By Madeline Bocaro ©
© Madeline Bocaro, 2020. No part of this site may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without permission of the copyright owner.
BIRD IS THE WORD!
Come fly with me, and listen to some bird songs…
‘The Swan’ is a lovely classical piece by French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921) which has become a renowned lullaby. (Klaus Nomi performs a spectacular version of the Saint-Saens 1877 aria from Samson and Delilah).
My favorite version of ‘The Swan’ is by theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore. The theremin is an incredible instrument with an otherworldly sound. Clara worked with its creator Leon Theremin in the early 1940s in developing the instrument to make more visually appealing and effective. Robert Moog (inventor of the Moog synthesizer) became a big fan of Clara’s work and helped to release her music.
Listen: Clara Rockmore – ‘The Swan’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zxrpwGgDtk&feature=youtu.be
An amazing 26 minutes radio interview with Leon Theremin and Clara Rockmore from 1992 – reunited after 50 years! It’s incredible – especially in the third piece – how the theremin can sound like a operatic woman’s voice or a drunken insect! It can be used classically, and also take you to another space and time. I love that Clara says you can’t play it with your fingers – you must use butterfly wings.
Listen: Leon Theremin & Clara Rockmore Interview: https://www.wnyc.org/story/inventor-and-virtuoso-leon-theremin-and-clara-rockmore-listening-room/
Korean Avant-garde composer Nam June Paik created a score titled ‘Variations on a Theme by Saint-Saens’. This was performed by his artistic collaborator Charlotte Moorman. The piece calls for the cellist to play a bit of the Saint-Saens piece, then submerge herself in a water-filled tank, come out and continue playing the piece. Moorman performed this over fifty times, and during her final performance (in Paris in 1989 at the At the first Fluxus retrospective) with the assistance of artist Keith Haring. This was both artists’ final public appearance. The Paris venue was across the street from the cemetery where Saint-Saens is laid to rest.
Watch Charlotte Moorman’s live performance of ‘Variations on a Theme by Saint-Saens’:
See my story about Charlotte Moorman:
‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ was sung by Vera Lynn in 1940 in the film of the same name. Frank Sinatra interpreted the song with his orchestrated version with twittering violins.
A beautiful version was done by former Mott The Hoople singer, Ian Hunter live in Oslo in 2002 which appears on his 2003 orchestral DVD Strings Attached. It’s especially beautiful in his British accent, as the song takes place in London.
Listen – Vera Lynn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTeiYN_Vq6E
Ian Hunter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irGXtfSbzEw
Nat Kendric and the Swans (really James Brown) have a song called ‘Hot Chile’ reminiscent of ‘What’d I Say”. Other songs include ‘Do The Mashed Potatoes Part I & II’
‘Rockin’ Robin’ was a hit for Bobby Day in 1958, but a young Michael Jackson made it popular in1972 as a single from his album Got To Be There. In this corny little song with all the twiddley tweets, the robin meets a pretty little raven who puts a dance in his step. He out-bopped the buzzard and the oriole!
‘Surfin’ Bird’ was originally by The Trashmen in 1963. The song merges The Rivingtons’ ‘Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow’ and ‘The Bird’s the Word’ – both from the same year. The Ramones did a great cover on their third album Rocket To Russia in 1977. My favorite cover version is by The Cramps on their 1978 debut single and their first album Gravest Hits. (You can see Iggy Pop singing ‘Surfin’ Bird’ to his pet cockatoo Biggy Pop on Instagram).
There’s a great chicken dance at the end of this video:
Watch: The Trashmen 1963: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Gc4QTqslN4
The Ramones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVQfVtzFd4U
The Cramps: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Snoz8Ds6trU
‘Mockingbird’ was written in 1963 based on an old lullaby ‘Hush Little Baby’. It was a big hit for Carly Simon and James Taylor who were a married couple at the time in 1974. It appeared on Carly’s studio album Hotcakes. The track featured several of John Lennon’s players; David Spinozza on guitar, Klaus Voormann on bass and Jim Keltner on drums. It was also covered by Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin and others.
‘The Ostrich’ was an early song written by Lou Reed in 1964. Lou was an in-house songwriter at Pickwick Records, a New York City label that ‘manufactured’ hit songs by concocted bands such as The Primitives which included Lou on vocals and his future Velvet Underground band-mate John Cale on viola. Lou sang ‘The Ostrich’ which he considered to be a parody of dance songs at the time. Lou tuned all the strings of his guitar to the same note, similar to the technique he later used in the VU. I love his jive talking at the start, before he starts singing this ‘vicious’ song instructing us to put our heads between our knees and do “just about anything you please.”
