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50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #44: Radio Birdman

Hard-Ons’ Ray Ahn revisits one of Australia’s most important rock bands, the daring and exciting Radio Birdman.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time - Radio Birdman

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In December of 2020, Rolling Stone Australia released a special edition issue which looks at the 50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time, paying tribute to the best and most impactful artists in Australian music history. While it would have been easy for the editors and writers of the publication to profess their love of the listed artists, the decision was instead made for those who found themselves inspired by these world-renowned names to share their own testimonials of why these artists deserve to make the list.

In celebration of the issue’s release in December, we’re counting down the full 50 artists and their accompanying testimonials in this ongoing online feature. If you want to get your hands on an physical copy of the magazine, be sure to subscribe now to experience the double-length edition featuring some of Australia’s best and brightest discussing the finest names in local music.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #44: Radio Birdman (by Ray Ahn of the Hard-Ons)

The big three of Australian late-Seventies underground music surely must be The Saints, The Birthday Party, and Radio Birdman. All three proved to be influential beyond mere words. Monolithic, one and all.

Radio Birdman encapsulated to me the seductive and secret world of the outsider: whereupon legendary tales of mainstream hostility did not hinder but fostered and encouraged further musical and ideological growth. Quite frankly, Radio Birdman at the time of the release of Radios Appear was unstoppable, the only blockage ahead in their future is their own incendiary quality, whereupon volatility begets volatility until the unit is kaput.

Radio Birdman somehow grafted unthinkable sonic rampage (retracing the brain-crushing path forged by the likes of MC5, Stooges, Blue Öyster Cult and a host of brilliant and forgotten garage rockers – The Remains, The 13th Floor Elevators et al) to (by my reckoning) vast oceans of unheralded musical sophistication – a six-headed cultural behemoth that lay waste to all that heard it.

“Radio Birdman encapsulated to me the seductive and secret world of the outsider.”

To me, it was the thinking man’s murder weapon. Radio Birdman recalled girl-group sounds and surf music, among other influences to create the most exciting sound of all-time. Radio Birdman existed in a category on their own from their inception. They are the common ancestor to a million bands that they inspired – some of their sprog became influential themselves. 

It is a pity they existed in a parallel universe of their own making. They deserve to all be billionaires. Perhaps their subterranean existence was a big reason for their uncompromising maelstrom. It doesn’t matter now.

“New Race”. “Murder City Nights”. “Descent Into The Maelstrom”, “Alone in The Endzone”, “Burn My Eye” – these guys were so ahead of their time that any band around mimicking them now, themselves sound timeless. It’s mind-blowing that six vastly different personalities came together to deliver this gift to the world.

To me, it is unthinkable that hordes of Australians would prefer to listen to Sherbet over Radio Birdman – no disrespect intended to Sherbet fans. 

The biggest compliment I can give Radio Birdman is this: often when I am at a life-crossroad, musical, ideological, practical or spiritual crossroad, I ask myself; “what would Radio Birdman do?”.