Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Cowsills - On My Side (1971)

I'll start off by saying that On My Side by the Cowsills is one of my all time favourite albums. It is considered to be the work of a band who had just lost their main songwriter and are way past their prime. I couldn't disagree more. I'd say that it is their best album and I'd even go as far as saying (and you can quote me on this) that the first side of this album is as good as anything by the Beatles, Beach Boys, whoever. So yeah, I like it a lot!

The Cowsills are a bubblegum/harmony pop band from Newport, Rhode Island, USA. Formed in 1965 by brothers Bill, Bob and Barry Cowsill. By 1967 the line up had expanded to include two more brothers, John and Paul, a younger sister Susan and their mother Barbara. Their father Bud, managed the band and according to the killer and highly recommended documentary Family Band: The Cowsills Story, was a bit of a mean old swine. A good example of how cruel their old man was is that their was a sixth brother, Richard who was not allowed in the band, instead recommended him to join the army just as the Vietnam war was in full swing. Nice one, Bud!

After a couple of minor regional hit singles for the Philips record label in 1966 the band, whose siblings ages ranged between 8 and 19 were signed to MGM records and in 1967 had their first major success with the sunshine pop anthem "The Rain, The Park & Other Things" which just miss the top of the Billboard charts, peaking at number 2. The Cowsills remained on MGM until 1970, playing approximately 200 shows a year and racking up a good handful of minor hits, plus another single charting at number 2, their version of "Hair" taken from the hippy musical of the same name. The accompanying LP's are well worth checking out too. For a group that are not really considered a serious act (mostly down to the fact of their young age and lets face it, having your mum in the band will never be cool) this family more than their fair share of killer tunes. If you're thinking of checking the band out, a good place to start is Painting the Day: The Angelic Psychedelia of the Cowsills compilation CD on Cherry Red records.

In 1970 Bill was caught smoking a joint by his father and was swiftly booted out of the band. The Beach Boys offered Bill a job taking over for the newly retired Brian Wilson, which was rejected in favour of his own solo career which would last for a single LP, the very listenable "Neverous Breakthrough" released in 1971 on MGM.

With Bill out of the picture, Bob, Barry and Paul took over as songwriters for the band's final album proper. In the space of a year between "IIxII" and "On My Side" the band had really matured and the production and arrangements by Bob and Barry is phenomenal when you consider they were aged just 21 and 17 respectively. They even look pretty cool on the album sleeve. The album has always reminded me of the first Bread LP, only more laid back in a Crosby, Stills & Nash way and with better harmonies. I've said it before, you'll never beat a family with vocal harmonies! There's even some Mellotron on a couple of tracks. I could rave on all night about how great each track on the album is, but I know that if you like the music I put up on this blog then you'll dig this album for sure. So go and hunt a copy down online on eBay or Discogs or treat yourself to the Now Sounds CD reissue. You need to hear this album!

The band were halfway through their second album for London when they were dropped and consequently split. A partial reunion took place in 1978 and some recordings known as "Cocaine Drain" were made but would not be officially released until 2008. Barbara Cowsill passed away in 1985 and it was at her funeral that all of the Cowsill children would reunite for the first time and would continue to record music sporadically right up to the present. Sadly, in 2005 Barry Cowsill was found dead in New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Just as tragic was Bill's death, on the same day as Barry's memorial service.

What I've written about above is just a fraction of the Cowsill's story. To find out more, check out the Family Band: The Cowsills Story DVD.

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