Lou’s dance instruction is in this lyric:
“Put your head on the floor and have somebody step on it”.
‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ on The Beatles’ 1966 album Revolver is not about an actual bird, but a girl (for which the word ‘bird’ is the slang in England).
The Liverbirds (from Liverpool) were one of the first all-girl groups ever (who were huge Beatles Fans). They reunited for some gigs in 2019.
The amazing story of The Liverbirds:
The Liverbirds were a girl band before girl bands had even been invented. Not singing harmonies in pretty dresses with a backing group, but out there front and centre, playing their own instruments in Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club in the early ’60s. Incredibly, the band turned down deals from not one but two famous band managers: The Beatles’ Brian Epstein and Larry Page who managed The Kinks…
Some cool unofficial documentary footage including ‘Mona’, ‘Money’ etc… AND ‘Peanut Butter’ at the end!
Blackbird – I have always especially loved the intimacy of this recording – our ears are right between the acoustic guitar strings and Paul’s fingertips. That close. At age sixteen, Paul McCartney had taught himself to play the intro of Bach’s ‘Bourree in E Minor’. The singing blackbird on the recording was culled from a tape labeled Volume Seven: Birds of a Feather in the Abbey Road sound effects collection. We assumed that the song was about a bird, with its chirping intro. However, Paul later explained,
“I had in mind a black woman, rather than a bird. Those were the days of the civil rights movement, which all of us cared passionately about, so this was really a song from me to a black woman experiencing these problems in the States: Let me encourage you to keep trying, to keep your faith, there is hope.”
– Paul McCartney to Miles, Many Years from Now 1997
‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’ was a No. 1 hit in 1970 by the Scottish band Middle of the Road. As mentioned in my Road To Nowhere playlist, the song and the band are referenced in the 1992 song ‘Middle of the Road’ (an homage to Jonathan Richman’s song ‘Road Runner’) by the band Denim.
The Partridge Family made David Cassidy a worldwide teen idol, but also trapped him in a teenybopper world. He tried to break out to become a serious musician all his life, however he had essentially sold his soul to Pop.
I’ll Meet You Half Way – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MU7psHBVyQE
I Can Feel Your Heartbeat – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3fPtMuBtMs
I Woke Up in Love This Morning – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTvUT_Hx4Dc
The title art for the tv show was auctioned in 2016. Bidding started at $40,000.
‘The Falconer’ is Nico’s song for Andy Warhol. It’s from her (1970) album Desertshore. There is no shore in the desert!
Father child / Angels of the night
Silver flame / my candlelight…
Silver friend / my candlelight
Father child / Angels of the night
A beautiful version from from Philippe Garrel’s film
Le Lit de la vierge https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxN8VFAAQ6A
Read my piece about Nico’s album Desertshore:
I’ll include a track from Wings’ album Wild Life, released in December 1971. I love the beautiful ‘Tomorrow’. I think of this as Paul McCartney’s follow-up to his song ‘Yesterday’. Although this was Paul’s third post-Beatles album (following McCartney and Ram) it was his first with Wings. ‘Tomorrow’ became a hit for David Cassidy in South Africa in 1976.
Annette Peacock’s songs ‘7 Days’ and ‘I’m The One’ from her album of the same name were covered by Mick Ronson. ‘I’m the One’ is on Mick’s solo album ‘Slaughter on 10th Avenue’ and ‘7 Days’ is a single B-side. Ronson was turned on to Peacock by Bowie’s keyboard player (his band-mate in The Spiders From Mars), Mike Garson, who played on Annette’s album. Peacock, the eclectic Brooklyn Born electronic / jazz artist was the first to compose music for synthesizer. She turned down Bowie’s offer to play synths on Aladdin Sane. This highly influential artist released several solo albums from 1972-2014 and has collaborated with others including her one-time husband Paul Bley (both early players of Moog and Arp synths) on six other albums. She has also composed many tracks for Paul Bley, Al Kooper and Nels Cline.
‘I’m The One’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dP4ux-hRek
‘I’m The One’ – Mick Ronson version – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cItRYkvN98Q
Annette Peacock-Unsung Heroine documentary, 2000 – 11 mins.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrlHECcQGfo&fbclid=IwAR0eN2qBDmdkzEFufRfClnHsunphAOLYveJ-j2Kafrt62jO7j8yE8ksxRDM
‘The Sparrow’ by Mary Hopkin is a song about leaving home. Written by Gallagher and Lyle for The Beatles’ Apple publishing. It was the b-side of her 1969 single ‘Goodbye’ (written by Paul McCartney for Mary). Paul’s demo of the song was released as part of the Abbey Road 50th Anniversary super deluxe edition in 2019). I love when the poetic lyrics turn to thoughts of the sax solo that takes us away at the end of the tune.
