Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Cowsills "Global" (1990)

This is a Review and a Rant

As noted at other social media sites where I squawk, I've been on a Cowsills kick lately. What started it was that my balding head in the mirror brought their 1968 masterpiece, hit version of "Hair" to my mind. So I located it on Youtube, but what came up first to my surprise was the group performing the song in more recent years. The original lineup broke up in 1972, and although they would regroup on occasion, by and large their heyday was prematurely over. The Youtube clips I saw (one from 1990 and the other in the 2000s) revealed that their voices and talents have undimmed. If anything, they sound better than ever. One acapella version of "Hair" on a 1990 TV show was fabulous, and also funny the way they did it. 

By the time of their last regrouping that has lasted to this day, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist John Cowsill had left to tour with the Beach Boys, so Bob, Paul, and Susan are carrying on the Cowsills legacy while still doing things on their own. Susan has been the most active, releasing two critically acclaimed solo albums that many have never heard. And hence begins my rant. 

Stellar Records: Stupid Record Execs

At right is pictured The Cowsills' 1990 reunion CD. It features Bob, Paul, John, and Susan. I  bought and listened to the whole album off of iTunes tonight. More on that in a moment. There is supposed to be a 2011 documentary about them that I want to see. The story is that back in the 60s, their dad (and the record labels) basically ruined their career. With the exception of Hair (which really WAS a masterpiece), they kept being forced to record material they didn't want to do and got labeled with the dreaded "bubblegum" genre. 

After things fell apart in the early 70s, they tried to regroup and do more serious power pop material, but by then no record company would touch them. It's so tragic. One guy at a major label even got canned because he wanted to sign them. In a way, it's similar to what happened to Donny Osmond when he did "Sacred Emotion" in the 80s. They purposely didn't tell people it was Donny Osmond until it began catching fire on radio, and then it was "shocked, shocked." The Cowsills' story is a mixture of triumph, joy, and deep, heartbreaking tragedy. Abusiveness from a dictatorial dad. The untimely loss of two of their siblings—Barry and original lead singer/guitarist Bill—and today non-performing brother Richard has been battling cancer. But they overcame it all to keep making great music today. Here's the infuriating part for me. Few people even know about it. And you can thank short-sighted, priggish "suits" for that lapse in judgment. 

What About "Global?"

After tonight's listen during my commute home, I was at both emotional spectrums. Tremendous joy and pleasure, and on the other end, boiling rage. "Global" is a fine album in the best tradition of what is called "Power Pop." It does NOT fall under the epithet and label of "bubblegum," and does not deserve that rather insulting label and pigeonhole. All songs on the album were written by Bob Cowsill and his wife Mary. The band was originally going to do just an oldies circuit tour in 1990 until they heard what Bob and Mary were writing. They got excited and went right into the studio. Once the record was done, they began to shop it around and that's where the bovine fecal matter started. I'll get to that. 

On "Global," you'll hear jangling guitars, pretty edgy rock on several tracks and very in keeping with the late 80s/early 90s. As you would expect on a Cowsills record, the tight-knit family harmonies are there, intact, and ringing. Guitarist Bob, keyboardist Paul, and drummer John's vocals are stellar. The surprise to many who haven't listened in the last 30 years will be Susan Cowsill's voice. The tracks where she sang lead stood out to me. Everyone remembers her as the 8-year-old who sang "And spaghettied!" in Hair. But her vocals today are a cross between Nicolette Larson, Stevie Nicks, and a touch of Emmylou Harris. While she didn't contribute writing to this record, she has written brilliantly on her solo records. When she was little with the group, she was banished to a tambourine, but today she plays guitar both with the Cowsills and in her solo records. She really contributes to the great sound. 

Why I'm Mad

I've been around music and radio long enough to know that if this album had been properly promoted in 1990, there would have been several hit singles off of it. There's even one on the album reminiscent of Tom Petty. In fact, Bob Cowsill's guitar style is very jangly like McGuinn. But with most of the guys in their 60s and Susan at 55, most likely an independent label would have to sign them unless a suit at a major label got smart. Their songs are right " in the pocket" as musicians would say in terms of well-crafted songs. There is simply no excuse for this treasure of a classic American group to have gotten the shaft from the industry. I'd like to fire the exec that fired the lower level exec who wanted to sign them up in 1990. Idiotic, stupid mistake. 

