A group of siblings wearing matching stagewear tour the country with their mom, singing their pop hits. “The Partridge Family,” right? On TV, yes. But there was a real-life inspiration for the fictional Partridges.
The Cowsills were the real thing: a touring, recording family who put out real hit singles. Tie for the toothy clan’s highest chart position was “Hair,” which went to #2 in 1969 and raised more than a few eyebrows. A squeaky-clean family act, covering a song from a counter-culture musical?
Susan – the youngest Cowsill and the only sister in the act - sang the immortal lyric “and spaghetti” in “Hair” (to her chagrin). I spoke with the singer (born 1959) in 2015.
Q.: Do you remember much about your childhood in Rhode Island prior to joining your brothers’ band?
COWSILL: I totally remember my childhood. More than I remember the band, in fact. It was a rural, in-the-woods kind of lifestyle the whole time. I missed it greatly when we moved to New York City, until Paul found Central Park. Then there was a place for all of us.
Q: You aren’t on the Cowsills’ earliest records. When the band started getting attention, were you itching to join?
COWSILL: I was. I bullied my way into the band. I would beg, borrow and steal, do laundry, whatever it took. I saw all the fun my brothers were having, and I wanted in. Although, they didn’t want me at first, because I was the creepy little sister (laughs).
Q.: You were 8. Did you know what you were getting into?
COWSILL: I knew what I was getting into. I think I was born a 30-year-old. I knew exactly what was going on. I made it into the band two months before we did “The Ed Sullivan Show,” so my timing was impeccable. I knew I was a musician, even though I was very young. I was into music.
Q.: It seemed almost wrong that the Cowsills recorded “Hair.” But it went to #2. How did the idea to cover it come about?
COWSILL: The “Hair” thing came about when we were doing a TV special with Carl Reiner. It was about art and culture of the time. He had us on, and he thought it would be funny if we did the song from “Hair” – the dichotomy of having the Cowsills do “Hair.” The boys did a recording of it, just for that TV show. It came out so well that we wanted to put it out as a single. MGM didn’t want to put it out, so my brothers brought it to a (radio) station in Chicago, and they secretly played it on the air. The switchboards lit up. Today, they would call it “going viral.”
Q.: What do you remember about recording “Hair”? Do you remember anything about developing the arrangement?
COWSILL: The guys would know I just remember that I wished I didn’t have to do the “and spaghetti” thing. I remember not appreciating that part. The others got such cool parts to sing and I’m singing what? I got the cute part, because I was the little girl.
Q.: But after all “and spaghetti” is a part of pop history. And history is history.
COWSILL: History is history.
Q.: Did you see “Hair” on stage?
COWSILL: We did go see it. But not me. My mom wouldn’t let me. My brothers all saw it, at the Aquarius Theater in Los Angeles in fact.