Thursday, December 02, 2010

"Surfin' Bird" (1963)

26. Trashmen, "Surfin' Bird" (Dec. 28, 1963, #4)

Well, you would have to classify this as a novelty, right? It slots well enough into a flavor of surf-rock, cross-pollinated with early proto-garage, but that pegged vocal performance, which sounds like the mic has been parked deep inside the throat of the vocalist, along with the bizarre lyrical preoccupations, put it in a realm all its own. It's not entirely clear who that vocalist is—drummer Steve Wahrer hatched the idea of carpetbagging the Rivingtons songs in the first place ("Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow" and "The Bird's the Word"), and he appears the most likely candidate, though guitarists Troy Andreason and Dal Winslow are normally identified as the band's singers. Whoever sang it, and however you want to characterize it, there is something considerably enduring about it, though it lasts only a brief time. The tempo is ridiculously fast, as if the band were attempting to squeak it all out in the moments before the onset of nuclear war, and the grotesque, lopsided focus on the vocal bends and contorts and distorts all time-space around it. It's almost impossible to hold still while this plays, particularly as the volume appears to rise higher and higher (oh, was that you turning it up?), and it's not much easier to listen to it just once at a time. The message is a simple one, thoroughly absorbed: "everybody knows that the bird is the word." Yet utterly inscrutable at the same time. Good for the car, good in the movies and on TV, good in the grocery store, good in the middle of a forest camping. It works anywhere. The Trashmen are from Minneapolis, playing surf-rock. That means that approximately anything is possible in the 2:21 that this lasts.

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