Radio Birdman

The Essential Radio Birdman (1974-1978) (Sub Pop 01) Rating: A
Although they didn't sell a lot of records, or release many for that matter, Radio Birdman were a highly influential Aussie outfit whose music remains remarkably fresh and exciting 30+ years after their heyday. Founded by singer Rob Younger and guitarist/principal songwriter Deniz Tek, the band at times recalls the MC5/Stooges (Tek was originally from Michigan), New York Dolls, The Clash, and early Blue Oyster Cult, but Radio Birdman were far from mere slavish imitators, as their incorporation of surf music and prominent usage of keyboards/piano made for a melodic yet hard rocking sound that was uniquely their own. Although often labeled "punk" or "garage," I just tend to think of them as a really good, high-energy rock n' roll band, and the quality on this generous (but not too generous) 22-track compilation is remarkably high throughout. In fact, there are too many potential highlights to really list them all, but certainly some songs worth mentioning are "Aloha Steve and Danno," a fast paced, bitchin' Beach Boys and "Hawaii Five-O" rip, and "Love Kills," a groovy keyboard-led jam that showcases the band's diversity, as do other moodier efforts like "i-94" and "Man With Golden Helmet." Elsewhere, we get plenty of Clash-like shout along choruses ("Murder City Nights"), Dolls-worthy rave-ups ("Burn My Eye 78"), loads of blistering guitar riffs and solos ("Descent Into the Maelstrom," "Anglo Girl Desire"), and even blatant pop choruses ("Do The Pop"). Perhaps there are a few generic entries that are overly simplistic or repetitive, and the vocals (including impressive harmonies) are generally good-not-great, but this is nitpicking because on the whole I've encountered few punk or garage bands that are so consistently intelligent, musical, and flat-out rocking. In short, Radio Birdman deserved far more success than they got at the time, but they're definitely worthy of the belated recognition they now receive as a seminal great "lost" '70s band.

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