Alvin and the Chipmunks

views updated

Alvin and the Chipmunks

In 1958, a singing group known as Alvin and the Chipmunks burst onto the national music scene with two hits, "Witch Doctor" and "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)." In the second song, the "chipmunks," with their high, wobbly voices, longed for Christmas to come soon. Their unique singing style was actually created through sped-up recording techniques. The singing captivated the American public and helped the group sell millions of singles. Ever since that first recording, Alvin and the Chipmunks have occupied a rare place in American popular culture as a novelty act that never lost its novelty. The group sold a string of albums and appeared in an animated television (see entry under 1940s—TV and Radio in volume 3) series in the 1960s and again in the 1980s.

The Chipmunks were the brainchild of Ross Bagdasarian (1919–1972), a prolific composer, producer, impressionist, and actor who performed under the pseudonym "David Seville." Bagdasarian had already enjoyed some success with several novelty tunes in the late 1950s, but with "Witch Doctor" he stumbled on a gold mine. Bagdasrian used nonsense lyrics (most memorable: "Ooo eee, ooo ah ah, ting tang, walla walla, bing bang") and sped-up vocal tracks to give the singers unique voices—the voices of a trio of chipmunks. The song was an immediate hit. It was followed later in 1958 by "The Chipmunk Song," which sold four million singles in just two months.

The Chipmunks were composed of the mischievous Alvin, brainy Simon, and chubby, silly Theodore. Bagdasarian provided the voices for all the characters as well as the voice of their temperamental manager, Dave Seville. The Chipmunks followed their first hits with a string of albums, beginning with Let's All Sing with the Chipmunks (1959) and continuing until the year 2000 with thirty-five albums. After his early success, Bagdasarian decided to bring his characters to television. He formed his own animation company and produced The Alvin Show for NBC in 1961. The prime-time series featured the songs and adventures of The Chipmunks. Most of the cartoons focused on Alvin and the trouble he caused for his brothers and manager. The series was canceled due to low ratings after one season, but it appeared for three more seasons as a Saturday morning cartoon (see entry under 1960s—TV and Radio in volume 4).

Alvin and the Chipmunks' popularity began to falter in the late 1960s. Albums released in the mid-1960s, like The Chipmunks Sing The Beatles' Hits (1964) and Chipmunks a Go-Go (1965), on which they performed the songs of the Beach Boys (see entry under 1960s—Music in volume 4), Tom Jones (1940–), and Petula Clark (1932–), failed to capture the public's interest. In the early 1980s, Ross Bagdasarian Jr. (1949–) revived his late father's characters and promoted them to baby boomers (see entry under 1940s—The Way We Lived in volume 3) who grew up with the original recordings. In Chipmunk Punk (1980), the gang sang the work of the Cars, Pat Benatar (1953–), and Billy Joel (1949–). Riding a new wave of popularity, Bagdasarian Jr. created a new TV series titled Alvin and the Chipmunks. From 1983 to 1990, Alvin and the Chipmunks—a gentler version of the original cartoon— was a mainstay of NBC's Saturday morning cartoon lineup. The latter series also introduced The Chipettes, a group of singing female chipmunks named Jeanette, Brittany, and Eleanor. Although the Chipmunks disappeared from TV after 1990, their songs—especially "The Chipmunk Song"—remain a mainstay of American musical goofiness.

—Charles Coletta

For More Information

"Alvin and the Chipmunks (The Chipmunks)." Yesterdayland. (accessed March 8, 2002).

Bagdasarian Productions LLC. Alvin and the Chipmunks. (accessed March 8, 2002).

Brooks, Tim, and Earle Marsh. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows. Fifth edition. New York: Ballantine Books, 1982.

Cartoon-O-Rama Presents: The Alvin Show. (accessed July, 2001).

About this article

Alvin and the Chipmunks

Updated About content Print Article