And that's one of the tragedies of the Cowsills. If the band had been left alone to follow their own muses, they would have had the longevity of other long-standing classic rock bands. Instead, powers that be outside of their control kept it from happening. And today, no doubt age discrimination plays a role. Which is stupid in and of itself. If the Stones and Aerosmith can keep it up at their age, why not the Cowsills? Someone ought to give them a chance, let them record a new record the way they want to, and then put money behind intense promotion. You just might have a smash hit or two on your hands. I pray so. 

One more thing. The Cowsills belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I voted to put them there. You should too. Give them a listen. Watch them on Youtube. Listen to Susan Cowsill's solo material, especially the movingly gorgeous "Crescent City Snow," written after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The hurricane destroyed Susan's home and much of the band's memorabilia, and worst of all, claimed the life of her beloved brother Barry who couldn't evacuate in time. At Barry's funeral, they learned that their brother Bill had passed away up in Canada. 

I want to see this group of divinely gifted musicians get the due they deserve. Chime in with me and maybe we'll get it done. 


Chiara said...

Wow - Joel! Didn't see this until now. I agree with everything you said - Global and Cocaine Drain should have skyrocketed them back up to the level where they'd still be playing stadiums today. Bob Cowsill wrote some amazing songs for these - their vocals were even better - and they were free of all of the restricting and ddebilitating forces of their earlier years. These albums are darn near perfect. Don't know what you were planning to do, but ... just had to say - you were right on the money with this review. Thanks.

Solameanie said...

Thanks, Chiara! I mainly was hoping to draw some attention to this. I've also tweeted about it and posted about it on Facebook. I was pretty ticked when I read about the record company guy who got fired by the label head for recommending the release of Global on the label. If I knew for sure which label it was, that guy would hear from me and then some. Stupid, stupid decision.

I'm glad Susan, Paul, and Bob are still out there playing. Bob and Paul's kids are involved in the band too, I think. One of Paul's took his place on keyboards, so Paul mainly just sings now. But they're still playing. Susan's solo albums are tremendous and she has a gorgeous voice.

Solameanie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lynne Margosian said...

Loved your article, Joel, and, yes, the band definitely got the shaft. I've been on this journey with them for over 40 years. With Global, I was just hoping that somehow I would hear them on the radio and they'd have more top ten hits and everyone would know what a great band they are. They're so talented and so deserving. At one time, they won an award in LA for best unsigned band and still nothing happened. They're part of the Happy Together Tour this summer and I hope it's lucrative for them. Try to get out and see them live if you can.

Barbara Meade said...

Thank you so much for this article acknowledging a family many fans have known and loved for 40+ years. Not only are they talented musicians, songwriters, and singers, but they are kind, funny, and genuinely love their fans. I'm proud to be able to, as a fan, count them as my friends. I hope you have a chance to meet them someday. You will not be disappointed. Thanks again!

Solameanie said...

Thanks, Lynne and Barbara. I hope I'll be able to catch a show someday too. My opportunities to get away are very limited as I am the sole caregiver for my elderly Mom, but I believe in miracles. :) I follow Mark Dawson and Howard Kaylen on Twitter, so I knew the Happy Together tour was coming up. Man, what a wonderful lineup of bands!

Solameanie said...

Blogger is being funny again. It posted one of my replies twice. That is why it shows me having deleted a comment.

Kimpossible said...

Thanks so much for this great write-up on one of my all time favorite bands. And thanks for advocating that The Cowsills be inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There is a Facebook page devoted to that very mission, please share it with your readers in the future:

Solameanie said...

Thanks for the heads up on that. I will do a new post later today (I'm getting ready for a meeting) on the blog and then put it on on FB and Twitter. Happy to help!

Kimpossible said...

Thank you:)

Solameanie said...

I think you may have given me the wrong link. I went to it and there was nothing about The Cowsills. It was a page dealing with weight issues.

Tom M said...

I am late to this thread but wholeheartedly agree about this album. It is hard to find on CD so here's a heads up. A new album from the surviving members is due this spring. Let's not miss this one.

Solameanie said...

Thanks for the heads up on that, Tom. I had heard rumblings about a new album but nothing concrete. Looking forward to its release!