DO THE POP?

In 1977, being on a trial separation from the University of Melbourne (it ended in divorce) I was working at Max Rose Electronics in suburban Melbourne. At the time I was deeply into prog heavyweights Yes for the playing, the complexity, even the unfathomable lyrics. All the things smart-arse music journalists were queuing up to pour scorn on.

Sensitive songwriters and soft-rock tunesmiths were also a chunk of the playlist, following the unimpeachable logic that if you don’t have even a sniff of romance in your life, then an album by Bread will do just as well. It didn’t.

Through late night AM radio, I was beginning to feel my way into jazz. Nothing too adventurous: some Oscar Peterson, The Modern Jazz Quartet, even Dudley Moore. The kind of music jazz purists sneered at as tame and safe. Suited my ears fine, back then.

It’s worth pausing to recall just how dire the charts were in 1977. Now I avoided this popular mush as much as humanly possible while working in a record store, but sadly I can sing along almost word perfectly with every one of those ghastly hits.

Here is a selection from the year-end list of biggest selling singles in Australia across the whole of 1977. These were all in the final Top 20.

Wings — “Mull of Fucking Kintyre”  (initially, not many knew it by its full title)

Julie Covington — “Don’t Cry For Me Argenfuckingtina”  (the year’s #1)

Smokie — “Living Next Fucking Door to Fucking Alice”  (further comment superfluous)

Dr Hook — “Fucking Walk Right In”  (and out again. Please.)

It may have been better in your neck of the Top 40 woods, though I doubt it.

But new sounds were penetrating the suburbs. Edgy, urban, dissatisfied, young-but-not-sweet.

It occurred to me that spinning a couple of singles as they arrived from the record companies and swiftly pronouncing them rubbish was possibly prematurely dismissive. So over the next few months I undertook a cautious listening program at the shop. I played at least one ‘punk’ album each Friday night during the dead time when everyone—including Max—was elsewhere having dinner.

Although a formal report was never submitted, what follows is a recollection of my reactions at the time. Or perhaps a reenactment. Maybe a fictionalisation.

Sex Pistols—Never Mind The Bollocks >> Too shouty. A bit scary. No tunes. No thanks.

Ian Dury—New Boots And Panties >> This is quite clever. Certainly better than the Pistols.

Elvis Costello—My Aim Is True >> Is this punk? He seems cross and clever. I’m confused.

The Clash—The Clash >> Didn’t have it in the shop.

The Damned—Damned Damned Damned >> Look at the cover. Ugh!

Wire—Pink Flag >> Huh?

The Ramones—Leave Home >> Duh!

Boomtown Rats—The Boomtown Rats >> Nyet.

Richard Hell and The Voidoids—Blank Generation >> Similar reaction to Bollocks but less so.

The Saints—(I’m) Stranded >> It’s angry, isn’t it? And fast. But there’s something…

Iggy Pop—The Idiot >> I thought it was young punks in punk. Anyway, this sounds like Low.

Blondie—Plastic Letters >> Hey, this is OK. The US bands are quite different, aren’t they?

Radio Birdman—Radios Appear >> Now you’re talking!

It opens with a tortured scream and ends with a Yeah-Hup roar.

In between Radio Birdman carve a tearing high-speed crash of rock mayhem out of squalls of guitar and throat-shredding vocals. Opening the album with the Stooges song “T.V. Eye” is both brilliant and honest. As it blasts out of the speakers you can hear this is indeed the jagged energy of Iggy and the lads reloaded downunder (Sydney) by a local (Rob Younger) and an American (ex-navy flight surgeon Denis Tek). In fact the band name comes from an Iggy mondegreen: in the Stooges song “1970” the line radio burnin’ was mis-heard and Radio Birdman was born.

Like The Saints and the Ramones, Radio Birdman are often described as proto-punk, which I think means they already existed when punk started but fitted better into this new category than any existing niche.

Some songs on Radios Appear are pretty straight rock—“Man With Golden Helmet”, for instance, has a Doors “Riders On The Storm” feel—while others are angry, snotty, and obviously punkish. “Descent Into The Maelstrom” sure is (except for the slower, quieter middle section). “Murder City Nights”, on the other hand evokes the Ramones (down to its short-sharp 2:22 timing) despite having a genuine guitar solo. It is petrol-flamed jump-up-and-down brilliant. In between is the fast, menacing “Anglo Girl Desire”, referencing one of the band’s own songs and their next album title. Post-modern self-referential lyrical cleverness or dumb luck? My money’s on the former.

Side two is similarly rough-smash brilliant. Highlights are “Do The Pop” (borrowed as the title of an excellent 2 CD survey of Aussie punk/garage) and “New Race”. This latter song sounds disturbingly like it might be a bit, you know, right-wing. But the lyrics reassure it’s really about a new generation of young people whose anger will fuel change.

