Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The "Papa Oo-Mow-Mow" Fallacy

Aficianados know that the Trashmen plagiarized the tune and a lot of the words of "Papa Oo Mow Mow" when they wrote their immortal "Surfin' Bird." This might call into question my contention the other day that "Surfin' Bird" was unprecedented in popular music. But despite their identical choruses and copied words, the songs are crucially, drastically different.

The earlier song comments on its own absurdity, in the tradition of many early rock (and early swing) songs. The Trashmen did away with the treble melody of the earlier song, stripping the song to its chanted chorus, "Papa oo mow mow." The treble melody which overlay the chanted chorus in the earlier song commented on the chant:

Funniest sound I ever heard
But I can't understand a single word

"Surfin' Bird," by contrast, enacts absurdity without comment. Don't you know about the bird? Well everybody knows that the bird is the word, a well a bird bird bird, the bird's the word.

I can't tell you how much I love this song. A lot of the wisdom of Chuang Tzu and William Blake is in it. And I revere those names.

And, to add to the absurdity, they composed it (and their other great paeans to The Wave) in ocean-beachless Minnesota.

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