The sparrow sings, the sparrow flies
With mighty wings he reaches
As high as any other bird
He shall inherit all the earth
Through the blue and hazy drift of after two
A saxophone is moaning
I rise and step into the cool night air
The lovely ‘Sparrows Will Sing’ is a composition by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. It was written for Marianne Faithfull about the ‘unholy mess’ of the 21st century. It appears on her 2014 album Give My Love to London. The chorus of Callooh! Callay!’, an joyous expression is a quote from Lewis Carroll’s 1871 nonsense poem Jabberwocky (from the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There). Marianne recorded a track titled “Jabberwoc” for her debut double album Come My Way in 1965.
Watch the beautiful video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHVFarjq-D0
Marianne’s 1965 single ‘This Little Bird’ has its 55th anniversary this year.
‘Firebird‘ was released in 1969 by White Noise – a pioneering English experimental electronic music group formed in 1968. It’s from their monumental album on Island Records called An Electric Storm. The band included one of the first pre-synth electronic composers, Delia Derbyshire. Delia was employed at the BBC’s sound effects unit – Radiophonic Workshop from 1960. Her most famous piece is the iconic, spacey Doctor Who television theme. Pioneering electronica, Delia cut, spliced and manipulated the speed of her analog tapes. Using musique concrete techniques and white noise, she electronically arranged the music (written by another composer, Ron Grainer). The BBC denied her credit and royalties, although Grainer had insisted on listing her as co-writer.
Listen – ‘Firebird’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIH9vyae5cY
‘Ride a White Swan’ released in October 1970 is the first single by T. Rex (after Marc Bolan swapped out Steve Took for Mickey Finn and changed the band’s name from Tyrannosaurus Rex.) The short, simple and sweet single released in late 1970 was written by Bolan who would soon become the king of Glam Rock. There were no drums on the track, only handclaps and tambourine. When Marc died in a car crash in 1977 at age 29, David Bowie attended his funeral. A a large flower arrangement was sent in the shape of a swan.
Two months later, T. Rex followed up that single with ‘Seagull Woman’ – on their eponymous studio album released in December 1970 after going electric. Their next album Electric Warrior went above and beyond the electric realm of this album. The players were Marc on guitar, percussionist Mickey Finn (who replaced Steve Took from Tyrannosaurus Rex), and producer Tony Visconti on bass. Flo and Eddie (Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman of The Turtles) sang backing vocals on ‘Seagull Woman’.
‘Danger Bird ’ is on Neil Young’s seventh album Zuma, released in 1975. The guitar tones on this are incredible. Lou Reed always said that the beauty of this made him cry.
‘Birdland’ was written by Patti Smith. It’s on her debut 1975 album Horses. This song is not about birds either! Patti spews her poetry like wildfire, truly giving the song wings. This is her arcane ode to the pioneering Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich who also explored sexual liberation. It’s based on his son Peter’s 1973 memoir A Book of Dreams. Their story was later interpreted by Kate Bush in her song ‘Cloudbusting’ in 1985 on her album Hounds of Love.
In 1977, Weather Report recorded the instrumental ‘Birdland’ on their album Heavy Weather. The song’s title the name of the famous jazz club on Broadway in Manhattan and was the hot jazz spot from 1949 through the mid- 1960s. The club’s name was the nickname of Charile Parker, who was known as ‘The bird’ . Weather Report’s version features the genius of Jaco Pastorius on bass. The Manhattan Transfer covered it in 1992 – with lyrics by jazz great Jon Hendricks about the club.
Manhattan Transfer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZHvsaVTrzQ
Jaco Pastorius documentary trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYE-tm8UBSM
Although there’s an old blues song called ‘Little Red Rooster’ written by Willie Dixon (performed by Howlin’ Wolf, Sam Cooke and The Rolling Stones), I prefer the other song of the same name by Cherry Vanilla. from her album Bad Girl (1978). Hers is not about a lazy bird crowing for days. It’s about David Bowie (referring to his red mullet hairstyle) and his empty promise to produce a record for her! Cherry, an actress in Andy Warhol’s play Pork had been Bowie’s PR girl during his Ziggy Stardust fame in the early 1970s. The chorus of cock-a-doodle doo/ Cock-a-doodle-day is a nice double entendre. It appears on her1978 album Bad Girl.
