Surfin' Bird

Album: Surfin' Bird (1963)
Charted: 3 4
  • This is a medley made up of the choruses of two R&B classics by the '60s doo-wop group The Rivingtons: "The Bird Is the Word" and "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow." The brainchild of Trashmen drummer Steve Wahrer, the song was a quirky and consumable hit, boldly combining surf music with novelty R&B.

    The Trashmen were a garage band from Minneapolis, which isn't surfing territory. Despite critical acclaim, they managed just one more minor hit before disbanding in the late '60s: the 1964 #30 "Bird Dance Beat."
  • When this became a hit, The Rivingtons were awarded writing credit for the song, since it was based on their compositions. This was a huge financial benefit, as they receive royalties every time the song is used in a movie, TV show or commercial. The Trashmen claimed that they heard The Rivingtons songs through cover versions played by a Wisconsin band called the Sorenson Brothers, and insisted that "Surfin' Bird" was an original recording.

    The Trashmen were left with the performance royalties, which while certainly not scraps, were far less lucrative. The band says that for their first payment, they each received a check for $1.88, but they eventually got a lump sum of $4,500 each. This was all they got until the mid-'80s, when they filed a lawsuit against the company that had bought the recording.
  • How did a band from Minnesota create a surf-rock classic? The quartet soaked up the sunshine and sounds of California when they took a road trip there in spring, 1963. Returning home, they incorporated the surf sound into their shows when they played local gigs, and eventually worked up "Surfin' Bird." That summer, they played an early version of the song at Chubb's Ballroom in Maple Grove. A local disc jockey named Bill Diehl introduced them to George Garrett, who ran a record label called Garrett Records. The band recorded the song at Kay Bank Studio in Minneapolis, and Diehl played it on his WDGY "Battle of the Bands" segment. Issued on Garrett Records, the song became a regional hit in November, and was picked up by the larger Soma label.

    A full album was quickly recorded, and the band was dispatched on a tour, traveling the country in a Chevy Greenbrier van. They played 292 gigs that year, but couldn't get higher than #30 with any of their subsequent releases. In 1967, they called it quits as their sound fell out of favor.
  • One of more bizarre American Bandstand moments took place on the January 4, 1964 episode of the show, when Trashmen lead singer (and drummer) Steve Wahrer performed the song solo. A perplexed Dick Clark introduced the performance by calling "Surfin' Bird" one of the most "strange and unusual" songs of 1963, before introducing the band, which was just Warner doing a chicken-like dance as he gamely lip-synched along.

    After the performance, Clark questioned him about the "strange sounds" he created, and Wahrer said, "Probably I was watching too many Tarzan movies." He made a point to Clark that the band wrote the song themselves.

    Wahrer's bandmates didn't join him because the band's management wouldn't pay to fly them to Philadelphia.
  • The Ramones gave this song new life when they recorded it on their 1977 album Rocket to Russia. Other artists to cover the song include The Cramps and Silverchair.
  • An entire 2008 episode of the TV show Family Guy revolves around this song. In the episode, which is entitled "I Dream of Jesus," Peter Griffin goes to a '50s diner where the song plays and he declared it his favorite of all time. When the manager removes the song from the jukebox because it's from the '60s, Peter procures it from him, then plays it constantly at home. He proceeds to drive everyone around him absolutely nuts with the song and with his constant reminders that "the bird is the word."

    After the episode was screened on BBC2 in April 2009, this song entered the top 75 of the UK charts for the first time. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Brandon - West Nyack, NY
  • A campaign to make this the 2010 UK Christmas #1 resulted in the song selling 68,000 in the week before the 25th of December. As a result it achieved its highest UK chart position to date of #3 behind Matt Cardle's "When We Collide."
  • The song has been used in the movies E.T., Full Metal Jacket and Pink Flamingos, and also in the video game Battlefield Vietnam. Pee Wee Herman sang it in the movie Back To The Beach. It was also used in popular commercials for California Coolers, and in a spot for Pringles.
  • The song was released shortly before the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy, so it took longer than usual to climb the chart. It reached its US chart peak on January 25, 1964.
  • The Trashmen reunited from time to time in the '70s and '80s to perform various one-off gigs. Lead singer Steve Wahrer died of esophageal cancer in 1989 at age 47, but the other three members started playing again in 2007. In 2014, they released an album called Bringing Back the Trash with guitarist Deke Dickerson.
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Comments: 24

