Proto-punk and garage from the land of Birdman
The Stooges, MC5, and the New York Dolls may have been forgotten in the US for most of the 1970s and 1980s, but in Australia, a whole generation of bands flourished under their influence, the Stooges contingent led by Sydney’s Radio Birdman, the Dolls’ aficionados by Brisbane’s Saints. As a result, Aussie bands anticipated the whole “Rock Is Back” garage revival of the US by roughly two decades, in a tremendous explosion of three-chord, lo-fi romantic bands, many of whom never made an impact beyond their native towns. This two-disc compilation, the second in a series, collects singles, outtakes, and rarities from Australia from 1976 to 1981.
Radio Birdman is probably the best known of these bands, and, through Detroit native Deniz Tek, the obvious point of origin for Australia’s sloppy brilliant, Iggy-referencing vibe. Before journeying to Sydney for medical school, Tek had attended some of the legendary early 1970s Stooges and MC5 shows in the Motor City. When he began forming his Australian bands, first TV Jones (here represented by the 1974 bonus track “Skimp the Pimp”) and later Radio Birdman, Stooge-esque aggression and primitivism were upfront, though filtered a scrim of obvious intelligence. (Intelligence and primitivism often seem to go together in garage rock; see Billy Childish, the Dirtbombs, etc.) Later during the heyday of Birdman’s “Funhouse”, that influence spread. At the same time, in Brisbane, the Saints were pursuing the raucous tunefulness of the 1960s Stones and the New York Dolls. Another bonus track, credited to Kid Galahad & the Eternals, highlights an early version of the great “(I’m) Stranded”, recorded in 1974.
Do the Pop includes just two actual Radio Birdman tracks (the original recording of “Do the Pop” and a scorching live version of “New Race”), but another half dozen cuts by related bands like the Hitman, the Passengers, The Visitors, New Christs, Johnny Kannis, Angie Pepper (Tek’s wife), and TV Jones. Likewise, the Saints account for four of the 52 cuts here—including raw and urgent versions of “Wild About You”, “This Perfect Day”, “Call It Mine”, and “Gypsy Woman”—but their influence stretches much further. There are two songs each from the Scientists, X and the Manikins.
This is the second installment in the Do the Pop series, so many of the most obvious choices have already been made. The Psycho Surgeon’s “Horizontal Action”, a rowdy highlight of disc one, is the flip side of a single already documented in the first iteration of the series. Johnny Kannis, part of Birdman’s Sydney scene, contributes a Seeds cover “Pushin’ Too Hard”, whereas on the first Do the Pop, he was represented by “King of the Surf”. And yet, song after song is more than solid, some of them great, testifying to the depth and breadth of the Aussie scene.
It’s hard to pick out favorites, but certainly X’s no-holds-barred, Sex Pistols-esque “Home Is Where the Floor Is” ranks high, as does the Scientists’ razor-edged balance between rock aggression and pop in “Frantic Romantic”. Though Do the Pop obviously documents a male-centric scene—you are onto the second disc before you hear a female voice—the Angie Pepper-fronted Passengers are terrific in “Girlfriend’s Boyfriend”, a woozy, post-punk rampage of soft female singing and sharp-edged guitars. And “Brother John”, from the Visitors (whose members included Tek, Pip Hoyle and Ron Keeley), is like a great lost single from Radio Birdman, on a level with “Into the Maelstrom” for its rampaging complexity.
This is a wonderful compilation of music that will be unfamiliar to all but a small coterie of Australian punk and rock fans. Detail liner notes, archival photos, and show posters round out the offering for students of the genre. For most people, though, it’ll be enough just to put the music on. These songs are as rough and immediate and untutored as they were when they were recorded, documenting a thriving scene that most people in the US didn’t even know about until it was over.