Sieger on Songs: The Crazy Joy of The Rivingtons » Urban Milwaukee
John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

The Crazy Joy of The Rivingtons

Their songs might be the surreal antidote to that guy in the White House.

By - Jul 23rd, 2018 02:43 pm
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The Rivingtons

The Rivingtons

There’s a frayed wire randomly shooting off sparks as it travels from synapse to synapse in my head. And it goes anywhere it damn well pleases. The twisted path it recently took is from our blighted present to a wonderful moment long ago when a one-hit, proto-punk band from Minneapolis called The Trashmen borrowed a little too heavily from the super-caffeinated black doo-wop group, The Rivingtons, and wound up adding a few more names to the credits of their surrealist manifesto  “Little Surfing Bird”.

How did I arrive at that point? It all started with a news week only Salvador Dali could have imagined. The words  “traitor” and treason” are used openly by many who would have cautioned against it before. That’s because our disaster of a president went to Helsinki to praise Vladimir Putin, tyrant and murderer, while denigrating US intelligence agencies. This came a couple days after he was seen walking in front of the queen and alienating our democratic friends in NATO. The saner elements back home have started to wonder if Donald Trump had finally stepped in something he couldn’t scrape off. It sure smells like it.

Here in the Sieger household, news like that hits hard and causes loss of sleep, especially to those of us who were crying after the last election. Relief from the constant drumbeat of bad tidings is much needed. This is also probably true for some of you who read this column. So I went looking for something that could match the dreamlike quality of recent events while being entertaining and I hope, funny.

How about the almost infallible Ramones? I watched the video of “I Wanna Be Sedated.” You should too — it’s hilarious. While I was searching, “Surfing Bird,” a song they covered, turned up in the queue. Wow! The level of derangement in that baby was almost a match for current events! First you have the twisted logic of a surf-rock band from Minneapolis. The performance by singer/drummer Steve Wahrer is an unhinged tour-de-force. Like many great white bands though, they got there second and pretended they were first. It was clearly a mashup of two hits by The Rivingtons, “Papa Oom Mow Mow” and “The Bird.” When the dust settled and the lawyers were paid, they had added their names on the single, which shot up to #4 on the charts.

This leads us to another great American surrealist, Steve Allen, the man who basically invented David Letterman. His late night TV show was a dada performance interrupted by high-brow hipster chat. He played jazz piano, told jokes and talked to the smarter people in the room his whole career. To gaze back at the show that featured The Rivingtons singing “Papa Oom Mow Mow” into Allen’s hand-held mic is to spy a wonderland that might have been too much for Alice. We join as he is wrapping up and thanking his very diverse (you’ll see) guests before handing it over the group to take the it out. And boy, do they ever.

Here is where I usually let you scan the lyrics. Instead, let’s watch another performance of this song from a little later in their careers. The Rivingtons may be an oldies act in this one, but they’re still energetic and committed to this loopy bit of nonsense. This song, a novelty for sure, is made great the way all good comedy is — by a believable performance. I don’t know if we’re watching is the original bass singer Carl White in this undated video — he died in 1980. I think it must be though. In both performances, he plays the fool to good effect and when the the rest of the quartet joins, you are placed securely in the hands of some very qualified artists. This same group, under the name The Sharps, had a hit in 1957 with the amazing “Little Bitty Pretty One.”

What’s my point? I’m not sure. America sure looked like fun back then, but it would be foolish to pretend it was that way for everyone. Despite that, the energy level was high and optimism was in the air. I’d rather watch a generous fool like Mr. White than the useless one who is trying to hand the keys of the kingdom to one the world’s greatest villains. Laughs are in short supply these days — diversion is necessary.

3 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: The Crazy Joy of The Rivingtons”

  1. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    “America was having a party, and the music set the beat!” I’d always liked I Wanna Be Sedated by The Ramones but had never seen this video (which is indeed hilarious). And the Rivingtons: WOW! We need more fun and laughter now – hope that America gets back there again sometime!

  2. Thomas says:

    Yes, John, we need the RIVINGTONS, the TRASHMEN, Steve Allen and David Letterman in these times. Thanks to you, we have our memories of them.

    Back in Reagan days, Miller ran an ad featuring perhaps THE OAK RIDGE BOYS singing the praises of their beer:

    “Folks ’round here they all walk tall and proud/they look you right in the eye/They known some things are worth a whole lot more/ than money can buy/People care about their family, and laughter’s sincere/ your word is your word, a friend is a friend, and Miller’s the beer.”

    I wrote a second verse to that ad/song:

    People here you know they say it all/without saying a word/ They might as well say PAPA OOMOWMOM, like the SURFIN BIRD/People care about their pocket books/ They buy cheap and sell dear/ If you want a quart for less than a dollar, HUBER’s the beer.

  3. john sieger says:

    Thanks Thomas… you better be careful or you’ll wind up a songwriter. We all know where that leads!

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