Radio BiRdman The Essential Radio Birdman 1974-1978 (Sub Pop) Rating: NNNN
for an australian rock 'n' roll band that managed to release barely more than an album during their riotous four-year blitz, Radio Birdman's influence has been disproportionately huge.The Hellacopters, Mudhoney, New Bomb Turks, the Chickens and just about every other band still playing their guitars fast and loud today cite Radio Birdman along with the Stooges and the MC5 as high-energy inspiration for their own six-string savagery.
Hearing the feral power of Radio Birdman at their peak on the Essential Radio Birdman 1974-1978, it's easy to understand the group's lasting appeal. The music just grabs you by the throat, shakes you and won't let go.
Twenty-five years on, raging rippers like Murder City Nights and New Race haven't lost their edge. They make recently reissued Ramones recordings from the same period seem quaint by comparison.
"I've known about the growing interest in Radio Birdman," says founding guitarist Deniz Tek, who grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, watching the Stooges, the MC5 and the Rationals at high school parties before moving to Sydney. "It amazes me that kids today are discovering the stuff we did in the 70s and think it's cool.
"I guess it's like us finding out about Muddy Waters through the Rolling Stones and putting on one of his records and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. That the songs might've been 20 years old or more didn't matter -- they sounded great."
Unlike so many records made in the mid-70s that now sound very much like a product of period technology, Radio Birdman's blasts stand up remarkably well.
While Tek credits ingenuity of producer Charles Fisher and engineer John Sayers, there's more to the timeless quality of the Birdman sound. There's a certain captivating mystique involved. It has to do with the strange band name, the mysterious iconography of their manta-like logo, and oblique lyrical references to things like Eskimo Pies and the I-94.
"I came up with the name Radio Birdman from what I thought was a line in the Stooges song 1970. Later, Ron Asheton told me Iggy was actually singing "radio buzzin' up above,' but I think my interpretation is just as valid.
"When we started writing songs, we'd take various substances and sit around in a circle. Someone would come up with a phrase like "Eskimo Pies comin' to you' and the guy beside him would add the next line. All that mattered is that it sounded good.
"The I-94 is the highway that runs through Ann Arbor. Interestingly enough, it ends in Billings, Montana, which is where I now live."
Radio Birdman colloquialisms like "burn my eye" soon became the language of the cult-like following that congregated at the group's Oxford Tavern hang-out in Sydney. Eventually, Sire's Seymour Stein, in Australia to scoop the Saints, caught one of Birdman's take-no-prisoners performances and signed them on the spot.
Not long after Sire re-released Radio Birdman's Radios Appear debut -- much of which turns up on the 22-track Sub Pop compilation along with the best songs from the 80s' Living Eyes and three live recordings -- the group was dropped while on tour in England. Suddenly, it was all over.
"From what I know, Sire over-extended itself signing punk and new wave bands that weren't big sellers. The label's only real money-making acts were Renaissance and Focus, so they kept them, the Talking Heads and the Ramones. That's it.
"The way things were going within the band, we probably wouldn't have lasted much longer, but having our tour support taken away made it logical to end right there. It was tragic."
Upon returning to Australia, the group's charismatic frontman, Rob Younger, assembled the New Christs while Deniz Tek formed the Visitors and continues to perform with the Deniz Tek Band. Tek's forthcoming Deep Reduction project -- due in September -- will feature the menacing voice of Younger.
There were two brief Radio Birdman reunions in 96 and 97. Don't count on a third.
"Toward the end of the second reunion, many of the old demons came back to the surface. Since then, there have been threats of a lawsuit over the use of the group logo that will make it difficult for people to get back together."