August 8, 2007

The Birds and The Deadly Bees

So I was watching an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (watch the entire episode at YouTube) called the The Deadly Bees the other day. It's a British film from 1967 about a popstar named Vicki Robbins who collapses due to exhaustion during a performance and is then sent to a farm to convalesce. There are bees at the farm. Deadly bees.

In the film a rock group, The Birds, performs a song called "That's All I Need." As far as the British music scene at the time is concerned, the song and the group are hysterically clichéd. It's as if some mad scientist / British music Svengali / Colonel Tom Parker / Lou Pearlman type created it all in his underground lair by combining parts of Herman's Hermits, The Dave Clark Five, and The Who.

I like to pride myself on having a fairly good knowledge of rock history (particularly the British Invasion), yet I had never heard of The Birds. I would have assumed they were a fictitious band, comprised of actors thrown together for the purposes of the movie, if it were not for the presence of Ron Wood. It looks as if a couple of the band members can't even play their instruments, something the MST3K guys can't overlook. A check at Wikipedia though confirms they were an actual group that disbanded as the result of a Spinal Tap-like (and obvious) problem:

The Birds was one of the top rhythm and blues bands in England during the mid-1960s, and part of the first British Invasion. Even though they recorded fewer than a dozen songs, the Birds are remembered for having a sound as hard as other well-known bands, such as The Who and The Yardbirds.

The best-known member of the Birds was Ron Wood, future guitarist for The Faces and later The Rolling Stones. Growing up in the same neighborhood with several other members of the band, they came together in 1964 (while still in their teens) as the Thunderbirds, based in Yiewsley, West London. When they entered a battle-of-the-bands contest, the organizers of the event persuaded them to go simply as the Birds, to improve their chances of winning. Although they lost the contest, they kept the new, shorter name – a decision which would have significant ramifications later.

When the young band made its first television appearance, they caught the eye of Decca record company executives. The ensuing recording contract resulted in their first two singles, "You Don't Love Me" and "Leaving Here." The Birds seemed destined for stardom with their loud, rhythm-and-blues based rock, receiving equal billing with the Who at some gigs.

The lead singer (Ali McKenzie) seems to have borrowed Roger Daltrey's "Pictures of Lily"-era look and Pete Townshend's windmill guitar move.

However, in the spring of 1965, the Los Angeles based American band The Byrds was dominating the British charts with "Mr. Tambourine Man," released by the newly-formed British CBS Records label. The Birds' manager took legal action to prevent the Byrds from using the name, but the action failed; the Byrds' subsequent tour of England that summer was highly received, leaving the Birds feeling that someone else had stolen their thunder.

They recorded their last single for Decca in late 1965, after which they moved to Reaction Records, changing their name to "Birds Birds," to distinguish themselves from their American counterparts. Unfortunately, their debut album was delayed for nearly a year due to a contract dispute. In 1966, their song "That's All I Need" was featured in the horror film The Deadly Bees. They disbanded in 1967.


Here is Vicki Robbins (actress Suzanna Leigh) singing some God-awful contrivance (although the riff is pretty groovy):


Blognor Regis said...

And of course, just to shoehorn in another link, The Byrds would go on to sing about a previous incarnation of one of Ron Wood's later bands.

Chris said...

Of course, "Eight Miles High"! I hadn't thought of that-

"In places, small faces unbound"


Anonymous said...

Well if you had actually been around in the 60s in the UK you would have known that The Birds had a HUGE following.

Great live band (I saw them many times)

You can watch Ali in a band from 1997 on youtube. Just search for The Good Old Boys

Maximiliano said...

Very good work, if you want to hear the first ron woods recordings, you can visit,

See ya

Chris said...

Thanks for the link, maximiliano. It seems like The Birds were legit!