Song Of The Week: “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” by The Rivingtons

What lies at the heart of rock & roll?

Ineffable joy. Joy and freedom. The kind of joy and freedom that defy articulation.

Sometimes, even with the vast array of vocabulary available to us in English, words to trip the tongue fantastic, the constraints of language hinder the full expression of these emotions, and only the onomatopoeia of joy will suffice.

Awopbopaloobop. Rama lama ding dong. Papa oom mow mow.

The pre-Rivingtons sang together under a variety of names in the late 50’s and provided prominent backing vocals on massive hits by Thurston Harris and Duane Eddy. Whenever they struck out on their own, however, they….well, they struck out.

But all that changed when fooling around in the studio one day. Their bass singer came up with some words and a riff which developed into the reckless abandon of “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow.” Now dubbed The Rivingtons, the group found their song taking off on L.A. radio and spreading quickly across California in 1962. The single just missed the Top 40, but their exuberant performance and numerous cover versions (one interpretation in particular) kept “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” from fading away into novelty.

So here are The Rivingtons, with their inarticulate whoop of the soul.

But that’s not the end of the story. After a couple of failed quick-release singles intended to capitalize on their small success, The Rivingtons scored another minor hit in early 1963 with a track titled “The Bird’s The Word.” A central California band known as The Sorensen Brothers began performing their own uptempo version of the song with a little bit of “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” thrown in. On a tour of Wisconsin, the Sorensens were asked by a young Minnesota band to teach them the song. Which they did. In the fall of that year, The Trashmen scored the biggest hit of their lives (Top 5 in both the US and UK) with the full throttle garage rock classic, “Surfin’ Bird.”

Of course, The Sorensens contend it was their arrangement, and The Trashmen argue the opposite. Like the Bermuda Triangle, or the Loch Ness monster, or how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, it’s a mystery which will likely never be solved. Either way, The Rivingtons wrote it, they get the checks, and you can papa oom mow that, Jack!

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