efforts with The Archies, though this time he was the creative mainstay (who needed Don Kirshner to share credit and profits). Barry brought in his stable of paid staff writers including Ned Albright, Ned Goldberg, Gil Slavin and brothers Mike and Steve Soles. Even though the cover and inner sleeve would have you believe this was a six piece group, like The Klowns were nothing more than a studio entity with Barry and his studio cohorts producing, arranging, and writing all of the material. A young Barry Bostwick was hired as one of the group "members" (Bostwick was the tall one in whiteface on the cover - I'm sure this was one of his prouder professional moments.) Given there were no performance credits on the album, the five other members seem to have been lost to history. In a brief interview in the Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth book Barry couldn't even remember the other member's names.
No to be snarky, but "Ringling Bros & Barnum & Bailey" came off as attempt by Barry and his songwriting cohorts to empty their creative closets at the expense of RCA Victor. Most of these twelve tunes were pretty horrible leftover bubblegum pop tunes made even more insipid by crappy production and the fact a disproportionate number of the performances featured horrible group-sung arrangements recalling a subpar version of The Les Humphries Singers. Rather than sift through the musical debris, I'll save the time and effort and tell you there were only two tracks worth your time. 'Yellow Sunglass' was a cool pop-psych tune that would have sounded good on a John Fred & the Playboy Band LP. Written by Neil Goldberg and Gil Slavin, 'Dream On' was bubblegum, but quality bubblegum that could have been a massive radio hit had someone been paying attention. The rest of the album was ... well forgettable would be a nice way of putting it.
In November 1970 the group starred in an ABC primetime TV special along with Sammy Davis Jr. and Jerry Lewis. The show was apparently intended as a pilot for a Klowns series, but did so poorly the idea was quickly dropped.
Bros & Barnum & Bailey" track listing:
1.) If You Can't Be a Clown (Jeff Barry) - 2:47 rating: *** stars
A pretty, group sung ballad, 'If You Can't Be a Clown' wasn't half bad. Very bubblegum-ish, it was still sweet and had a high hum-ability quotient. There was also a nice guitar solo.
2.) Love Is the Answer (Michael Soles - Ned Albright) - 3:20 rating: ** stars
Bunch of hippy kids trying to sound soulful ... barf-of-rama.
3.) Yellow Sunglasses (Jeff Barry - Barry Bloom) - 2:19 rating: **** stars
So if there was a reason to buy this album, then I'd argue the lysergic-tinged 'Yellow Sunglasses' was the reason ... Not sure who did the vocals (Barry Bloom ?), but this was a substantial improvement over the Up With People-styled group harmonies that plagued much of the album. Great '60s power-pop tune complete with pounding bass line and nice guitar accompaniment. This was the tune that should have been tapped as a single.
4.) Movin' (Jeff Barry - Ned Albright) - 2:29 rating: ** stars
Breezy, country-tinged number with a big, polka-styled bass line.
5.) River Cruisin' (Barry Goldberg - Gil Slavin) - 1:55 rating: ** stars
Hum, not sure adding a twanging country flavor to their sound really made it any more palatable. The saving grace on this one was the fact it was so short.
6.) Fish Tales (Gil Slavin - Ned Albright - Michael Soles) - 4:15 rating: * star
"Fish Tales' was fascinating for the anonymous singer's horrible attempt to channel Mick Jagger-styled swagger into this limp rocker. Wonder if they really thought this was what a rock song sounded like ...
Another unexpected surprise, bolster by a strong lead vocal (that didn't sound like anyone on side one), a great melody, and a tasty fuzz guitar solo, 'Dream On' could have been a massive radio hit. Why in the world did 'Lady Love' get released as the single when this was so much better ?
2.) Lady Love (Michael Soles - Steven Soles) - 3:34 rating: *** stars
The ballad 'Lady Love' was a perfect example of the album's strengths and weakness. With a pleasant lead vocal, nice harmonies on the refrain, and a catchy melody, this one sounded like The Partridge Family on meds. It was quite commercial, but also quite mindless. That might explain why RCA tapped it as the leadoff single:
- 1970's 'Lady Love' b/w 'If You Can't Be a Clown' (RCA Victor catalog number 74-0393) # 95 pop
3.) Honey Bunny Day (Venet) - 2:42 rating: * star
Hum, guess someone thought it would be a good idea to stick an old timey Broadway show tune on the album - Bostwick did go on to get a role in the Broadway version of "Grease". Cloying would be an understatement for this embarrassment.
4.) Good News (Michael Soles) - 2:50 rating: * star
Another hideous country-tinged slice of vapid pop. Geez they could have been selling toothpaste for all it mattered.
5.) A Whole Lotta Love (Joe Renzetti - Neil Goldberg) - 2:25 rating: * star
And just when you didn't think it couldn't get much worse along came this tune ...
6.) Be a Kid (Neil Goldberg) - 2:31 rating: * star
I guess 'Be a Kid' was supposed to be inspirational, but the lyrics and tune came of as vapid and insipid.
There's also a non-LP 45:
- 1970's ''Flower In My Garden' b/w 'I Don't Believe in Magic' (RCA victor catalog number 74-0485)
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