I politely said that maybe not. Surely what I'd done was enough.
They have not left me alone about it. Anyway, recently, this person helped me out with a publisher in her home country (the UK). I asked what I could do to thank her. Guess what she said?
Here's the column. It's the least I can do. So, for you, Donna, your bird songs.
The problem was, I wasn't sure if I knew enough songs about birds. I sat down and just started to reel off a few from the top of my head. After I listed eight I went through my music list. That added a lot more. Wow. I never realised just how many songs out there are about birds! So I had to cull the number down. Birds are more popular in music than cats, that's for sure.
It seems to me that birds are used as a metaphor for two things. Birds, in general, are used to signify freedom. Watching an animal that can just escape by simply flying away, that makes perfect sense. It is something that maybe we, as humans, are jealous of. The other is when a specific bird means something, and normally that is a dove for peace and an eagle for being ruler of the world (or America). But birds appear everywhere. I was surprised. And so many are quite good.
Now, normally, I don't include comedy songs in these lists. But I have book-ended this list with two comedy songs. Now… the last one is one you probably shouldn't listen to if you actually like birds… maybe. It's not rude or crude at all… but you may want to skip that one. Two comedy honourable mentions: 'Weird Al' Yankovic's 'I Want A New Duck' is a middling Weird Al song, and 'The Chicken Song' from Spitting Image is more about making fun of holiday music than any real bird references, though it is a brilliant song.
Okay, two rules. One song per artist and no songs about dances like "The Bird", "The Birdie Dance" and 'Eagle Rock'. This does mean no 'Surfin' Bird' either which is a shame because I love the sheer insanity of that song. And no 'Little Red Rooster'; that song leaves me cold.
Comedy track, the first!
'Bird Of Peace' by Hee Bee Gee Bees (1981)
So, we'll start with the first comedy song. The Hee Bee Gee Bees (under the guidance of vastly under-rated Philip Pope) have come up before and that's because they are singularly brilliant. This track basically parodies the peace-and-love songs of the Woodstock era with spot-on takes on the artists of the time. it. It is so well done. Though I couldn't find it on YouTube, there is an actual video clip from the TV show KYTV (the 'Those Sexciting Sixties' episode) with people playing the roles of said artists. Still, even as an audio track, great comedy.
To the list proper! In chronological order as usual. I would like to point out that the latest song here is from 1995. This may or may not indicate a recent lack of bird songs, but (more likely) it indicates when most of the music I own was released.
'Pretty Flamingo' by Manfred Mann (1966)
So, let's start in the sixties with a band that was a huge part of the British Invasion of that time period but which has been all but forgotten, except maybe for their hit 'Do Wah Diddy Diddy'. They released a heap of great songs, and this is certainly one of the better ones, where the Flamingo of the title is a metaphor for something looking beautiful. It is a great track.
And yet, in 1987, another all-but-forgotten band, Australia's Huxton Creepers, released a cover version that was, in my opinion, as good as the original! How forgotten was this? When I wanted to check the release date (it's not on the 45 I own), I went to a website that lists all cover versions and it wasn't there. Such a great cover, and even these so-called comprehensive websites didn't acknowledge it. So I have decided to include it here as well to try and correct that oversight.
'Bird On A Wire' by Leonard Cohen (1969)
Leonard Cohen had a string of albums and singles that are so little known beyond 'Hallelujah' (which many seem to think was a Jeff Buckley original anyway) that it's a damn shame. This is one of his early tracks and it is a stunning piece of songwriting as well as a beautiful song on its own. Originally written as a country song, he changed it up in subsequent live recordings. It is still a great song, no matter how it is sung.
And it is yet another song that Johnny Cash made into something stunning.
'Mockingbird' by Johnny O'Keefe and Margaret McLaren (1973)
Johnny O'Keefe was well past his hit-making days by the 1970s. The British Invasion and then the growth of what has become known as classic rock left him far behind. He had 'Shout!' and 'She's My Baby' (one of my all-time favourite Australian songs) and a number of other hits, but things had dried up. However, he did have this one last successful tilt at the Australian charts, with this cover version, and it was a fine way for him to go out. He is over-powered often by Margaret McLaren, but he is still there, still pounding it out with the best of them. Without JO'K we wouldn't have Australian rock as we know it today. Simple.
