Music / The Birthday Party
A group of nice, church going lads. Left to right: Rowland S. Howard, Mick Harvey, Nick Cave, Phill Calvert, and Tracy Pew.

"Hit it
And make it a dead one!"
A Dead Song.

The Birthday Party were a Post-Punk band from Australia, active from 1978-1983 and best known as Nick Cave's first band. The band was based around Nick Cave's howling madman vocals, Rowland S. Howard's and Mick Harvey's jagged, shrieking guitars, Tracy Pew's sleazy basslines, and Phill Calvert's crisp, tribal drumming.

Originally named The Boys Next Door and a somewhat bland Punk band, their music style became dark, noisy, and theatrical with their second album: The Birthday Party, to which they formally changed their name. Two highly influential but commercially unsuccessful albums followed: Prayers on Fire and Junkyard, and two EPs: Mutiny and The Bad Seed, before the band split. Nick Cave and Mick Harvey went on to form Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds with one-time guest musician Blixa Bargeld, while Rowland S. Howard started a solo career.

Tracy Pew died in 1986, and Howard in 2009.

Not to be confused with the play by Harold Pinter. Some accounts claim the band was named after the play, but there's not really a consensus.

Studio Discography:

  • Door, Door - (1979) - The Boys Next Door.
  • Hee Haw - (1979, EP) - The Boys Next Door. Later combined with The Birthday Party in the Hee Haw! compilation.
  • The Birthday Party - (1980) - Originally credited to The Boys Next Door, re-released as The Birthday Party.
  • Prayers on Fire - (1981)
  • Junkyard - (1982)
  • The Bad Seed - (1983, EP) - Later combined with Mutiny in the Mutiny / The Bad Seed EP compilation.
  • Mutiny - (1983, EP) - See above.

This band provides examples of:

  • Ambiguous Gender: "Dead Joe:"
    "Can't tell the girls from the boys anymore"
  • Australian Music: Though they emigrated to London early on.
  • Badass Mustache: Tracy Pew's other visual trademark alongside his Nice Hat.
  • Breakup Breakout: Nick Cave, with The Bad Seeds or otherwise, is much better known and commercially successful than The Birthday Party.
  • Careful with That Axe: Nick liked to shriek and howl in nearly every song, and he opens "Mutiny in Heaven" with a single ghostly scream.
  • Companion Cube: "Mr. Clarinet," if the title character is taken as a literal clarinet.
    "Marry meeeeeeee!"
  • Country Matters: "Mutiny in Heaven," used towards a priest that the narrator confesses to.
  • The Danza: "Nick the Stripper." Invoked.
  • Darker and Edgier: Every record was heavier, freakier, and more challenging than the last, culminating in Junkyard sounding like a Hardcore Punk / Death Metal mix on "Dead Joe." Excludes the Mutiny / The Bad Seed EPs which mellowed out to a sound closer to what The Bad Seeds would do.
  • Drugs Are Bad: "Mutiny in Heaven" details a drug addict's collapse.
    "If this is heaven, then I'm bailing out"
  • Fan Disservice: The titular character from "Nick the Stripper."
    "He's a fat little insect"
  • Fight Clubbing: The band's aggressive music and confrontational personae, and the general punk culture of the era, led to some notorious outbreaks of violence at their gigs, including band member on band member, band member on audience, and audience on audience.
  • Goth Rock: The band were lumped in with the genre, but they did not fit the style and eschewed the label. However, their music was influential to Goth Rock cousin Deathrock, and they're popular among Goths regardless. Having one of the other seminal vampire songs, "Release the Bats," helped.
  • Hemo Erotic: "Release the Bats."
    "My baby is alright...
    She says 'horror vampire bat bite...
    How I wish those bats would bite'"
  • Intercourse with You: "Zoo-Music Girl:"
    "If there's one thing I desire in this world
    That's to make love to my
    Zoo-Music Girl"
  • Large Ham: Nick Cave, who sang like a raving lunatic.
  • Looks Like Cesare: Nick Cave and Rowland S. Howard with their wild, dark hair.
  • Mohs Scale of Lyrical Hardness: Reached all the way from 2 to 10, from harmless silliness ("A Dead Song") to detailed, violent drug nightmares ("Mutiny in Heaven"), and raving bloody murder ("Hamlet (Pow, Pow, Pow).")
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Between 5-7 with their screeching, pounding sound. "Dead Joe" reached an 8, sounding like proto-Death Metal.
  • Murder Ballad:
    • "Hamlet (Pow, Pow, Pow)."
    "Wherefore art thou baby-face, wherefore art thou?
    Pow, pow, pow, pow, pow, pow..."
    • "Deep in the Woods" is the first of many Cave songs explicitly sung from the perspective of a serial killer.
  • Nice Hat: Tracy Pew always wore a cowboy hat.
  • Noise Rock
  • Playing Cyrano: "Mr. Clarinet:"
    "Would you tell her for me
    Oh Mr. Clarinet, my confidante
    That I love her, love her, love her, love her
    I love her but I can't"
  • Post-Punk
  • Production Foreshadowing: "Swampland" would later be adapted into Nick Cave's novel: And the Ass Saw the Angel.
  • Saying Sound Effects Out Loud: "Hamlet (Pow, Pow, Pow)," with the "Pow" being gunshots.
  • Self-Titled Album: The Birthday Party is an inversion, originally being credited to The Boys Next Door. The band changed their name to The Birthday Party, and the album was re-released with the credit changed.
  • The Something Song: "A Dead Song."
  • Spelling Song: The intro of "Hamlet (Pow, Pow, Pow)" ("H! A! M! L! E! T! YEAAHHH!") combines this with Careful with That Axe.
  • Springtime for Hitler: The band were surprised at the success of "Release the Bats," which they wrote as an over the top joke.
  • ShoutOut.To Shakespeare: "Hamlet (Pow, Pow, Pow)" is one of the strangest ones ever. The lyric also alludes to another of the Bard's plays: "WHEREFORE ART THOU, BABYFACE?!"
  • Vampires Are Sex Gods: "Release the Bats" reads like weird vampire porn:
    "My baby is a cool machine
    She moves to the pulse of her generator
    Says damn that sex supreme
    She says damn that horror bat
    Sex vampire, cool machine"
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Almost every song, to varying degrees. Particular examples:
    • "Release the Bats," which degenerates into throwing as many gross words alongside "bat" and "vampire" as possible.
  • Word Salad Title: "Big-Jesus-Trash-Can."