Alvin and the Chipmunks

Alvin, Simon and TheodoreThese fun characters were the creations of singer/songwriter Ross Bagdasarian. Bagdasarian had got his start writing hit songs like “Come On-A-My-House”(with his cousin, author William Saroyan) for Rosemary Clooney in the early ’50s. Alvin, Somin, Theodore & DaveWith a distinct talent for catchy upbeat tunes, Bagdasarian next set his sights on establishing a solo recording career for himself. Writing, producing, and singing (under his alias of David Seville) a peppy tune called “Witch Doctor,” Bagdasarian got his first taste of chart success. “Witch Doctor”‘s biggest selling point (besides its wonderful nonsensical lyrics) was a recording gimmick that Bagdasarian used to present the voice of the Witch Doctor himself in the song. Now Seville needed to find away to cash in on this gimmick on a permanent basis. Then Ross struck on the idea of using the gimmick for the voice of an animal! The resulting single “The Bird On My Head” was a flop. Not to be discouraged, Ross took the suggestion of his children and decided to use the voice for a different type of animal: a Chipmunk. He also had the perfect song, a Christmas tune. The resulting single, “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” on Liberty Records sold five million copies in just seven weeks on the charts. Through the late ’50s and early ’60s, Seville continued to make hit novelty albums like Let’s All Sing With The Chipmunks, Christmas With The Chipmunks, The Chipmunk Songbook and Around The World With The Chipmunks. Seville, however, wasn’t satisfied with meeting his dream of being a recording sensation. He began to formulate a plan to conquer television as well. He formed his own animation production company and began working on a deal with CBS to air a regular primetime cartoon called The Alvin Show. CBS hoped to duplicate the tremendous primetime success that NBC had found with The Flintstones. The show ran on Wednesday nights at 7:30 PM from October 4, 1961 until September 12, 1962. The show was a charming mix of music and comedy. Each episode included two Chipmunks cartoons, one or two musical segments (featuring popular songs like “Polly Wolly Doodle,” “Home On The Range,” “Buffalo Gals,” and dozens of others), and one cartoon featuring wacky inventor Clyde Crashcup (who was voiced by Shepard Menken, who also provided the voice of Tonto on late ’60s Lone Ranger cartoon). Unfortunately Dave and the boys got stiff competition from the popular TV Western Wagon Train aon NBC, so they only lasted one season in primetime. The Alvin Show ran three more seasons on Saturday mornings, from 1962 to 1965. As production winded down on the cartoon show, Bagdasarian changed his focus back to producing record albums. Up until the late ’60s he turned out classic Chipmunks vinyl like Let’s All Sing With The Chipmunks, Around The World With The Chipmunks, The Chipmunks Sing The Beatles Hits, The Chipmunks a Go Go (featuring Chipmunks versions of Beach Boys, Tom Jones, Roger Miller, and Petula Clark songs), The Chipmunks Sing With Children (featuring kids’ favorites like “Rag Mop,” “Hello Dolly,” and Doris Day’s “Que Sera”), and of course the immortal The Chipmunks Sing Songs From Dr. Dolittle. At this point interest in The Chipmunks had died down and Bagdasarian had finally retired. By 1977 his son, Ross Bagdasarian Jr. saw a chance to revive the concept in a way that would appeal to the people who had grown up watching The Alvin Show. Thus the classic Chipmunk Punk album was born! The album did not actually feature Punk Rock, but featured Alvin and the boys doing their versions of songs originally done by contemporary artists like The Cars, Pat Benatar, Billy Joel, and others. The album was enough of a success that Bagdasarian Jr. was able to successfully pitch projects like a new Christmas album and an animated special to go along with it in December 1981 with Bagdasarian Jr. taking over the role of David Seville. Based on the strength of this special, NBC commissioned a new Saturday morning show, Alvin And The Chipmunks to air in September 1983. Featuring a softer, cuter look than the original ’60s TV show, this version of The Chipmunks was actually longer lived. New episodes of the show were produced for a total of seven years from 1983 to 1990. Many episodes featured satires of current TV shows and movies like “Moonlighting,” “Nightmare On Elm Street,” and “Miami Vice.” Mr. T, the popular star of The A Team even guest-starred on one episode! New characters on this version of the show included The Chipmunks’ girlfriends, The Chipettes: Jeanette, Brittany, and Eleanor. Bagdasarian Jr. continued to produce hit albums as well by putting a Chipmunk spin on contemporary music with versions of “Achey Breaky Heart” and “The Macarena.”

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