'Free Bird' by Lynyrd Skynyrd (1974)
This track only just missed out on making my long songs list, and by just, I mean by 12 seconds. But the live versions – hoo-boy! Did they go on! I have a nearly 20-minute jam somewhere in my collection. This is one of my favourite tracks ever (not the edited version – that does not work), and the bird motif as being a symbol of freedom is right there. One of the greatest songs ever. Just listen to the last 10 minutes and all that magnificent guitar soloing and bass soling and drum soloing… okay, I know some people can't handle it when artists go off like that. But this is so, so good.
'Fly Like An Eagle' by Steve Miller Band (1976)
Quite a laid back and mellow song, really. On the album, it's hard to differentiate it from the opening 'Intro', but that's fine because as a long-form song like that it still works. I thought for years the song was called 'Time Keeps On Slippin'' because of the repeated refrain, but when I finally got the album, I saw what I got wrong. This is almost hypnotic in its presentation, and you can imagine the ease of flying like an eagle as the music washes over you.
'Wings Of A Dove' by Madness (1983)
Steel drums, gospel choir… this was Madness changing things up a little from their usual ska-infused pop-rock. Madness are a band that were huge in the early 80s and then seemed to drop away from the public eye, which is a shame because they had some absolutely corker songs. This song has such an uplifting feel to it – maybe because of the inclusion of the choir – and it feels like the song of hope and joy it is meant to be. One of Madness' lesser hits, it deserved so much better.
'On The Wings Of A Nightingale' by The Everly Brothers (1984)
This was one of those bands I struggled to decide which song to include, because 'Bird Dog' was one of the songs I grew up listening to on my father's old 45 (which I now own). But this, their come-back single after some 14 years, always struck me as so much better. In fact, it was one of their very best songs, and that includes a lot of greatness. Written by Paul McCartney, it uses their glorious vocal harmonies and the simplicity of their instrumentation to great effect. I actually used this song as the template for a short story I wrote that appears in the anthology Fated (2019), so it certainly made an impression on me!
'When Doves Cry' by Prince (1984)
Yeah, really, no list of "bird" songs was ever going to be complete without this one, was it? From one of Prince's finest albums Purple Rain, and a shockingly good movie of the same name, this song of growing up in a household where there was no peace (hence the dove metaphor) is an incredible bit of songwriting. The lyrics are amazing and the sparse instrumentation just heightens everything about it. Many have tried to cover it (including on the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet) but none have succeeded in matching the sheer emotion of Prince's delivery. What a song.
'Birdhouse In Your Soul' by They Might Be Giants (1989)
Another band that too few people know anything about, which is a shame because they have had a successful and varied career. While not a fan, per se, the stuff of theirs for adults I have heard has certainly been good. This song is a weird mix of styles and sounds and rhythms that all come together with a catchy-as-all-out chorus and a tune that will stick in your head for days. It was apparently their best-selling single as well, which stuns me because of how different it is to other music of the time. Still, no complaints – it's a great song.
'Free As A Bird' by The Beatles (1995)
This was the hardest choice I had to make. The Beatles have released a large number of songs featuring birds, and so I struggled to find one to include. I spent a good couple of hours listening to them over and over, but I kept coming back to this one, released as a single in 1995 by the remaining three members by recording over a demo tape John Lennon recorded in 1977 to coincide with the Anthology TV series and CD sets. What might the Beatles have done if they had reformed in the 1980s? Well, if this track is anything to go by, what they would have done would have been incredible. The lyrics about being free and looking back on one's life still resonate. Like so many of their songs, a timeless track. Just great.
All right, bird-lovers, you might want to jump to the end of the next section. Or not. Your call. But this is a simply awesome comedy song to close this out.
'Poisoning Pigeons In The Park' by Tom Lehrer (1959)
As an extra track, here's the second comedy song. Tom Lehrer is all but forgotten today, despite being one of the most intelligent of comedy songwriters ever. He is also incredibly hilarious. I was introduced to him by Cody at high school, and as soon as I found it, I bought a huge CD set of all his recorded output. It is great. Even his educational songs are something to hear. And this is one of his greatest tracks. It is about killing birds, yes (except for "the few we take home to experiment"), but it is about birds and it is funny.
All right, ten songs about birds, and a couple of comedy songs to add to it, with fourteen videos all up to listen to/watch. Maybe 'birds' was a good topic after all! Thanks, Donna, for pushing me to do this. I think it was worth it.
And, to finish, a gif of birds dancing. Just because.