There’s gonna be a new race

Kids are gonna start it up

We’re all gonna mutate

Kids are saying yeah hup

Yeah hup

Really gonna punch you out

There is one quieter song, “Love Kills”, providing a nice contrast with all that bouncing off the walls adrenaline, but overall the album is Thunderbirds Are Go!

Radios Appear was released on Trafalgar Records in July 1977. You’ll need deep pockets if you want an original these days, so it’s fortunate the LP was re-issued by Citadel Records in 2014. On CD, Trafalgar released the original album in 1988 but in 2002 Citadel put out an expanded version, adding single “Aloha Steve & Danno” and Sire single “What Gives?” plus three other songs not previously on an album. This CD bears some resemblance to the “overseas” version of Radios Appear released on Sire in 1978 and re-issued on vinyl by Four Men With Beards in 2016.

All the info is at Discogs if you want it. What you really want is this album, in any form or format, to follow the instruction on the back cover and PLAY LOUD, often. But only, of course, if you want to get your blood jagging, your fists pumping, your legs twitching and concussion emanating from the inside. Yeah hup.

Not that I would have put it that way in 1977. What I seem to recall is showing the LP to one of the regulars at Max Rose Electronics who’d asked about Aussie punk. “This one’s quite good,” I said.

 

32 comments

  1. I think Canada must have gotten the remixes of those top 40 hits!
    In any event, I think I’d much prefer Radio Birdman – especially if I heed their instruction of (caps lock) play loud!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wise choice, Geoff. And sound instructions from the band. Now there’s a 1001 kind of idea: Top 5 albums that have ‘Play Loud’ or similar on the back cover!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Fantastic idea!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great! Radio Birdman with the hypnotic guitar riffs. The surfin sound from Oz.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Surfing in a garage, no less! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Your, “…year-end list of biggest selling singles in Australia” had me cracking up, Bruce. Classic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Michael. It is fun to let your inner 15-year-old loose once in a while!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Mondegreen! You could devote an entire post to an array of classic mondegreens….

    Interesting that the 2002 Citadel release added a single called “Aloha Steve & Danno”, which has to be a reference to the American TV series, “Hawaii Five-O”…was that popular Down Under?

    And “If You Fucking Leave Me Now” indeed…I love a lot of Chicago’s stuff, but that single is pure pablum…yecch.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Midnight Toker · · Reply

      Aloha Steve & Danno was definitely a reference to Hawaii 5-0 – it starts with the sound of the surf then a very surf-punk drum intro then a killer guitar riff and the lyrics finish with ‘book ’em Danno, murder one’. One of my favourite songs from 1978 – we played it endlessly on a cassette in my mate’s car driving to and from the beach.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. As my old mate Midnight confirmed, “Aloha steve & Danno” was indeed a “Hawaii Five-O” reference. Denis Tek was raised in Michigan and moved to Aus when he was twenty.

      I really like early Chicago a lot – first five albums are all very worthwhile. There is even some OK material on this album (it was the first one I owned!) but they were courting (and capturing) the mainstream by then.

      Do you think a whole post on rock mondegreens might be a bit much? I rather favour a competition to insert the f-word into any hit song title of the seventies for maximum humorous impact…

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  5. The Mull of Kintyre rule – the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) would not permit the general release of a film if it depicted a phallus erect to the point that the angle it made from the vertical was higher than that of the Kintyre peninsula.
    Quite fitting, then, as that song is a load of fucking cock.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I can see that. Very sensible rule too. Though a report from a reputable sex clinic at the time detailed a sharp increase in erectile disfunction in males whose partners (of any gender) placed Mull of K on the turntable as a prelude to lovemaking. True story.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I got the shivers looking at the list of popular songs back then. I’m not kidding. And I only heard a couple. Would it be wrong if I searched the others out? Your great short snapper reviews on them got my attention. As far as ‘Radio Birdman’ goes I heard of them but not the music. I’ll check out and get back. The “surfing in a garage” comment has my attention.

    (Listening to TDs ‘Knights of Asheville Live’ while I’m catching up. I’m liking it. Some nice sax touches)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES LISTEN TO MORE THAN ONE OF THOSE DREADFUL SONGS AT A SITTING.
      You may have done nasty things to your brain in your youth, but a whole playlist of those would finish you off for sure.

      As for Radio Birdman, knowing what I do of your tastes (from your blog and comments here) I predict that you would find ‘Radios Appear’ at least as engaging as The Vibrators, but with a rougher, frontier larrikinism that should hit the spot. Try the single ‘Aloha Steve and Danno’ for starters…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There is something in my nature that gravitates to the “forbidden fruit” and finding out for myself so if you notice a change in my comments you might know why.

