Mention family harmony groups to fans of late 1960s American chart music and, beyond the obvious early impact of the Jackson 5, they might think of the impending arrival of TV sensations the Partridge Family. But we’re taking a step back to celebrate the group who were the inspiration for that telegenic outfit, and who simply don’t get anything like the appreciation they deserve: Newport, Rhode Island group the Cowsills.
The seven-piece troup consisted of no fewer than five brothers (Bill, Bob, Paul, Barry and John), sister Susan and their mother Barbara. Recording for MGM, they emerged towards the end of that famous summer of love in 1967 with the piece of mildly psychedelic pop that remains their signature, ‘The Rain, The Park & Other Things.’
That song would have been an American No. 1 in December 1967 if it hasn’t been for the unstoppable sensation that was the Monkees’ ‘Daydream Believer.’ ‘The Rain…’ repeated its domestic success in Australia and New Zealand, but the Cowsills’ sound was somewhat lost in translation to the European market — oddly, since any of the countless fans who were making the Mamas and the Papas such a big name at that time would surely have loved them.
Fuelled by that first hit, the Cowsills made the US top 40 with their self-titled debut album, and even if the subsequent singles ‘We Can Fly’ and ‘In Need Of A Friend’ were more modest chart items, they returned to the top ten in 1968 with ‘Indian Lake.’
Their third and final top ten 45 came in 1969, when they again reached No. 2 with ‘Hair,’ from the rock musical of the same name starring Steve Curry. This time it was the Fifth Dimension who blocked their path to No. 1 with ‘Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In’ — ironically, from the very same musical.
Both of the group’s No. 2 singles were certified gold in the US, and although they never made it back to the charts after the turn of the 1970s (apart from one week at No. 200 with their 1971 album On My Side), the Cowsills reunited on numerous occasions, in between solo work.
Susan, Bob and Paul continue to tour under the group name. A 2016 concert at the Court of Honour Stage at Big E in West Springfield, Massachusetts prompted the masslive.com website to report that they “delivered a 12-song, 50-minute set that touched on the hits and soared on some choice covers from the ’60s and ’70s.” In 2018, they connected their present to their past even more vividly by releasing a new, compelling acappella version of ‘The Rain, The Park & Other Things.’
The Cowsills’ 1967 self-titled debut album, featuring ‘The Rain, The Park & Other Things,’ can be bought here.