Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Birds – The Collector’s Guide to Rare British Birds

The Birds are the legendary first band of Ron Wood, who went on to so many other amazing groups – the Creation, Jeff Beck Group, Faces and even the Stones. This collection gives a full view of this fantastic mod/r’n’b band.

Opening with “You’re on my Mind”, Wood’s sharp Telecaster chords pierce the air and start a frantic white boy r’n’b, harp-driven tune in the fashion of the Pretty Things. The Things were obviously a big influence on this group and “You Don’t Love Me” could easily be mistaken for one of their tunes, which isn’t too far fetched as it was written by Bo Diddley, who the Things covered regularly. These songs could easily have come from the first PT’s album, which means they are pretty freakin’ hot!

One of their most famous songs is their ravin’ take on the classic r’n’b number, “Leaving Here”. This has influenced innumerable bands through the years, including Motorhead, who did their own unrestrained version in the ‘80’s. This is rough and tough rhythm and rock. Terrific!

“Next in Line” is another mod classic, with more cool harp playing and a feel not unlike “Leaving Here”. This goes to show that Ron could write a great rocker even here in his first band! This cat had talent!

Another Motown number given the mod treatment is “No Good Without You”, which the Birds make their own. Wood’s cutting, supremely heavy chords really drive this one – he was a helluva rhythm guitarist and while the lead in this one isn’t fancy, it really accents the song. Ultra hip vocal arrangement, too. Wood’s guitar tone jumps out of the speakers for another original, “How Can it Be”, sounding a bit like early Creation here, especially in the psychedelic-tinged solo.

There’s a demo version of “You’re on my Mind”, which isn’t nearly as strong as the opener – this is more of a straight blues, though it has some really good harp playing. A demo of “You Don’t Love Me” follows and I would say the same about this.

“Say Those Magic Words” sounds so much like the Creation that anyone could be fooled into thinking it was them. Of course, the Creation was amazing and Wood eventually joined them, so this is not a bad thing at all! Cool, tremeloed guitar solo by Ron, as well!

They really move in the freak-beat direction with “Daddy Daddy”, with more Mod-psych guitar work, obscure lyrics and memorable melodies! Twisted, late-60’s Brit-pop with a wild, wacky guitar break at the end.

Of course, any and all Mod bands had to do an obligatory Who cover and the Birds was “Run Run Run”. This is actually quite similar to the original – good, but nothing much new really added.

Oddly (to me anyway), the band covered not one but two songs but a French singer, Michel Polnareff, who apparently was somewhat successful in England. “Good Times” (I think it might also be known as “No No No”) is another fine example of freak-beat/psych-pop – easily fits in with their songs like “Daddy Daddy” and “Say Those Magic Words”. There’s another take on the latter tune included next, and while it is billed as an “alternative version”, it seems to be the same backing track without the vocals. Kinda interesting, but not something for repeated listenings! There’s also a different “Daddy Daddy”, which, while including some noticeable changes, isn’t wildly divergent and the official release is the better one.

The other Polnareff tune is “La Poupee Qui Fait Non” – ok, I’m wrong – this is simply the French title for “Good Times” and it sounds about the same as the other recording, with maybe a few extra production effects.

They do another try at “Run Run Run” that sounds almost like they were mixing that song with “The Good’s Gone”. This really is unlike either the Who or the Birds own recordings and is quite interesting and enjoyable. Yet another “Daddy Daddy” is next, this time just the backing track.

The official closer, “Granny Rides Again” seems strikingly out of place here – this is almost bubblegum pop, complete with horn accents and silly lyrics. I guess even great bands made some bad decisions, especially at this time when producers controlled at least some of your output in the hopes of the ever elusive “hit”!

The bonus track, though, is of the Birds appearing in some wacky 60’s movie, The Deadly Bees (the footage is amazing – Wood is especially hip looking with his long hair and American flag-decorated Telecaster) doing a fantastic tune (“That’s All I Need”) interspersed with some dialogue. They are obviously lip-syncing, but the backing track is not on this collection, unfortunately. I would love to hear this whole song!

Overall, a pretty fabulous collection of one of the best and toughest Mod-psych bands of the time!