Shoulda been a hit: “Is It Any Wonder” by The Cowsills (1990)

“‘Global’ is a fine album in the best tradition of 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. 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 thirty years will be Susan Cowsill’s voice. 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.” –  Solameanie, The Seventh Sola

Image from Wikipedia

Yeah, yeah, those Cowsills. Their mom was part of the band, and they became the template for “The Partridge Family.” Sang the theme song for “Love American Style,” and used to do TV commercials for milk.

Image from countryuniverse.net

The Cowsills were the first concert I ever went to. I was twelve in the fall of 1968; I recall it was the same day that The Beatles’ single “Hey Jude/Revolution” was released. My dad and mom took me, my cousin, my grandma, and my great-aunt to the old Met Center in Bloomington, Minnesota to see Eddy Arnold in concert. Yes, that Eddy Arnold. The warm-up act? The reason my cousin and I were along? The Cowsills. Yeah, yeah, those Cowsills.

Image from jaysonhron.wordpress.com

I remember Eddy starting his set by grinning and saying to the audience, “Loud, aren’t they?” Dozens of people around me turned up their hearing aids once again.

(I was so naïve. I offered to go and buy my Dad a beer from the concession stand. Wisely, he declined.)

Anyway, that was about a year before The Cowsills hit it big with the theme song from the musical “Hair.” I didn’t realize how uncool they were till I told the other junior-high kids about it the next day.

Image from allmusic.com

Jump ahead twenty-two years, and four of the now much cooler and well respected in music circles Cowsills – Bob, Paul, John, and Susan – reunited to record one of the best power-pop albums I’ve ever heard: “Global.” It’s well worth checking out. “Is It Any Wonder” is the showcase song on the album full of showcase songs. Why wasn’t it a hit, or anything else from that album? Because they’re The Cowsills. Yeah, yeah, those Cowsills.

As Solameanie points out in the blog referenced above, The Cowsills are talented musicians who don’t deserve the bashing they took in hipster circles. I still play “The Rain, The Park, And Other Things” and “We Can Fly” on the radio, along with “Is It Any Wonder.”

Soon as she looked my way
All I wanted to do was play
That old love game
Even though I lacked ability to change

Man, I was lonely
And she was all I was looking for
And I thought it was forever
Then she said she was leaving
Yes, she had to go now

She don’t want to love me anymore
She don’t want to be the heart that mine beats for
Is it any wonder?

Well, I had my way
And there was nothing that she could say
Could have change my mind
I guess I was too set in my ways

And though I’m not the first one
To admit when things go wrong
That I never saw it coming
In the end she was everything I ever wanted now

She don’t want to love me anymore
She don’t want to be the heart that mine beats for
Is it any wonder?

I don’t know if I should laugh or cry
What’s the use in it now?
What am I supposed to do without her?
It’s a little too much to ask anybody

If I had a second chance
You know I’d do it all so differently
Oh, but it’s too late to think about
All the could have beens and should have beens
That wasn’t supposed to happen

She don’t want to love me anymore
She don’t want to be the heart that mine beats for
Is it any wonder?


Song of the night: “Return The Boy” by The Spongetones

I’ve gone on about The Spongetones and their amazing first album “Beat And Torn” at length here already. This is my favorite song from their second album, 1991’s “Oh Yeah!” Written and sung by Jamie Hoover.

The scene’s relaxed, the stories flow
About a time of which I wish I knew you then
Appears so restful when you sing to me
Where does the little boy run off to hide?

He seems so happy and so strong
He seems so uncomplicated
Then he turns into a man that is so sad and jaded
How does this happen to him?
Return the boy

Return the boy
Yeah, the boy in the mirror
He’s inside looking out
He knows the man in the reflection
Can’t look into your eyes like a kid can

Just when I know I can’t go on
A warm hand pinches on my shoulder again
The smiles return, all is forgotten
The little child is knocking on my door again

Why have you been away so long?
The lines of care wash away
Then the lines return into a twisted tangle
Why does this happen to you?
Return the boy

He seems so happy and so strong
He seems so uncomplicated

Return the boy
Yeah, the boy in the mirror
He’s inside looking out
He knows the man in the reflection
Can’t look into your eyes like a kid can


Desert Island Singles: “Too Late” by Shoes (1979)

Image from discogs.com

Image from discogs.com

“At a time when major labels were trying to figure out what punk and new wave could provide, Shoes just found a perfect balance.” – Ned Raggett, Allmusic

If 1966 was the best year ever for rock’n’roll, as I’ve often said, then 1979 was quite possibly the second-best. For one brief shining moment the (ironically) tone-deaf music and radio industries weren’t stuck-on-stupid, and instead of their customary weaksauce they embraced and promoted power pop. And temporarily the airwaves were awash in jangling guitars, chimey power chords, and three-minute pop songs. Yes, kids, good and inventive music was actually popular. It was fated not to last, for reasons I’ve theorized before, but what a great run it was.

