The Bird’s the Word: Twin Cities songs about birds

The Trashmen, who started a local fad for songs about birds
Courtesy of Columbia Records
The Trashmen, who started a local fad for songs about birds

We must by now have reached the moment that The Trashmen predicted: At long last, it must be that everybody’s heard that the bird is the word. After all, when this local surf-rock band welded together two songs by West Coast R&B group The Rivingtons and added their own hysterical gibberings, they created the only song to be covered by both The Ramones and Pee-wee Herman and to be featured in films by both Stanley Kubrick and John Waters. We speak, of course, of “Surfin’ Bird,” one of the Twin Cities’ first national hits, which peaked at No. 4 on Billboard’s charts in 1964.

The song was quite influential, in its own way. For one thing, The Rivingtons themselves attempted to capitalize on its success by releasing a sequel to their own “Papa Ooh Mow Mow,” one of the two songs the Trashmen had mashed together to create their classic (“The Bird” was the other). They titled their new song “Mama Ooh Mow Mow,” and threw in their own gravely voiced gibbering. For another thing, post-“Surfin’ Bird,” hundreds of bands sprang up in the Twin Cities and their suburbs, grinding out their own lunatic anthems in their parents’ garages. When they went into the studio to record their own platters, it became obvious that Minnesota was in the throes of birdmania, as an astounding number of these bands recorded tunes that referenced “Surfin’ Bird” in one way or another. Here are five of the best:

“Bird Dog,” The Del Counts. In the greatest of garage bands traditions, the Del Counts’ guitar part for this song is only two chords, one less than “Louie Louie.” “Everybody’s heard about The Bird, and everybody’s heard about The Dog,” the song tells us. “Put them together and what do you get?” We’ll let you guess the answer to that.

“Buzz, Buzz, Buzz,” Gregory Dee & The Avanties. Backed by a propulsive organ part, Gregory Dee soulfully sings of the beauty of his girlfriend: “Buzz, buzz, buzz goes the bumblebee, Papa Ooh Mow Mow goes the bird, but the sound of your little voice, darling, is the sweetest I’ve ever heard.”

“Cuckoo,” The Monks. Now wait a minute, some will protest, The Monks were a group of GIs stationed in Germany during the ’60s, and not a Minnesota band at all! Well, we’re including them anyway, and for two very good reasons. Firstly, two of the five bandmembers were from Minnesota; secondly, the recent Monks revival has largely centered on Minnesota, mostly because singer/guitarist Gary Burger lives in Bemidji. Additionally, of the five songs on this list, it is “Cuckoo” that closest matches the insanity of the original. The Monks sing much of the song in a high falsetto, and chant-sing the rest of it in a manner that recalls the best work of Frank Zappa. “Someone took my cuckoo!” Burger cries out. “I want to know who who!”

“Olds-Mo-William,” Gregory Dee & The Avanties. You can’t blame Gregory Dee and his band for  borrowing from “Surfin’ Bird,” well, a few times. After all, the Trashmen revisited their hit on at least two occasions, with “Bird ’65” and a superb Beach Boys pastiche called “Bird Dance Beat.” “Olds-Mo-William” is a rollicking number that tells of a sad sack who is inspired to dance by the irresistible sounds of a rock and roll band. And what dance does he attempt? “I’m gonna do the bird if I can, if I can.”

“Surfin’ Crow,” The Jades. Opening with a shrill “Caw! Caw! Caw!,” The Jades’ instrumental rave-up is a guitar-propelled surf number similar to Dick Dale’s “Miserlou.” In point of fact, it sounds almost exactly like “Miserlou,” minus a few notes, as though the band had wanted to cover the Dick Dale number but weren’t sure of how to acquire the rights (ironically, it’s a public domain song). No matter — The Jades put a distinctive stamp on the recording, particularly with a middle bridge that features a soaring second guitar.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by fred webber on 11/04/2011 - 11:38 am.

    You failed to mention “Surfin’ Bird” was featured — throughout the entire show — in an episode of “Family Guy.” A rare honor, and opportunity to introduce it to a new audience of young people.

    fred webber

  2. Submitted by Jim Swanson on 11/04/2011 - 01:43 pm.

    How about an honorable mention for The Time’s own “The Bird”?

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