Radio Birdman – “The Essential Radio Birman (1974-1978)” (2001)

Somehow I passed by writing about this record all these years, because I’ve had it since before I started Life in the Vinyl Lane.  In fact it’s an album I like so much that when I found a used copy on CD I bought that too just so I could have it for my iPod without going through all the trouble of burning it from vinyl.

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Founded in 1974, Radio Birdman was one of the very first punk bands in Australia.  They’re widely cited as influences by punks and garage rockers worldwide, still getting frequent slots on Henry Rollins’ weekly KCRW radio shows.  Their sound is much more on the garage rock side than punk, sort of quasi-lo-fi but with a lot of musicianship (just listen to the piano playing on “Love Kills” and hear for yourself) and Rob Younger’s vocals giving it all a bit of punk swagger.  They probably have more in common with the underground rock coming out of Detroit in the mid-1970s than the punk taking off in the UK and New York – I’m thinking The Stooges, MC5, and even some guitar influences from Ted Nugent. (♠)  To some extent it may be an example of what is defined as punk depending on time and place – maybe you didn’t have to be very extreme in 1970s Australia to raise an eyebrow.

Sub Pop put out this two record compilation in 2001 (<– buyer tip!  This comes with a 7″ as well, and often used copies (like mine) won’t include the 7″… so make sure to check!) in a well-done gatefold with extensive liner notes by none other than Rolling Stone‘s David Fricke.  It’s an interesting choice for the Seattle label, one I’m assuming resulted from the fact that a lot of the early Sub Pop bands can trace the roots of their sounds back to bands like Birdman,  Regardless of the reasons why, I’m glad they put it out.

Arguably my favorite song is the side one, track one homage to the TV show Hawaii Five-O, “Aloha Steve & Danno,” a fast-paced romp through one of America’s most-watched and longest-running TV shows.  I’m also a huge fan of “Hand of Law,” with it’s threatening refrain the hand of law is comin’ down and flat, Warsaw-esque vocal delivery.  And what about “Burned My Eye ’78”?  And the soul-funk groove of “Man With the Golden Helmet”?  I mean, it’s just one solid rocker after another.  There are elements of surf and even western in Radio Birdman’s music and definitely a lot of focus on the guitar work, including some very pronounced solos.

Normally when you get some kind of a greatest hits album you’re thinking, “ok, cool, this band put out six albums and these are their 12 best songs,” and chances are you like almost all of them.  But in the case of The Essential Radio Birman (1974-1978) you’re getting basically the entire output of the original version of the band, which was defunct from 1978 to 1996 (release during this period were all recorded prior to the 1978 break-up).  And it’s 22 songs (24 if you have the 7″).  And every single one of them is solid.  There honestly isn’t a single clunker on this thing, at least not to my ears.  A worthwhile pickup on vinyl or CD.

(♠)  No doubt because guitarist Deniz Tek grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan before moving to Australia in 1972.