Radio Birdman Box Set Revives The Greatest Punk-Era Band You Never Heard Of

Imagine that while the CBGB bands were mastering “Gloria” and the Sex Pistols were practicing how to spit, a teenager from Detroit moves to Sydney and soon forms a band in homage to his hometown heroes, the Stooges.  Let’s have them become really good musicians, no, I mean, ace musicians, and play songs like “Surfing Bird” well before Johnny and Joey could Blitzkreig Bop.  Let’s imagine that in the antipodal shadow of London and New York, this band figured out a way of crafting Ray Manzarek-sounding keyboards into a killer two-guitar lineup with a singer who crossed the manic charm of David Johansen with the chops of Jim Morrison.  Got it?  You are beginning to grok what a marvel Radio Birdman were.

Citadel Records Australia has just released a Birdman box, which contains both the Australian and Sire (U.S.) versions of their glorious Radios Appear, their posthumously released second album, Living Eyes, assorted outtakes and — this is primo — a live album recorded in Sydney in 1977 (just before they went to London and discovered that suffused with contempt for colonials and punk-rock chauvinism, the Brits couldn’t figure out how to properly place them.)

The Radio Birdman box, expensive as it is, is more than worth it for those of us who have carried their torch since first hearing them in 1978 — worth it for anyone who wants to explore an alternative narrative to what is ordinarily told about that enchanting era that spans from, roughly, when Television were formed to the release in 1979 of Wire’s 154.  One of the great joys of the late ’70s was the rediscovery of those Detroit bands, of surf music, and Radio Birdman, with their Easter Island/cargo cult distance from the main alternative culture of the era somehow served it all up together in a pastiche no one else could come close to.  And you’ll be shocked, shocked to hear this, since rock’n’roll always rewards those who deserve it, they never got their due.

If Radio Birdman hadn’t happened, we’d have to make their story up. As the American Deniz Tek schooled his new pals in Sydney in the Motor City sounds of his youth, he wrote killer songs that all harkened to an America he missed, and his bandmates had to just take his word for it when singing about “Murder City Nights” or eating Eskimo Pies.  If you want the quickest summary of what Radio Birdman were all about, consider: they did a punk version of the Hawaii Five-O theme song; their version of the 13th Floor Elevators’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me” not only is the best ever, it actually led to the rediscovery of Roky Ericsson. Songs from Radios Appear like “What Gives,” “Do The Pop,” “New Race,” and “Anglo Girl Desire” were as tuneful as anything on The Clash or Rocket To Russia, and played twice as fast by musicians who could swing.

In 2006, the band reformed and finally hit the Black Cat in D.C.  They hadn’t slowed a single step!  Yeah, Chris Masuak, who was a kid the first time round, had his head shaved in accommodation to the years, and singer Rob Younger maybe looked a little less likely to be hitting the surf at Bondi.  But man, could they still play!  You don’t have to get the entire box to recapture the spirit, but do get Radios Appear.  No record collection that has Never Mind The BollocksPink Flag, and the Ramones’ Leave Home is really complete without it.

One Response to “Radio Birdman Box Set Revives The Greatest Punk-Era Band You Never Heard Of”

  1. […] found out about the band via Tulip Frenzy, and I am very grateful (So are Zippy and […]

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