Florida Keys Audubon Society executive director (and fellow Keys Weekly columnist) Mark Hedden spoke at a recent Marathon Rotary Club meeting. The topic? Peregrine falcons, their recovery as a species and the importance of the Middle Keys to their migratory journey. Mark is an entertaining and informative speaker, not to be missed if you get the chance. It got Sarah and me thinking — Mark knows birds, I know music. Let’s explore where the two meet in song!
Let’s take it as a given that some bird songs are great; some, not so much. Perhaps the song that most exemplifies a fairly horrible song that borders on greatness is “Surfin’ Bird” by the Trashmen from 1963. The only take-away from that is simply, “The bird is the word.”
In a similar vein, the song (and dance) known as “The Bird” from Morris Day and the Time hasn’t a bit of profound in it, yet is great fun. Released in Prince’s Purple Rain movie in 1984, this song gave Morris Day his real star turn.
Another bird song from that movie does rise to greatness: “When Doves Cry” by the Purple One himself. Prince played all the instruments and sang all the vocals, and — unusually for an R&B song at the time — the song had no bass part. It didn’t seem to matter much, as the song spent five weeks at #1 and was the biggest selling single of 1984.
A song we heard way too much of last week was the Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle” (1976). It’s a really good song that never went away, thanks to incessant repetition by classic rock radio stations.
“The Eagle and the Hawk” by John Denver (1971) is probably the bird song most totally about birds in this bunch. Denver’s 12-string guitar eventually turns into an orchestral piece celebrating these raptors and their flights over the Rocky Mountains.
Lovers of calypso will remember “Yellow Bird.” The most popular recording was Arthur Lyman’s version, released in 1961. Moving along…
Right up there with the yellow bird is the 1957 Bobby Day hit, “Rockin’ Robin.” Redone by the Jackson 5 in the 1970s, it’s the only song that ever got anyone singing, “Tweedle-e-deedle-e-deet.”
Carly Simon and James Taylor’s duet “Mockingbird” took a nursery rhyme and turned it into a big 1974 hit. Sarah and I attempt to sing this song now and again (safely at home), but it often collapses midway through because she won’t stay in her lane.
Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” (1977) is often called “Don’t Worry.” But it’s the birds that pass along their “message to you” that “every little thing’s gonna be alright.”
The Beatles’ “Blackbird” (mostly solo Paul, 1968) was inspired by both the call of the blackbird and the struggle for civil rights for African American women in the late 1960s in America.
The surviving Beatles reunited in 1994 to record two new (mostly) John Lennon songs. One of these was the aptly titled “Free as a Bird.” This song combined John’s vocal and piano from a cassette demo with new studio tracks from Paul, George and Ringo. ELO’s Jeff Lynne produced, and the result was a hit for the Beatles 30 years after their Ed Sullivan debut.
“Free Bird.” The less said about this one, the better.
There are more, and there are more than a few groups that have birds in their group name. While this little exercise has been fun, the Florida Keys Audubon Society does serious work right here in our islands. In the Middle Keys at Curry Hammock State Park, they organize Florida Keys Hawk Watch, the southernmost hawk counting site in the continental United States. They do good work protecting and educating us about our feathered friends, and we are lucky to have them here. For more information, go to keysaudubon.org or floridakeyshawkwatch.com.