Monday, January 30, 2012

It's a Family Affair

Bubblegum Pop: Part 4
For our final post of this month's Bubblegum Pop Series, we're featuring groups that were made up of family members. While this blog may be "The '60s Beat," we will be venturing into a bit of the '70s with these next groups since the peak of bubblegum definitely carried over into that decade.
Previously featured during Motown Week, The Jackson 5 consisted of five brothers who became one of the biggest pop-music acts of the 1970s, and were one of the very few in recording history to have their first four major label singles reach #1 on the Billboard chart. These early singles mixed the traditional "Motown Sound" with lyrics that appealed to teenagers, thus dubbed "bubblegum soul." Although the Jacksons' could play their own instruments, they were not allowed to play on their recordings and, like many bubblegum groups, studio musicians were used (which obviously led frustration later in their career). After "Jacksonmania" swept America, the group also became a franchise (another aspect of bubblegum), in which Motown sold Jackson 5-related memorabilia, and even authorized a Saturday morning cartoon called The Jackson 5ive. Recorded in late 1969, "ABC" was first heard on American Bandstand in February of 1970, going on to score #1 on the Billboard chart while knocking The Beatles' "Let It Be" out of that position.

From 1968 to 1972, another extremely popular family act was The Cowsills, a singing group including five brothers, their younger sister, and their mother. Known for their tight harmonies and the ability to sing and play instruments at a young age, The Cowsills had excellent pitch accuracy, creating that unique sound common among sibling singing groups (like The Beach Boys and of course, The Jackson 5). Scoring more than a couple million-selling singles, this family was featured on several TV shows and were one of the most favorite groups on the American concert circuit with hundreds of performances during their peak. In 1969, they were approached by Screen Gems to star as themselves on a TV sitcom, but when they were told that their mother would be replaced by actress Shirley Jones, the deal was off. However, I think you know what that show became instead (see next group). Here's a rare YouTube video of The Cowsills performing the very bubbly "What Is Happy," the B-side of their hit "Hair" (unfortunately, the sound is poor quality and out of sync).

So when The Cowsills were a no-go for the tube, Screen Gems went on to hire Shirley Jones' real-life step-son, David Cassidy, to join her and the cast of the TV show that became The Partridge Family. Airing in the fall of '70, this family sitcom was about a widowed mother and her five children who set out on a musical career. During its four-season run, the show was promoted by the eight albums released by the family, however, none of the cast members actually played on the recordings and those good 'ol studio musicians known as the "Wrecking Crew" were used. Cassidy was originally supposed to lip sync with the rest of the cast, however, after proving to the music producer that he really could sing, he joined the studio ensemble as lead singer, with Jones singing background vocals. In addition to an animated spin-off, the show's merchandise took off and Cassidy became a teen idol, successfully touring as a solo act. Released as their first single at the same time as the show's debut, "I Think I Love You" hit #1 in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, selling over 5 millions copies, and made the group the third fictional band to have a #1 hit (after The Chipmunks and The Archies). Radio DJs had difficulty "hitting the post" with this song (the art of talking up to the point when the lyrics begin) because of the unusual, vocal "ba-bah-bah" line in the intro.

We'll conclude this post with our final, family music group, The Osmonds, whose long and varied career went from singing barbershop quartets as young children in the late 1950s to becoming teen-music idols in the '70s, eventually selling over 102 million records. From Ogden, Utah, the group initially started out with four talented brothers who became regular performers on the Adam Williams' Show from 1962 through 1969, with younger brother Donny joining them in the mid-'60s. Because of their tireless rehearsing and professionalism, they were nicknamed the "one-take Osmonds." Wanting to shed their variety-show image, the five brothers decided to become a performing pop band around 1970, and with their clean-cut look, talent (they played all their own instruments), and energetic pop sound, they had successful US tours, and even a short-lived Saturday morning cartoon series. With a similar "bubblegum soul" sound like The Jackson 5, The Osmonds' first single, "One Bad Apple," reached #1 in early 1971, staying there for five weeks, and even hit #6 on the R&B chart. Originally written for The Jackson's (who chose to record "ABC" instead), this tune features Merrill on lead vocals with little Donny as "co-lead," singing the chorus.


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