“Hair” — The Cowsills
While I’m on the subject of unexpectedly mind-blowing singles from family acts generally regarded as uncool, there’s the Cowsills’ recording of “Hair”. I’d heard the song, but I never really had much idea who the Cowsills were aside from a quote from Sterling Morrison in the Velvet Underground box set Peel Slowly and See about the band being jettisoned from MGM records: “… Mike Curb wanted us off the label. He took over as head of MGM and wanted all the druggies and weirdoes off the label — the Mothers, the Velvets. etc. ‘Who do we keep? The Cowsills!'” Needless to say, Morrison seems to have thought the Cowsills were less than cutting-edge, and it’s hard to disagree, considering they were a bubblegum pop act who were the real-life inspiration for the Partridge Family.
So, all things considered, “Hair” is a revelation. It’s just such a weird record really, one with a lot of odd little moment. My favorite may be the loudly-chorused-for-no-particular-reason “Buzzing bees!” Another favorite moment is that the song features a quadruple handclap that’s identical to one in the Magnetic Fields’ “The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure” (which is a great song in its own right that you can check out here). That’s not odd so much as it’s just an obscure little thing that I’ve noticed that’ll give me something to talk about if I ever find myself at a cocktail party with Stephin Merritt.
Here’s a video of “Hair”. That’s not the Cowsills in the video. I’m not sure who it is, although they’ve got an Age of Aquarius thing going on. The actual Cowsills aren’t exactly making videos anymore; most of them are dead, including Barry Cowsill, whose badly decomposed body was identified in the ruins of New Orleans in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina. Meanwhile, John Cowsill is now busy as a touring member of the Beach Boys with Mike Love; he’s not technically dead, but he’s dead to me.
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