One of the weirdest US Top 10 hits ever is "Surfin' Bird" by the Trashmen. The lyrics consist for the most part of the titles of the two hits by the Rivingtons, "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow" and "The Bird's the Word", endlessly repeated with manic energy by lead singer / drummer Steve Wahrer. About halfway, where you might expect an instrumental solo, there is a vocal interjection which has to be heard to be believed. I have seen the word "regurgitating" somewhere on the web for this vocal tour de force, perhaps that describes it best. Released on the small Garrett label in the autumn of 1963, "Surfin' Bird" reached its peak position (# 4) in the week of February 1, 1964 (the week that the Beatles reached the # 1 position on the Billboard charts for the first time, with "I Want To Hold Your Hand").
The Trashmen were a quartet from Minneapolis, Minnesota : Tony Andreason (lead guitar), Dal Winslow (guitar, vocals), Bob Reed (bass guitar) and Steve Wahrer (lead singer, drums). They evolved from Jim Thaxter and the Travelers, who recorded one single under that name ("Sally Jo"/ "Cyclone", Ariel 73060) in 1960. Because of "Surfin' Bird", they are usually remembered as a novelty act, but the Trashmen were actually a competent rock 'n' roll band, who played mostly surf music. The Rivingtons, who collectively wrote both "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow" and "The Bird's the Word", succesfully sued the Trashmen and their record label for plagiarism. "Surfin' Bird" is now credited to Al Frazier, "Rocky" Wilson, Carl White and Sonny Harris, the four members of the Rivingtons. Reportedly, the Trashmen played 289 one-night stands around the USA in 1964. Andreason reckons the group travelled 140,000 miles that year. The next year was not much different and took them as far as Venezuela.
The follow-up to "Surfin' Bird" was "Bird Dance Beat" (Garrett 4003), which was a little too-close-for-comfort to their big hit, but still managed to reach # 30 on the Billboard Hot 100. A "Surfin' Bird" LP had already been issued in February 1964 and reached # 48 on the album charts. It was a nice mix of surf instrumentals (including good versions of "Miserlou" and "Malaguena") and vocals (like Barrett Strong's "Money", Buddy Holly's "It's So Easy" and Jimmy Dee's "Henrietta"). Though the group continued to release good singles, their moment in the sun had come and gone and by late 1967, the Trashmen disbanded. They reformed in the mid-1970s and continued to play locally until Steve Wahrer died of throat cancer on January 21, 1989 (aged 47). Since then they have been gigging on and off, with Tony's brother Mark Andreason on drums as a replacement for Wahrer. Tony himself handles the vocals. During the second half of this month they will be touring Italy. "Surfin' Bird" has been covered by several artists, including the Cramps, the Ramones, the Beach Boys and Pee-Wee Herman. It has been used in several TV shows, TV ads and movies, most notably in Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket" (1987): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8vHrq39JCI
CD : "Surfin' Bird (Sundazed SC 6064). This is a 1995 reissue of their first LP, with four extra tracks. Actually, the group recorded enough material for a 4-CD box (also released by Sundazed), but this single CD will serve as an excellent introduction to the Trashmen.
More info: http://www.surferjoemusic.com/trashmen
April 2008 Dik
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