        I’ll be giving the RBs a spin today Thanks for the “starters”

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Great review Bruce – I really enjoyed it, as I have really enjoyed the RB album ever since some generous soul got it to me. I love the way they were named after a misheard Stooges lyric.

    This is just the sort of music that makes me BURN with a very pleasant rage, even at my advanced age. Okay, maybe its more of a SIMMER these days, but still.

    And, hey you ran through a litany of my fave LPs there. I’ve been listening to (I’m) Stranded a lot recently, another bunch who never got their just desserts.

    Like

    1. There was the briefest of moments, reading your comment, when I thought, his favourite bands are Dr Hook and Chicago??? Then I got it. Pleasant rage is a fine term. So is simmering outrage. Such as, he felt simmering outrage that The Saints never really got their due.
      Thanks for the comment and I’m very pleased you are a converted Birdman fan.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. To be brutally honest I do like a couple of Dr Hook tracks. There, I said it.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Don’t worry, help is on its fucking way.
    Unaware of Radios Appear.
    Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. (Just did one of those) LOL (things)

      Like

  9. Midnight Toker · · Reply

    Gotta take exception to your writing off The Idiot with a one line ‘sounds like Low’ Mr VC! It was produced before Low and I think is a great collaboration between Iggy, Bowie and Carlos Alomar. Bowie later recorded both ‘Sister Midnight’ and ‘China Girl’, although without the rough and raw edge. I really like Radio’s Appear, but I’ve listened to The Idiot and New Boots And Panties way more often. Was Talking Heads’ ’77’ too art/new wave than punk to fit into your list?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, it would be a mistake to conflate those one-line summaries with my mature views, Mr T!
      I like ‘The Idiot’ a lot (even though it is not even remotely punk or bear any real resemblance to The Stooges albums – even Iggy’s singing is restrained). So too with ‘New Boots’ and the Talking Heads debut. The latter is not punk either, in any accepted (UK) meaning of the term – your description of art/new wave is spot on.
      It’s also fair to say that Max Rose Electronics was no more across the punk/new wave scene than any of Bentleigh’s residents. Those listed may well have been all we had!

      PS. The Clash debut is one of my favourite albums of the second half of the 70s. Just a brilliant blast of energy. But I didn’t even hear it until well after ‘London Calling’ made its mark.

      PPS. Lovely to have this post flush you out of the bushes.

      Like

  10. Really enjoyed this one, Bruce… and you’re right, I really want this one. It sounds right good.

    Mull of Fucking Kintyre. Good grief. I think of that every time the name McCartney crops up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ‘Right Good’ is perfect. Good hunting – reckon you’ll love it too.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. That second paragraph hit me right in the funny bone. It must have been bad if you thought an album by Bread would make up for a lack of romance!

    To partially answer your question about the 1977 charts outside Australia … The UK’s Official Charts Company only started doing year end charts in 2005 so the following information is from an unofficial website:

    #1 was Abba (Knowing Me, Knowing You); Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina was #6; at #13 we have Baccara with Yes, Sir, I Can Boogie; Mull of Kintyre comes in at #15; The Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band was at #30 with The Floral Dance.

    In complete contrast we have: She’s Not There by Santana at #95; The Eagles’ Hotel California at #85 and ELP with Fanfare for the Common Man at #18. So it wasn’t all bad. We even had The Stranglers (Peaches) and the Sex Pistols (God Save The Queen) at #59 and #60.

    But, yeah, it was mostly dire.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for doing that research. Interesting. I should reveal (as you might well have suspected) that I went for the more ghastly hits to, er f@#! with.
      And yes, it was dire on the intimacy charts too.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Ted at home. · · Reply

    Top 5 from Billboard’s 1977 charts: Tonight’s The Night-Rod Stewart;I Just Want To Be Your Everything-Andy Gibb;Best of My Love-the Emotions;Love Theme from “A Star is Born”-Barbra Streisand;Angel in Your Arms-Hot…feel free to insert “f…ing” into these titles as well.

    I remember seeing the Radio Birdman album when I was just a cub in the college radio station walls of vinyls. “what a weird name for a band”,I thought back then. I’ll have to give it a spin,finally,when I’m in a jumpy mood…ted

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I like the “Birds”. I would have eaten them up in the day.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. * Adds this to shopping list for upcoming Toronto trip… Shakes head that it’s been so long without a copy in my collection… Mutter under breath, promise self to rectify situation come hell or high water…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. VC endorses the plan 100% 😎

      Like

      1. Oh man, I’ve got two full days, untended, left to my own devices, in the downtown of the city… whatever will I do with my time, hm? 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  15. […] Radio Birdman — Radios Appear […]

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