Read my 2019 interview with Cherry:
And my review of Cherry’s book, Lick Me:
Now here is something silly from the 80s. A very familiar instrumental by The Tweets called ‘Birdie Song (a.k.a. The Chicken Dance’) released in 1981’. Without words, this song manages to evoke visions of a chicken! The song was a popular piece in the 1950s, written by a Swedish accordian player.
A Flock of Seagulls’ ‘Space Age Love Song’ (1982) is a bit better than ‘I Ran’. I could never take this band seriously because It actually looks like a bird has landed on the singer’s head.
Iggy Pop’s album 1983 Zombie Birdhouse was produced by Chris Stein of Blondie. I love the track ‘Eat or Be Eaten’
* Be sure to follow Iggy’s pet bird Biggy Pop on Instagram!
On ‘When Doves Cry’, Prince describes what it would sound like if he made love to you! Of course, this is from his classic 1984 album and film Purple Rain.
Debbie Harry’s second solo album, Rockbird (1986) contained the title track, and the hit single ‘French Kissin’ (in the USA’). It made the Top Ten in the U.K. Debbie also recorded the song in French.
Listen: ‘Rockbird’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcyW8X60OzA
Listen: ‘French Kissin’ (in the USA’) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtwBuJ_6oLI
‘To The Birds’ by Suede is the B-side of Suede’s debut single ‘The Drowners’ released in May 1992. It’s another heavy pop song about suicide with an uplifting chorus from the early Britpop group that I adore so much.
I can’t have a play list without at least one Cramps song. Here is ‘Nest of the Cuckoo Bird’ from their 1994 album Flamejob.
Speaking of Britpop, here is ‘Mansize Rooster’ by Supergrass from their 1995 album I Should Coco. The first, 500 copies were released on a limited-edition vinyl 7-inch single. The song has absolutely nothing to do with roosters.
‘Know Your Chicken’ is a fabulous track on the funky, jazzy trip-hop debut album from Japanese band Cibo Matto released in 1996 titled Viva! La Woman. Cibo Matto are Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori (Sean Lennon joined them on tour playing bass). Most of the band’s songs are about food, such as; ‘Apple’, ‘Beef Jerky’, ‘Birthday Cake’, ‘Sugar Water’, ‘Artichoke’, ‘BBQ’, ‘Spoon’ and ‘White Pepper Ice Cream’. ‘Know Your Chicken’ was also released as a single, and this fantastic video was made…
‘Free as a Bird’ was a 1975 John Lennon demo which The Beatles finished and released twenty years later (in 1995 as a single for The Beatles Anthology) along with another of John’s demos, ‘Real Love’. The wonderful video takes us to various Beatles places and references in Liverpool.
‘Dreambirds’ is by Brian Eno (with the Words of Rick Holland) from the album Drums Between the Bells. This beautiful album was released in July 2011
Listen – Dreambirds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4R-BSCfqF0M
My story about Eno’s album:
‘Bird Song’ was co-written by Sean Lennon and Carrie Fisher. The song was completed by Sean after Carrie’s passing in 2016. It is sung by Sean and Willow Smith.
“Carrie and I wrote this song years ago. When she died, I just felt I had to record it. This is only a demo unmixed, we only had a few hours to record it. But the lyrics she wrote with me I think are marvelous. Carrie and I used to stay up til dawn chatting and pontificating about life. They were my best moments. Anyway … we wrote a song about staying up too late and hearing the birds sing. Willow Smith is a prodigal angel and was generous enough to lend her golden voice to this little tune.”
– Sean Ono Lennon, Soundcloud
The ballad is reminiscent of Beatles tunes. The strange and sad lyrics:
“It’s all so wrong/ To greet the dawn
The birds sing that awful song saying
‘You don’t belong here!’”
© Madeline Bocaro 2020. No part of the materials available through madelinex.com may be copied, photocopied, reproduced, translated or reduced to any electronic medium or machine-readable form, in whole or in part, without the prior written consent of Madeline Bocaro. Any other reproduction in any form without the permission of Madeline Bocaro is prohibited. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without prior written permission of Madeline Bocaro.
Also see my story:
Yoko Ono: Birdsong
More bird-brained fun:
Cuckoo For Cocoa Puffs
Fun with Toucan Sam & Froot Loops
See more in my Playlist category
About A Song
Eat to the Beat