The Cowsills In Books

,Vanilla Pops
by Joseph ,Lanzas
Chicago Review Press November 30, 2004


on Pages 145-148:

“One-Way Ticket to Happy” – The Cowsills

Like the Associations’ “Cherish,” The Cowsills’ “The Rain, the Park, and Other Things” was a producer’s pearl. This marvel of studio engineering gave listeners a neural nudge whether their ears were glued to a stereo console or a transistor radio, with every note, every sound, and every vocal inflection tailored to produce a "happy, happy" sensation.


Recorded at New York's A&R Studios and cowritten by their producer, Artie Kornfeld, this first Cowsills hit single cast its raindrops over the fall of 1 967. Natives of Newport, Rhode Island, the Cowsills — Barry, Bill, Bob, John, and mother Barbara — were paragons of suburban propriety. They did not seem to have the formal training of the Doodletown Pipers or the Arbors, but their harmonies sounded crystal clear and lucid, especially in contrast to lead singer Bill's twangy tendencies. Kornfeld had caught the family act on The Tonight Show and vowed to push them to success.

When recording the follow-up release "We Can Fly," the Cowsills added two more sibling tykes, Paul and Susan. The song, imbued with the antigrav-ity allure of Jimmy Webb's "Up, Up and Away," met the needs of young fans while sating the emotions of older folks who, if not ordinarily exposed to the Cowsills' version, could enjoy Lawrence Welk's instrumental interpretation.

Bill and Bob Cowsill had become producers as well as performers when the group arrived in the spring of 1968 with its most remarkable tune, an unusual ballad about estranged boyhood called "In Need of a Friend." The vSQing is essentially a straightforward call for companionship in a creepy world. Embellished with baroque touches of strings and harpsichord, the lyrics are simultaneously poignant and obscure. Images of a hand groping in the dark may have curdled the crumpets of a few gutter-minded censors, but the likely platonic theme about reaching for a soul mate had universal allure.

Wes Farrell, who would go on to become the musical director for The Partridge Family, produced the Cowsills' "Indian Lake," a song that evoked some of the New Christy Minstrels' summer-camp zest. Even when the grainy male leads overshadowed the angel chorus on "Poor Baby," the song's line about a "one-way ticket to happy" still resounded with audio-visions of Doodletown Utopia. The Cowsills attempted to sound a bit heavier on a successful version of "Hair," but apocalyptic numbers, such as "The Prophecy of Daniel and John the Divine," suggested a self-induced death knell for the band.

The Cowsills rebounded a bit with their version of the television show theme "Love American Style" — the B-side to the 1 969 single "Silver Threads and Golden Needles." But the days when their milk-fed looks and sentiments elected them spokespersons for the American Dairy Association were numbered. Columbia Pictures sent out a camera and crew to follow the groups daily lives. But by 1970, what had been conceived as a show about the Cowsills had ended up (with much doctoring) as The Partridge Family.

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