talking trash

Anyone thinks punk started with the Sex Pistols needs to catch up on Dixie Fried by Carl Perkins – see a 1957 performance at http://tinyurl.com/bwb7qrd and listen to the words.
A line of punk and garage was always there in rockabilly and continued through the 1960s, as we were reminded again when Damien Hirst did Desert Island Discs, May 12 2013, and included Surfin’ Bird by The Trashmen, which he said was a favourite of his eldest son.
It has always been an anarchist favourite – re-recorded by Cramps and Ramones among others – and it surprised me to be reminded that the original was recorded in 1963, inspired by two earlier records.
A black doo-wop band, The Rivingtons, specialised in wacky noises and nonsense choruses. In a previous incarnation. The Sharps, they supplied the rebel yells on Duane Eddy’s Rebel Rouser in 1958. As The Rivingtons, they had minor hits in 1962 and 1963 with their own dance-track compositions Papa Oom Mow Mow and The Bird’s The Word. Story is that The Trashmen, white boys from Minneapolis, set out to perform The Bird’s The Word at a gig one night but forgot most of the words and ended up riffing off the chorus and then segueing into a bit of Papa Oom Mow Mow. It rings true if you look at a YouTube clip from 1963 – http://tinyurl.com/cb9ey5b – which appears to be from the actual birth of the performance, or a rerun soon after.
The singer looks – let’s put it carefully – as if he is high on something and when the record took off, Top of the Pops used a video featuring another band altogether … mad enough to be a bit of a cult on its own but not so apparently drug-fuelled. See that at http://tinyurl.com/d4n9ho5/
The Trashmen mainly produced a kind of surf rock and you can find samples of that on YouTube, along with reruns of Bird by them and others. To make up for the complete lack of meaning in the song as they so successfully ruined it, The Trashmen took to organising a girl in loose underwear to dance to it during club gigs and an exploration of the Bird story on YouTube quickly leads to an eye-boggling collection of burlesque acts, including a talent show for Hell’s Angels’ molls – try starting at http://tinyurl.com/bndy5td/
Another generation was turned on to the original track five years ago (2008), when it was worked into a story line in the American cartoon series Family Guy. See a take from that at http://tinyurl.com/cbglu58/
Amazingly, in 1964 American Bandstand featured a live performance of Surfin’ Bird by The Trashmen’s drummer and lead singer, Steve Wahrer, followed by an interview – http://tinyurl.com/d7tuxkt/
Wahrer, who is breathless but surprisingly sober when he finishes the act, is seen claiming that the band wrote the number themselves. This led them into a major legal battle with The Rivingtons, who won an agreement to credit them as joint composers in the future.
Both bands did other work and are both worth checking out. In response to enduring interest, in 1998 The Trashmen’s record company, Sundazed, produced a 4-CD collectors’ set of rehearsals, releases, out-takes, photos and everything else they could find from their band’s 1960s incarnation – billed as “loud, frantic and wonderfully stupid”.
Read all about it at http://tinyurl.com/cn3mee7/

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