Image from shoeswire.com

Image from shoeswire.com

Shoes was formed in 1974 in Zion, Illinois by high school friends Gary Klebe and brothers John and Jeff Murphy. They decided to form a band after graduation, though at the time none of the guys knew how to play an instrument. Not really uncommon, so each picked one to learn. Within a year the three got back together to rehearse, and in 1977 recorded their first DIY album and single on a four-track recorder in Jeff’s living room. It must have worked out okay, because Shoes has been recording great power pop for thirty-seven years since.

The group signed to Elektra Records in April 1979 and released their first major label album “Present Tense” that September. Recorded in England, the album peaked at number 50 on the Billboard 200; “Too Late” reached number 75 on the Billboard Hot 100. Four videos, including “Too Late,” were in hot rotation on MTV in its beginning days a couple of years later.

It’s “Shoes,” by the way, not “The Shoes” as some Elektra releases billed them. According to John: “I guess Shoes just sounded right, like ‘look at those cool shoes’ or ‘where are my shoes?’ It was like Sparks or Wings or Faces or even Big Star. The first time we heard the ‘the’ was from a writer. We winced and corrected him: ‘No, no… it’s just Shoes.’ The Shoes just rubbed us wrong.”

“Too Late” is classic late-70s power pop. “A lesson in power pop dynamics,” according to reviewer Perry M. Koons. “Even when the guitars kick in and start crunching on the chorus, the vocals stay soft and sweet.”

Economic forces and a return to stuck-on-stupid would soon steer the music and radio industries back toward their usual weaksauce. But just like in 1966, great music was both happening and popular in 1979 and Shoes were part of it. A Desert Island Single to be sure.

 


Desert Island Singles: “This Beat Goes On/ Switchin’ To Glide” by The Kings (1980)

As far as “This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ To Glide” is concerned, where it stands out for me is the transition between one section of the song and the next, creating a rock song that is instantly accessible with miles of pop appeal, along with being ambitious on the arrangement front that is bolstered by solid musicianship. In short, the Kings were pub rock. And when new wave came along, and was embraced by top forty radio at the end of the 1970s, the Kings were ripe for radio play, first in Canada and eventually in the States, too.- Rob Jones, “The Delete Bin”

Image from 45cat.com

Image from 45cat.com

It was the summer of 1980. I was about to start a grad program, and my roommate/ best bud was about to get married. In other words, it was a endless summer of celebrations. The radio, thankfully, was shrugging off disco and “urban cowboy” music and actually started playing some kickass rock’n’roll. And this song was all over the radio. Click here for more.


Desert Island Singles: “Ups And Downs” by Paul Revere and The Raiders (1967)

Image from muskmellon.wordpress.com

Image from muskmellon.wordpress.com

It would appear that, superficially, they were too cute and silly to have lasting impact on future musicians. The uniforms and predictable humor; they never really became cool. Still, from 1965 through 1969, The Raiders made some of the most influential power pop tunes of that time.The original lineup was raw with energy, but proficient as a band. Compared to other American bands of the era, only The Beach Boys held their status with future power pop enthusiasts. Basically a show band, in the studio it was mainly the lead vocalist and guitarist that performed their duties. – Kendel Paget

Click here for more.


Past masters: Alex Chilton and Chris Bell

“The Ballad of El Goodo.” Written by Chilton and Bell, recorded by their band Big Star in 1972. The middle eight, the bridge, whatever you want to call it.. “Hold on.. Hold on”.. is one of the most haunting refrains in pop music.

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Desert Island Singles: “Blue Period” by The Smithereens (1989)

Image from eil.com

Image from eil.com

I had been thinking about the song “Blue Period,” a gorgeous and heartbreaking duet by lead Smithereen Pat DiNizio and Go-Go Belinda Carlisle, featured on this record. Back in 1989 when the MTV crowd was playing air guitar to the opening bombast of the hit single, “A Girl Like You,” I was savoring the beautiful string arrangement, the very Left Banke-sounding harpsichord, and the sweet harmonies of DiNizio and Carlisle that made “Blue Period” a stand-out tune on “11.” Plus, there is a key moment in the last verse when the duo sings, “I think of you, much more than I’d ever be willing to say,” where it seems like both singers are fighting back the tears as they harmonize. It’s a little masterpiece of emotion that, like most of this record, was overshadowed by the big chords and video of the hit single. – Sal Nunziato

The Smithereens released their third LP, “11,” in 1989 after two commercially successful and critically acclaimed releases, “Especially For You” and “Green Thoughts.” The comparisons flew with comments about how the band had sold out, softened their sound. I think that’s nonsense; “11” is every bit as good an album as the previous two. Click here for more.