‘I love the flower girl’
By Mark Voger, author of
“Groovy: When Flower Power Bloomed in Pop Culture”
Maybe it happens at every Cowsills concert. But this was my first Cowsills show, and it blew me away.
The group was about to play the final song in its set: the #2 hit of 1969, “Hair.” The Cowsills stood and delivered the first, solemn, a capella line from the song: “She a-asked hi-im why.” Right there and then, the audience went nuts. The Cowsills had to wait for us to calm down before resuming the song. I’ll always treasure this moment — in what little time I have left, anyway.
Happy Together, the 2017 edition, was yet another warm-and-fuzzy shindig, a veritable cosmic jukebox, a time machine back to the ineffable era of AM gold. Good vibrations, not to mention “we’re so old” jokes, were flowing during the Aug. 5 show at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey.
Show opener Ron Dante was the voice of two in-name-only groups with Top 10 hits: the Cuff Links and TV’s the Archies. Strumming a Stratocaster and wearing a red jacket over a tie-dye shirt with black-pleather pants, Dante, 71, was funny and energetic as he ran through “Tracy,” “Jingle Jangle,” “Bang-Shang-a-Lang,” a medley of TV commercial jingles he sang on (including Coke’s “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” and McDonalds’ “You Deserve a Break Today”) and the #1 song of 1969, “Sugar, Sugar.” Dante asked the ladies in the audience to sing the lyric originally sung by Toni Wine, “I’m gonna make your life so sweet.” Flashback moment: The big video screen behind Dante showed “Archie” cartoons as Dante performed “Jingle Jangle.”
The surviving Cowsills — Bob, Susan and Paul — nailed the harmonies on “The Rain, the Park & Other Things,” “We Can Fly,” “Indian Lake,” the TV theme “Love American Style” and “Hair.” Susan Cowsill, 58, struck a blow for feminism as the sole female on stage. (Come to think of it, Happy Together tour has kind of been a boys’ club.) This is nothing new for Susan, who “forced” her way into the band when she was 9. I had a crush on Susan when I was 11 and she was 10. That sounds age-appropriate, right?
The Box Tops
The Box Tops — Bill Cunningham and Gary Talley, with Rick Levy — wore their Memphis-ness on their sleeves as they played “Cry Like a Baby,” “Soul Deep,” “Green Onions” (the supercool organ instrumental by Booker T and the MGs), “Neon Rainbow” and “The Letter.” “Cry Like a Baby” amazed with a note-for-note re-creation on electric sitar by Talley. Cunningham noted that “The Letter” held at #1 for four weeks despite competition from the Beatles (“Lady Madonna”), Aretha Franklin (“Think”), Otis Redding (“The Dock of the Bay”) and the Rascals (“A Beautiful Morning”). But the song was finally knocked off its perch by … Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey.” Added Cunningham: “I still change the channel when I hear it on the radio.”
Pop swoonsters The Association — Jim Yester and Jules Alexander, with Del Ramos (brother of heyday Assocation member Larry Ramos) — wore crisp whites as they performed “Windy,” “Never My Love,” “Cherish” and “Along Came Mary.” It was noted that Yester’s dad was the guy playing the concertina in the 1948 John Wayne movie “Fort Apache” (I will re-watch it to confirm), and that his brother, Jerry Yester, was in the Lovin’ Spoonful. On the subject of contemporary lyrics, Ramos joked, “I remember when ‘ho’ was just Don’s last name.”
Former Three Dog Night singer Chuck Negron — who one audience member jokingly called “One Dog Night” — hardly looked his 75 years as he animatedly ran through “Celebrate,” “Easy to be Hard,” “Eli’s Coming,” “One” and the joyous singalong “Joy to the World.” Understandably, Negron occasionally struggled — on these songs, his younger self hit and held some insane high notes — but the singer charmed with self-deprecating humor. Negron quipped that if he had known he’d be singing these songs for decades, he “would have picked a different key.”
The Turtles — Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, both 70 — performed their singular mix of uplifting pop and manic shtick, kicking things off with a “Beauty and the Beast” parody. The boys played “She’d Rather Be With Me” (with Volman’s trademark cowbell solo), “Nobody But You,” a bit of Frank Zappa scat, “Elinore” and the tour’s namesake song, “Happy Together.” Ever the savvy localizers, the Turtles name-checked the Red Bank comic shop Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash. Noting the advancing ages of the musicians onstage, Kaylan renamed Happy Together the “Take What You Can Get” tour.
The house band led by guitarist Godfrey Townsend recreated the songs faithfully and without condescension. (Yes, they totally committed to “Bang-Shang-a-Lang.”) The traditional show-ending all-star jam — in which each artist returns to the stage for a quick medley of hits — was a heartwarming hootenanny. What can I say? I’m a sucker for this stuff.
REMAINING HAPPY TOGETHER 2017 SHOWS
Aug. 7: The Playhouse on Rodney Square, Wilmington, DE
Aug. 9: Erie County Fair, Hamburg, NY
Aug. 10: Fraze Pavilion, Kettering, OH
Aug. 11: Hard Rock Cafe/Four Winds Casino, New Buffalo, MI
Aug. 12: Little River Casino, Manistee, MI
Aug. 13: Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica, Cleveland, OH
Aug. 14: Indiana State Fair, Indianapolis, IN
Aug. 16: Effingham Performance Center, Effingham, IL
Aug. 17: Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN
Aug. 18: Oaklawn Park, Hot Springs, AR
Aug. 20: Prairie Band Casino and Resort, Mayetta, KS
Aug. 22: Kentucky State Fair, Louisville, KY
Aug. 23: Foellinger Theatre, Fort Wayne, IN
Aug. 24: Genesee Theatre, Waukegan, IL
Aug. 25: Paramount Theatre, Aurora, IL
Aug. 26: Grand Casino Mille Lacs Event Center, Onamia, MN
Confusion Avoidance Dept.: FYI, when you look up “Happy Together 2017” on the Google, sometimes you get stuff about a South Korean TV show that looks like this:
It’s titled “Happy Together” and it’s really entertaining! A compelling case in point: