Tag Archives: the singing detective

Results: Birds

Aaron Azlant

Marissa Nadler – Feathers

Briefly made indie-famous by her cover of Radiohead’s “No Surprises,” Marissa Nadler writes dependably melancholic folk that emphasizes her delicate, finger-picked guitar parts and remarkable voice, equally operatic and ethereal. The title of her most recent LP, the excellent Songs III: Bird on the Water, is already enough to guarantee 11 possible candidates for this week’s topic, although just to be sure, I went ahead and picked the one titled “Feathers.” Between its careening
cello part, its multi-tracked chorus of Nadler’s insistently whispering flora” and its sweeping lamentation (bitterly addressed to a lost lover), this track makes an ideal segue into the cover of “Famous Blue Raincoat” that follows it on the album. Baroque arrangements and anachronism for its own sake are de rigueur in contemporary folk — I personally hold to a “thee” quota — but Nadler is never tedious and her album is full of beguiling songs just like this one.

David Boyk

If the best thing ever on TV isn’t The Wire, it’s The Singing Detective, Dennis Potter’s 1986 BBC miniseries, starring Michael “The Fake Dumbledore” Gambon as a delusional, self-hating, sexually fucked-up mystery writer with a bad case of psoriasis. It’s too hard to sum up everything that’s going on in this segment, which is an early climax in the series, but basically he’s hallucinating that he’s back in the pub in his North England hometown, watching his father do bird impressions. It’s pretty sad when you watch it on YouTube, but rent the DVDs and get your heart broken.

C-H-I-C-K-E-N Spells Chicken

I guess there’s sort of a disease theme here, because this other song comes from the medicine shows that used to travel around and get suckers to buy patent medicines.
They’d roll into town, set up a stage, and have a band or a dog that knew tricks or whatever, and then you’d walk out with a few bottles of some sort of dangerous concoction, which might end up giving you jake leg. They had some good tunes, though. And they were educational – it’s true, C-H-I-C-K-E-N does spell chicken. In those days, musical genres hadn’t gotten all sorted out and segregated yet, and there was a lot of back and forth between white and black music. Some of this, like this song, was more on the racist, minstrel end, but you can come to your own conclusions about that.

Yohan John

The Trashmen – “Surfin’ Bird (Bird Is The Word)”

There are lots of obvious bird songs. The ones that flew off the top of my head (like birds) included “Bird Dog”, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird has Flown)” and even the theme song from “Harvey Birdman – Attorney At Law”. But I decided to go with this song, because in terms of birdy impact, this song has more bird per word, so to speak.

Some people find it hard to make out lyrics, so here’s a sample:

A-well-a everybody’s heard about the bird
B-b-b-bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
[A-well-a bird, bird, bird, the bird is the word
A-well-a bird, bird, bird, well the bird is the word] 4x
A-well-a bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a don’t you know about the bird?
Well, everybody knows that the bird is the word!
A-well-a bird, bird, b-bird’s the word

And so on (with feeling).

I first heard this song in a lecture. Our quirky professor’s presentation began with a slide that informed us that this piece of pleasing insanity was an amalgamation of two songs by the doo-wop group The Rivingtons — one called “The Bird’s The Word” and the other called “Papa-oom-mow-mow.” “Papa-oom-mow-mow” in turn, was a doo-wop parody. So the song “Surfin’ Bird” (consisting largely of bird-brained repetitions of the two songs’ titles) is a parody of a parody.

The song sounds almost proto-punk. Years before The Who, or The Stooges. But the best part, of course, is that it’s funnier than avian flu.



Filed under Aaron Azlant, David Boyk, Response, Yohan John