One Hit Wonder: The Trashmen (1963)

Surfin' Bird
Single by The Trashmen
From the album Surfin' Bird
B-side: King of the Surf
Released: November 13, 1963
Recorded: 1963
Al Frazier, Carl White, Sonny Harris, Turner Wilson Jr.

"Surfin' Bird 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. It entered the Billboard Hot 100 on December 28, 1963.

 The Rivingtons

"Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow" (1962)

The Rivingtons

The Rivingtons were a 1960s doo-wop group. They first made the charts with Thurston Harris' "Little Bitty Pretty One" in 1957. Then they appeared on Duane Eddy's 1958 hit "Rebel Rouser," providing handclaps and rebel yells. In 1962, The Rivingtons released a novelty record hit, "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow." 

Bird's the Word (1963)

They returned to the charts in 1963 with "Bird's the Word."

The Trashmen 

 Surfin' Bird (1964)

The Trashmen were a garage band from Minneapolis. The song was released shortly before the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy. It reached its US chart peak at number 4 on January 25, 1964. 

When "The Bird Is the Word" became a hit, The Rivingtons were awarded writing credit for the song. This was a substantial financial benefit, as they receive royalties every time the music is used in a movie, TV show, or commercial. 

The Trashmen

The Trashmen were left with the performance royalties, which, while certainly not scraps, were far less lucrative. For their first payment, they each received a check for $1.88. 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. 

The Trashmen claimed they heard The Rivington's songs through cover versions played by a Wisconsin band called the Sorenson Brothers and insisted that "Surfin' Bird" was an original recording. After "The Bird Is the Word," they managed just one more minor hit before disbanding in the late 1960s: the 1964 number 30 "Bird Dance Beat."

Bird Dance Beat (1965)

American Bandstand

On American Bandstand, Trashmen lead singer Steve Wahrer performed the song solo, doing a chicken-like dance as he gamely lip-synched. His bandmates didn't join him because the band's management wouldn't pay to fly them to Philadelphia. 

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.

The Ramones (1977) 

The Ramones

The Ramones covered this song on their album Rocket to Russia. Johnny admitted The Cramps played Surfin' Bird live before The Ramones. "We heard them doing it, so we started playing it."

Family Guy

The 2008 "I Dream of Jesus" episode of the TV show Family Guy revolves around the song. Peter Griffin goes to a '50s diner, and when the music plays on the jukebox, he says it is his favorite of all time. The manager gives it to Peter. He plays it constantly at home, driving everyone around him nuts.


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