  • Aiken Nutz from Tahlequah OkWhat a fun song! I heard it on "Family Guy." Haven't heard it much since then. Just on radio last year (Nov. 2015. papa-ooooo-mow-mow!!!
  • Babbling Babette from Tulsa OkThe Bird Is The Word !!!
  • Rotunda from Tulsa, OkWhen this song was on Family Guy it was downright hilarious & real fun. Gotta say it was, in my humble opinion, the show's best episode. So crazy & so much fun. I had to get up & dance to it! Gotta say it----The Bird is equal to or greater than The Word ! ! THE BIRD IS THE WORD!
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn January 4th 1964 the Trashmen performed "Surfin' Bird" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
    One month earlier on December 1st, 1963 it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; and on January 19th, 1964 it peaked at #4 (for 2 weeks) and spent 13 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #3 on the United Kingdom's Singles chart...
    And forty five years later in 2009 it was re-released in the United Kingdom; and it peaked at #50.
  • Randy from Fayettevile, ArI owned this single when I was in high school in 1963. When it came out, I recall that it sounded very similar to an R&B hit called "Papa Ooo Mau Mau" by The Rivingtons which one of my cousins bought (a year earlier??). Back in '63 we even wondered if "Surfin' Bird" was legally released or not. It was a really bizarre & wild song but it was great to dance to. At the time (early '63) there were a few other 45 rpm singles on the charts about the dance The Bird. They were a whole lot better to dance to than this one. There was "Do The Bird" by Dee Dee Sharp & then "Birdland" by the dance master Chubby Checker. Now, in my opinion both of those records were far better than "Surfin' Bird." They were big Top Ten hits based on the teen dance craze (the Bird) that was going on back then. I think "Do The Bird" was a Top Ten million seller with the girl group sound that was so popular then. But this "Surfin' Bird" record was just wild and crrazy. It's so strange that it became an actual hit. Go figure! But The Trshmen were taking advantage of the Rivington's composition & earlier hit, plus the Bird dance craze of 1963 that teens were doing.
  • Bubblesk from Memphis, TnI freaked out when I heard "Surfin' Bird" on an episode of Family Guy. I hadn't heard this song in.....uh......never mind. Anyway, a long time! It's just so wild and it never did make any sense, but it got into the Top Ten back in 1963 ..1964. They kept playing it over & over on that Family Guy episode that it really irked me and I felt I was going insane. Why? Because I got up and danced to it and nearly broke both of my hips. I stumbled over my poor mashed little pomeranian Peachie Pie and landed in my wading pool and got all muddy. My TV was outside by my garden. Who ever had the bright idea at Family Guy's TV production to use "Surfin' Bird" in an episode is demented! I'm still picking algae& seaweed from my bosom!
  • Elmer H from Westville, OkWhen I heard "Surfin' Bird" on TV's Family Guy I was dumbstruck for a moment then I remembered the hit from 1963. My brother hated this song back in 1963, but I loved it because it was so crazy & idiotic, but more because it creeped-out my brother! HAAA! When it kept playing on that episode of Family Guy I just had to get up and dance. It's a song meant for lunacy & bustin' a gut! With it's super-fast beat, about the only dance you can do to it is The Twist. It was 1963 and way before the beginnings of the more socially significant songs of the later Sixties when rock lost a lot of its "roll." Personally, I loved the original hits by The Rivingtons that inspired the "Surfin' Bird" because those originals had bolder bass beats and far better production quality. Check 'em out!
  • Steven from Universal City, TxI remember hearing this when I was 6, in 1998, and it was kind of a back hit then [only certain stations played it o nthe East coast], then Family Guy came, and revived it. Wonderful! My favorite episode to date!
  • Megan from Stevenson, AlTotally thought this was a joke on Family Guy...lol Kinda creepy now that it's a real song...yep...definitely now...
  • Johnnie from Crystal River , FlBEST SONG EVER!!!! the bird is equal to or greater than the word Family Guy nees to make more episodes with this song in it
  • Chlo from California, Calove this in family guy
  • David from Minneapolis, MnI had the pleasure of meeting and having Steve Wahrer as our drummer long after his hits. Sometime in the mid-eighties we had a small-time band "The Express Band" and played American Legion clubs in Minneapolis. I remember Steve telling me he could not drum fast enough for ths tune so they sped up the drum track on tape and he sang to that. God rest his soul.
  • Eduardo from Toronto, Onthe dance for this song is the cripwalk
  • Jj from Washington, DcThis song was the funniest part in the Family Guy Episode "I Dream Of Jesus".
  • Tim from El Paso, TxBack in 1976-77, Detroit radio stations played this song constantly. Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers was so popular that this song took off and became his "theme". Many other teams wanted to have him pitch when the Tigers came to their stadiums because of the huge numbers of fans coming to see "The Bird".
  • Larry from New York City, NyI believe the songs "Surfin' Bird" and "Wooly Bully," along with "Mickey Mouse," were featured in the movie FULL METAL JACKET to show just what mindless sheep we were in 1968, being led to the slaughter by the profiteers of the Military Industrial Complex, who had already murdered our dreamers, the Kennedy Brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Jeana from Sterling Heights, MiJim,
    That was the funniest episode since "Barley Legal"
  • Dante from Milwaukee, Withe only element of surf music hinted at in this song is the rhythm.
  • Jim from Providence, RiThe song appeared on "The Family Guy" episode "I dream of Jesus". The song ended up being the main theme throughout the entire episode.
  • Dave from Scottsdale, AzDuring Arizona Cardinals home games this song is played while the mascot- a big red bird- is shooting t-shirts into the stands during TV time-outs. I realize nobody but me cares about the Cards but it has introduced this song to a lot of people in the crowd.
  • Arthur from Sydney, AustraliaFeatured in the computer game "Battlefield Vietnam" by Electronic Arts.
  • Don from Newmarket, CanadaI believe the writers of the Rivington's songs sued the Trashmen and won a plagarism suit. This song also covered by the Ramones.
  • Eric from Salt Lake City, UtDallas Frazier did write "Elvira," but not any of the Rivingtons' songs. (he also wrote "Alley Oop" as performed by the Hollywood Argyles)

    Al Frazier was a memeber of the Rivingtons, and he is the Frazier on the songwriting credit.

  • John from Bowie, MdPlayed in the movie "Full Metal Jacket".
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