Surfin' Bird

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"Surfin' Bird"
Cover of the 1995 re-issue of the album that featured the single
Single by The Trashmen
from the album Surfin' Bird
A-side Surfin' Bird
B-side "King of the Surf"
Released November 13, 1963 (US)
February 20, 1964 (Canada)
Format 7"
Recorded 1963
Genre Surf rock, garage rock, protopunk
Length 2:24
2:20 (Canada)
Label Garrett (distributed by Soma), Apex (Canada)
Writer(s) Al Frazier
Carl White
Sonny Harris
Turner Wilson Jr.
Producer(s) Jack Bates
The Trashmen singles chronology
- "Surfin' Bird"
"Bird Dance Beat"

"Surfin' Bird" is a song performed by the American surf rock band The Trashmen, and it is also the name of the album that featured this hit single. It was released in 1963 and reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.[1] It is a combination of two R&B hits by The Rivingtons: "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow" and "The Bird's the Word",[2] which was influenced by Red Prysock's "What's the word? Thunderbird!"[3]


It is widely rumored, but highly unlikely, that Surfin' Bird was derived from a radio ad jingle advertising Thunderbird as a brand of cheap wine: "What’s the word? Thunderbird. How’s it sold? Good and cold. What’s the jive? Bird’s alive. What’s the price? Thirty twice."[4] The jazz release that reflects common misconception of the wine jingle and is titled, "What's The Word? Thunderbird!" was issued in record form as Mercury 71214 in October 1957.[5] This release was written by Wilbur Prysock, and performed by Red Prysock.

The Rivingtons followed up their 1962 Billboard Hot 100 hit "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow" with the similar "The Bird's the Word" in 1963. The Trashmen had not heard this version but saw a band called The Sorensen Brothers playing it.[2] They decided to play the song that night at their own gig. During this first performance, drummer and vocalist Steve Wahrer stopped playing and ad-libbed the "Surfin' Bird" middle section.[2] Despite not knowing "The Bird's the Word" was a Rivingtons song, the similarity to "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow" was obvious and The Trashmen added the chorus to the end of their new track.

A local disc jockey, Bill Diehl, was at the gig and convinced the band to record the track.[2] It was recorded at Kay Bank Studios in Minneapolis. Diehl entered it into a local battle of the bands competition and it won. It was then sent to a battle of the bands competition in Chicago where it also won.[2] This led to the group being signed to Garrett Records with the single being quickly released. It reportedly sold 30,000 copies in its first weekend[2] before going on to national success, reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Wahrer was originally credited as the song's writer, but that was changed to the Rivingtons (Al Frazier, Carl White, Sonny Harris, and Turner Wilson Jr.) after the group successfully sued The Trashmen for plagiarism. There is apparently no truth to the urban legend which circulated in the late 1960s that the song had been written by Leonard Bernstein to show his disdain for rock'n'roll by proving that any song could become a hit.

Album track listing[edit]

Side 1[edit]

  1. "Surfin' Bird"
  2. "King of the Surf"
  3. "Henrietta"
  4. "Miserlou"
  5. "Malagueña"
  6. "It's So Easy"

Side 2[edit]

  1. "Tube City"
  2. "My Woodie"
  3. "Bird Bath"
  4. "Kuk"
  5. "Money (That's What I Want)"
  6. "Sleeper"

Bonus tracks (CD)[edit]

  1. "Surfin' Bird [Demo Version]"
  2. "Bird Dance Beat [Demo Version]"
  3. "Walkin' My Baby"
  4. "Dancin' with Santa"

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1963) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 4[1]
Chart (2009) Peak
UK Singles Chart 50[6]
Chart (2010) Peak
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[7] 3


In popular culture[edit]

  • The song is featured in the "birthday party" sequence of the 1972 cult film Pink Flamingos, where it accompanies the performance of a nude contortionist.
  • This song was also used in Stanley Kubrick's film Full Metal Jacket.[8]
  • This song could be heard in the Battlefield Vietnam, as well as the similar Battlefield: Bad Company 2: Vietnam
  • This song is prominently featured in the Family Guy episode I Dream of Jesus (Season 7 Episode 2) as Peter Griffin's favorite song, and has since become a running gag throughout the series. Coincidentally, the intentionally nasal-sounding lead vocal on the Trashmen recording is very similar to the speaking voice developed by Seth MacFarlane for his Griffin character.
  • The song is referenced in the movie "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial."
  • The song is also featured in the movie Fred Claus, starring Vince Vaughn.
  • It is also mentioned during a driving scene in Deadly Premonition.
  • "Surfin' Bird" was used for the dance game Just Dance published by Ubisoft.
  • The chorus of "Surfin' Bird" is used by Bluebird to promote Bluebird chips. In this version, the chorus becomes "Bluebird's the word" and featured penguins carrying packets of chips under their flippers.
  • The invented "bang-bang-bangity-bang" song in the episode "Of Course" from the TV show How I Met Your Mother is sung to the tune of Surfin' Bird.
  • The song is played in the first episode of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, "The Bird! The Bird!"
  • In the movie The Big Year, the character played by Jack Black has the song as the ringtone for his mobile phone. The ringtone is heard several times throughout the movie when someone calls him.
  • Tom Servo (voiced by Kevin Murphy, and for the song Kevin & Toolmaster Jeff) sings "Don't you know that the bird is the word!" in The Tom Servo Men's Academy Chorus, in the fourth sketch of "The Starfighters" episode 12 of Season 6 of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a parody of an NPR show.
  • "Surfin' Bird" was the theme song to the short-lived CBS Kidshow series Birdz.
  • "Surfin' Bird" was a ringtone of Liz Lemon's phone in the 30 Rock episode There's No I in America.


  1. ^ a b [1][dead link]
  2. ^ a b c d e f "A whole new generation is ‘hearing the word’". Retrieved 2014-08-08. 
  3. ^ "YouTube". YouTube. Retrieved 2014-08-08. 
  4. ^ "Everybody’s heard that the bird is the word (but it’s not what they think)". Absurd Intellectual. 2009-06-05. Retrieved 2014-08-08. 
  5. ^ "Mercury Records Collection: Red Prysock Discography on Mercury". Retrieved 2014-08-08. 
  6. ^ "ChartArchive - The Chart Archive". Retrieved 2014-08-08. 
  7. ^ "Archive Chart" UK Singles Chart.
  8. ^ [2][dead link]

External links[edit]