U.K. chart wars: The Trashmen’s 1963 surf classic ‘Surfin’ Bird’ challenges ‘X Factor’ winner Matt Cardle*
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Reason No. 785 that “there will always be an England”: The U.K. pop singles chart this week is topped by the latest winner of Simon Cowell’s hit show “The X Factor,” coming to U.S. TV screens soon. But on his way to No. 1 with his single “When We Collide,” newly crowned pop star Matt Cardle got a surprise challenge from a nearly 50-year-old U.S. surf-rock classic.
The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird’’ -- the one boasting the Shakespearean refrain, “Bird, bird, bird, the bird is the word” -- debuted at No 3, right behind Cardle and the No. 2 single, Rihanna’s “What’s My Name,” and ahead of the Black Eyed Peas’ “The Time (Dirty Bit),” last week’s No. 1 place holder.
“Every Christmas, the No. 1 single has been by the person from that show,” said Tim Livingston, director of sales and publicisty for Sundazed Music, the New York-based reissue specialty label that has the rights to “Surfin’ Bird” in the U.S. “Evidently, a bunch of people over there got fed up with that, and last year they had a grass-roots campaign to try to get Rage Against the Machine to No. 1.”
It worked: Rage’s 1992 song “Killing in the Name” outsold 2009 “X Factor” winner Joe McElderry’s “The Climb” and wrested the No. 1 slot from Cowell’s talent-contest victor during Christmas week.
“This year, those people decided to launch a campaign for ‘Surfin’ Bird’,” Livingston said. “They started a Facebook page and they’ve been trying to recruit people to buy the song online and on iTunes.”
“Surfin’ Bird” returned to the public spotlight last year after being featured prominently in an episode of Fox TV’s “Family Guy” in which family patriarch Peter Griffin expressed his passion for the raucous tune from 1963, which never charted in the U.K. originally. Another “Family Guy” episode this season returned to that theme and used the song again, Livingston said.
The members of the Minneapolis-based garage surf band have become minor celebrities in England, giving interviews about the latter-day chart success of their smash-up of two earlier surf hits by the Rivingtons, ‘Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow’ and ‘The Bird’s the Word.’
[Update Dec. 23 at 1:07 p.m.]: The band coincidentally will play in Southern California in a gig that was booked for well before the U.K. campaign for ‘Surfin’ Bird’ came up. The Trashmen are on the lineup, along with ‘guit-steel’ wizard Junior Brown, for the 8th annual Guitar Geek Festival, organized and hosted by roots-rock guitarist Deke Dickerson, on Jan. 15 in Anaheim.
“It got to No. 3, and apparently that’s where it’s going to end the year,” Livingston said. He noted that “In England, there’s a smaller number of people, so it’s easier to manipulate the charts with something like this. Over here, that would be impossible to do.”
-- Randy Lewis
Bob Reed. Credit: Sundazed Music.