I have always been fascinated as to why some songs, especially the one below titled, “Surfin’ Bird by The Trashmen have been so popular. My thoughts are that as our culture had for the first time in known history achieved the ability to broadcast, and produce entertainment of a leisure nature, that mankind started at the primordial concepts of audio and visual stimulation. It is not always important to music listeners whether or not they understand the contents of a song so long as the beat is catchy. The result has been a tendency for entire cultures to mouth words to songs they have no idea as to the meaning. They turn off their minds, and all logic it might produce to enjoy the collective rhythm of a hearty tune. For me, the finest example of this type of thing is “Surfin’ Bird, which is one of the songs that I like to play on my iPod as I travel 100 MPH down the highway on my motorcycle. There is something very energetic about the music that makes weaving in and out of traffic at high speeds very entertaining.
But what does any of that mean? Well, the short history found on Wikipedia says that “Surfin’ Bird” was a song performed by the American surf rock band The Trashmen, and it is also the name of the album that featured this hit single. It was released in 1963 and reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. It is a combination of two R&B hits by The Rivingtons: “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” and “The Bird’s the Word”, which was influenced by Red Prysock‘s “What’s the word? Thunderbird!” 
It is likely that Surfin’ Bird’s derives from a radio ad jingle advertising Thunderbird as a brand of cheap wine: “What’s the word? Thunderbird. How’s it sold? Good and cold. What’s the jive? Bird’s alive. What’s the price? Thirty twice.” The jazz release that reflects common knowledge of this jingle is titled, “What’s The Word? Thunderbird!” and was issued in record form as Mercury 71214 in October 1957. This release was written by Wilbur Prysock, and performed by Red Prysock.
The Rivingtons followed up their Billboard Hot 100 hit Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow with the similar The Bird’s the Word in 1963. The Trashmen had not heard this version but saw a band called The Sorensen Brothers playing it. They decided to play the song that night at their own gig. During this first performance, drummer and vocalist Steve Wahrer stopped playing and ad-libbed the “Surfin’ Bird” middle section. Despite not knowing “The Bird’s the Word” was a Rivingtons song, the similarity to “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” was obvious and The Trashmen added the chorus to the end of their new track.
A local disc jockey, Bill Diehl, was at the gig and convinced the band to record the track. It was recorded at Kay Bank Studios inMinneapolis. Diehl entered it into a local battle of the bands competition and it won. It was then sent to a battle of the bands competition in Chicago where it also won. This led to the group being signed to Garrett Records with the single being quickly released. It reportedly sold 30,000 copies in its first weekend before going on to national success, reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, authorship is credited to Al Frazier, Carl White, Sonny Harris, and Turner Wilson Jr.—the four members of The Rivingtons—after the group successfully sued The Trashmen on grounds of plagiarism.
In a lot of ways Surfin’ Bird reflects the many turbulent times that were headed for America. It is a song that makes little sense and is just fun for the spontaneity of it. As described, it was constructed without much thought from a mixed up number of sources to be thrown together for a public not hungry for thought, but for pure entertainment.
I love the song for its energy. But I find its non-thinking dangerous. It reflects accurately what is going on in our public education system, in our entertainment culture, in our social habits, in virtually every human endeavor. The trend is to surrender thought to impulse which is an animal trait that is the wrong way for the human race to migrate toward. The jingle is seductively cleaver which pulls the mind into accepting random nonsense with no meaning whatsoever. Songs like this prepare the mind to accept nonsense.
Most who read this will declare that I should loosen up and just enjoy life. I should just listen to Surfin’ Bird and ride my motorcycle 100 MPH through heavy traffic with my iPod turned up all the way and not worry about such things. But for me that’s no fun. I like to understand how things work and why, and the reason that songs like Surfin’ Bird are so loved is a subject of study that needs to be understood. The reality is that it reflected a time in America where our culture was under attack by communism in our college campuses by KGB infiltrators and the constant threat of nuclear war with either Cuba or the Soviet Union turned America from World War II patriotism to Vietnam era passivism. Not knowing what to do and having a new media culture to reflect the nation’s values songs like Surfin’ Bird were tossed out to the public in a way that only capitalism could have produced to bring American culture something only it could produce—a stupid song, about nothing that is still better than anything else the world was otherwise able to produce.
I suppose that is why I like the song so much, because it represents to me that even when America attempts to do something ridiculously stupid, it still comes out wonderfully. It is the original Gangnum Style song that hits a primal cord of rebellion even though it is laced with thoughtlessness. Stripped down to its bare essence Surfin’ Bird is about hope and enterprise. It could have never been produced by a communist country and is an example that only through capitalism–a song made up almost on the spot and recorded in a little studio in Minneapolis having absolutely nothing to say artistically, or culturally–is still better than anything else the rest of the world produced—which says a lot.
Now, I am going to get on my motorcycle and listen to Surfin’ Bird about 10,000 times over and over again!
“If they attack first………..blast em’!”