The Cowsills – The Cowsills in Concert

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The one thing anyone knows about The Cowsills is that the family band was the basis for the popular TV show The Partridge Family, and quite frankly, that’s not an inaccurate way of thinking about this 60s band. The Cowsills first gained success in the mid- to late-60s by performing bubblegum pop covers of popular songs. Their famed peaked in 1969 after they recorded the title song for the wildly popular musical Hair. The Cowsills then went on an extensive tour to capitalize on their newfound fame, which led to the release of The Cowsills in Concert in late 1969 on MGM Records. The album of course contains their signature song “Hair,” but the vast majority of the tracks are covers of songs popular at the time including “Monday, Monday,” “Good Vibrations” and “Paperback Writer” among others. Most of these songs are pretty much straightforward covers with little or no deviation from the original recordings. While none of the songs are really bad, they certainly don’t experiment or attempt to excite listeners in any new way. It’s hard to distinguish any sense of who the band really is since they almost exclusively cover others’ songs. Perhaps the one refreshing song on the album is “Act Naturally.” It too is a cover, but it’s very different from the other songs on the album as it never achieved “mega hit” status and actually dabbles with a twangier sound than you’d expect from such a predictable bubblegum pop band. It’s hard to truly recommend this album because it lacks something of its own. While the songs are good, they’re good in the same way that an oldies radio station is good––they are songs that you’ve heard a million times and might even enjoy singing along to, but they’re really not exciting or energizing in any way. Ultimately, The Cowsills lacked creativity, originality and that extra something special to set them apart from the thousands of other musicians trying to make it in the mid- to late-60s. If you’re looking for something feel-good this album might be okay for you; if you’re looking for something radical, check out the plethora of great 60s underground reviews below.  D+

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The Fugs – The Fugs First Album

ImagePart jug band, part freak folk, part psychedelic rock, part Allen Ginsburg-esque Beat poetry, part rhythm-and-blues-experimental-garage-protopunk rock, The Fugs instantaneously defied all that was known and believed to be true about music when they hit the scene in the mid 60s. Before The Fugs First Album was released in 1965 on ESP-Disk, it was briefly released as The Village Fugs Sing Ballads of Contemporary Protest, Points of View, and General Dissatisfaction on Folkways Records. If this original album title is not enough to help define who they are and what they do, imagine chaotic and raunchy music played with traditional, nontraditional and self-created instruments played with little or no care for rhythm or harmonization. This album is raunchy, disorganized, self-imposing and at times can barely be described as music. Yet, it’s beautiful. The Fugs’ complete defiance of all socially accepted norms surrounding rock ‘n’ roll music is bewildering at first; however the deeper down the rabbit hole you are willing to travel with the band, the more pleasantly refreshing the album becomes. Take for example, the song “Carpe Diem:” at first several vocalists appear to be horrifically out of step with one other. At times, it’s almost as if three different people are singing three songs all on top of each other. The song lacks anything that could be described as harmony by contemporary pop standards; however, by the second or third listen, the song begins to reveal its own system of harmonization that puts the focus on the content of the song rather than the delivery. Ultimately, The Fugs are just as much poets as they are musicians. With clear ties to the British Romantic poetry movement of the late 1700s and early 1800s, the band wanders into a prehistoric version of spoken word with little or no assistance from musical instruments. For example “Ah! Sunflower, Weary of Time” is a recitation of William Blake’s poem with the addition of new lyrics set to minimal guitar and tambourine sounds. While The Fugs can be soft and poetic with renditions of Beat and Romantic poetry, they can also be raunchy with in-your-face numbers like “Boobs a Lot” and “Nothing.” Whereas “Boobs a Lot” is sexual, vulgar and purposely over the top, “Nothing” is a disturbing yet magically beautiful psychedelic Nihilistic chant about a full range of nothingness. The Fugs would go on to produce quite a few more experimental freak folk albums throughout the 60s, but none would be as jarring and envelope-pushing as The Fugs First Album. As the 60s progressed, the weirdness bar was set higher and higher, but The Fugs were arguably the ones who set it first and set it the highest. Their music was such a break from their contemporaries that it is often overlooked in the vast saga of 60s music. Although The Fugs are strange, their strangeness paved the way for other underground sounds, including psychedelic rock, punk rock and experimental rock. Many people will not like this album. In fact, most people will find it vulgar or chaotic or both. But for those who like the weird, the freaky, the unclassifiable––this is your album.  A