The Cowsills’ ‘The Rain, the Park, and Other Things’: Happy, Happy, Happy!

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The year 1967 is remembered primarily as the time when rock started to turn seriously heavy—the year the music got psychedelic, man. Bands like Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Who and the Doors were pushing the music into a harder zone, helped along by newly emerging rock stations on the FM dial less concerned with hit potential than being cool. That same year also gave us Sgt Pepper, debuts by the Velvet Underground and Pink Floyd, and the first stirrings of the so-called San Francisco Sound, led by Jefferson Airplane’s  back-to-back Top 10s “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.”

But those weighty releases, landmarks though they were, don’t tell the whole story. There was still plenty of lighter fare in ’67, mainly heard on Top 40 AM radio—records that borrowed some of the feel-good elements of the acidic music that was the domain of the hippies but held onto the pop charm that had dominated since the Beatles first came onto the scene a few years earlier. One of the biggest sensations of ’67,  after all, was the Monkees, whose Neil Diamond-composed “I’m a Believer” held down the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for the first six weeks of the year. In the spring, the Turtles’ “Happy Together,” another unrepentant bundle of joy, made so many people happy that it topped the chart for three weeks. Later in the year, songs like the Association’s “Windy” and the Young Rascals’ “Groovin’” each had their turn at the top.

This ad appeared in the Sept. 9, 1967, issue of Record World

Despite the trends, sunshiny pop was still filling the airwaves and the jukeboxes: catchy three-minute songs credited to groups like Harpers Bizarre, the Strawberry Alarm Clock, and Spanky and Our Gang, along with lesser-known bands like the Free Design, Sagittarius and the Merry-Go-Round.

But none, perhaps, better personified good old unthreatening pop-rock than a group from Newport, Rhode Island, called The Cowsills. Just how unthreatening were the Cowsills? The group consisted entirely of young siblings—and their mother. Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix they were not.

Without a doubt, no one confused the Cowsills with hip. Yet their first big hit sold millions of copies just as the so-called Summer of Love was winding down. Surely, this record wasn’t selling to the same crowd that was grooving to Are You Experienced?, Surrealistic Pillow and The Who Sell Out.

Or was it?

The Cowsills receive their gold record for “The Rain, the Park and Other Things” from MGM Records President Mort Nasatir, 1967. (Photo from Wikipedia)

Do you want to know a secret? This fan of the heavy groups is ready to confess: Some of us who considered ourselves the coolest kids on the block had no compunction about going to the record store and plunking down our 59 cents for a copy of “The Rain, the Park and Other Things.” Sure, we knew the Cowsills were kids—and their freakin’ mom. They looked like kids, wholesome all-American kids, no less—all smiley and straight as could be. They didn’t dress like the big, bad rock stars and they didn’t sing like them either. They were what they were: a nice family singing a nice song.

But we bought it anyway because…it was a perfect record, the kind of tune that the 45 RPM single was invented for. It was happiness personified, and there was nothing wrong with that.

There would eventually be six of them, the five boys—Bill, Bob, Barry, Paul and John—and of course the mom, Barbara—later joined by the youngest, sister Susan. The family patriarch, William “Bud” Cowsill, was involved too, co-managing the group along with Barbara. After cutting a handful of singles that went nowhere, in August 1967 the group signed with MGM Records and recorded “The Rain, the Park and Other Things” at A&R Studios in New York.

The song—originally titled “The Flower Girl” but changed because another hit at the time was called “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers In Your Hair)”—was co-written by Artie Kornfeld (who would go on a couple of years later to be one of the prime movers behind the Woodstock festival) and Steven Duboff, who’d previously collaborated with Kornfeld on “The Pied Piper,” a hit for Crispian St. Peters, and went on to compose many other tunes, some recorded by stars like Tom Petty, the Monkees and Ringo Starr.

The lyrics of “The Rain, the Park and Other Things” basically told the story spelled out in the title: boy sees a girl sitting in the park in the rain with flowers in her hair, not seeming to mind getting wet at all. He says hello to her, she smiles, the rain stops and the girl disappears. Was she ever even there? He doesn’t know, but she had made him “happy, happy, happy,” and now he’s in love with “the flower girl” because “She seemed so sweet and kind, she crept into my mind.” Now, thanks to this mystery girl, there are “flowers everywhere,” including “one little flower in my hand.” He moves along, enjoying the “sunny day, sunny day.”

What were the “Other Things” of the title? It’s never explained. You’ll have to use your imagination.

