Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Surfin’ Bird

Based on “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” (US #48 1962) and “The Bird is the Word” (US #52/R&B #27 1963) by The Rivingtons.
Hit version by The Trashmen (US #4 1963 |UK #50 2009).

From the wiki: “‘Surfin’ Bird’ has two musical foundations: ‘Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow’ and ‘The Bird Is The Word’, both written and recorded first by from The Rivingtons before The Trashmen mixed both songs together … without giving proper credits, leaving the opportunity wide open for The Rivingtons to sue (successfully). The Rivingtons had been known as the Sharps, and they had already had success in the charts with Thurston Harris’s ‘Little Bitty Pretty One‘, in 1957, after which they appeared on several Duane Eddy recordings when any extraneous sounds of rebel yells were required (e.g. Eddy’s 1958 hit ‘Rebel Rouser’). The group also recorded for Warner Brothers Records as The Crenshaws in 1961.

“After two hit singles, the Rivingtons struggled to find another hit. Meanwhile, ‘Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow’ and ‘The Bird’s The Word’ were revived, courtesy of a Minnesota-based group calling itself the Trashmen, who combined two Rivingtons’ songs’ nonsense syllables and calling it ‘Surfin’ Bird’. A local Minneapolis disc jockey, Bill Diehl, convinced the band to record the track. It was recorded at Kay Bank Studios in Minneapolis, after which Diehl entered the song into a local ‘Battle of the Bands’ competition and it won. ‘Surfin’ Bird’ was then sent to another ‘Battle of the Bands’ competition, in Chicago, where it also won. This led to the group being signed to Garrett Records with the single being quickly released, eventually peaking nationally at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Trashmen were originally credited as the song’s writers, but that was changed to The Rivingtons (Al Frazier, Carl White, Sonny Harris, and Turner Wilson Jr.) after the latter successfully sued The Trashmen for plagiarism.

“There is no truth to the urban legend, circulating since the late 1960s, that ‘Surfin’ Bird’ was written by Leonard Bernstein to show his disdain for Rock ‘n Roll by proving that any song could become a hit.”

The Rivingtons, “The Bird is the Word” (1962):

The Trashmen, “Surfin’ Bird” (1963):

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