A ’60s milk ad featuring the Cowsills (mom Barbara at far left, Susan at bottom)

Beautifully sung, with Bill Cowsill providing the lead vocal and the other siblings harmonizing  as if this is what they were all born to do (which they kinda were), the recording does not feature the Cowsills’ own instrumentation but rather a studio crew consisting of Vinnie Bell, Charles Macy and Al Gorgoni on guitars, Artie Butler playing the organ, bassist Joe Macho, pianist Paul Griffin, George Devens on percussion, and Buddy Saltzman and Al Rogers on drums. The sweeping harp that gives the song so much of its “sunny day” character was played by Gene Bianco. Jimmy Wisner arranged it all and Kornfeld produced.

The falling rain heard at the beginning of the song? Frying bacon. Really. It’s followed by a few notes from the organ, a sweep of the harp, and then they’re off: “I saw her sitting in the rain…” By the time it gets to the first “I knew, I knew, I knew I knew,” the undeniable joyfulness of the melody has already hooked the listener. They could be singing about their fondness for Roquefort cheese and, with that merry vocal delivery and sparkling arrangement, we’d be smiling just as much.

Related: What were the big hits of late 1967?

“The Rain, the Park and Other Things” was, in its own way, as emblematic of its time as any of those psychedelic records that always seem to find their way into “The Sound of ’67” compilations. With the concept of Flower Power itself enjoying a brief moment in the sun, the Cowsills’ cheery tale caught on with record buyers and catapulted to #2 on the Billboard singles chart, kept from the top only by the Monkees’ equally ebullient “Daydream Believer.” (In competitor Cash Box, the Cowsills’ hit made it to #1.)

As for the Cowsills’ future, they were no one-hit wonder; in fact, they were only getting started. In 1968, they returned to the top 10 with “Indian Lake” and then, in early ’69, they were one of several acts scoring big with songs from the Broadway rock musical Hair. Their take on the title song also landed at #2. In all, they would place a dozen titles on the Billboard singles chart as well as six albums, among them The Cowsills in Concert, which peaked at #16 after the release of “Hair.”

Watch the Cowsills perform “The Rain, the Park and Other Things” on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1967

Meanwhile, The Partridge Family TV series, starring David Cassidy and Shirley Jones, became a huge hit by modeling itself after the Cowsills’ family-band concept.

Starting in the early ’70s, the Cowsills would experience the usual breakups and reunions that seemingly define every band’s arc, with some members remaining more active in music than others. Most prominent was the youngest, Susan Cowsill, who, beginning in the’80s, built for herself a career as a respected singer-songwriter within the Americana subgenre. Susan has toured with singer-songwriter Dwight Twilley and served as a core member of the Continental Drifters, a band that also includes members of the Bangles, the dB’s, Dream Syndicate and other indie rock bands.

There were down times for the individual Cowsills, for sure—their personal lives were not nearly as “sunny day” as their first hit. The documentary film Family Band: The Cowsills Story spells out many of the rough spots, and, sadly, two of the brothers, Barry and Bill, died in the early 2000s, the former after going missing in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

Paul, Susan and Bob Cowsill in 2022

But for fans, young and old, the Cowsills—sounding better than ever—have enjoyed a stunning renaissance over the past few decades, with Bob, Paul and Susan singing the old songs and new ones on the road, most visibly as part of the annual Happy Together Tours put together by fellow ’60s hitmakers the Turtles. (Brother John Cowsill is not part of the group but has been the longtime drummer for the Beach Boys’ touring band and others.)

In 2022, a new Cowsills album, Rhythm of the World, was released to mostly positive reviews, landing high on many music critics’ best-of-the-year lists. The new material is unabashedly the work of older adults—some of the songs might even be described as dark—but is infused with the same pop spirit that guided them more than half a century ago.

Today, when fans go to see the Cowsills in concert (yes, they play their own instruments now), they can still be guaranteed to hear “The Rain, the Park and Other Things,” its harmonies still pristine and its good-time feel still putting smiles on faces—just like the one the flower girl sitting in the rain shared so long ago.

Bonus Video: The modern-day Cowsills still perform their first big hit

The Cowsills are touring on their own in 2024 as well as in the 2024 edition of the popular “Happy Together” tour. Tickets are available here and here.

Jeff Tamarkin

3 Comments so far

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  1. Bob D
    #1 Bob D 28 April, 2023, 09:05

    I definitely recommend the film . It brings an appreciation to what The Cowsills were about in those days . 1967 was also a prime television year with variety shows galore . The Cowsills were squeaky clean to the eye and perfect for that vehicle . Lots of good music followed the break up . Im still searching for a copy of Cocaine Strain . The film and their Wiki entry is a good place to start exploring The Cowsills tho one great album was left out . The Slippery Ballerina on Clay Harpers Casino Royale label features Susan Cowsill alongside Moe Tucker , Ian Dury and Wreckless Eric among others . Find it if you can . Thanks for this article Jeff .

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  2. Lala
    #2 Lala 28 April, 2023, 19:34

    Thanks for recognizing this band long overdue.

    Reply this comment

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