How the Chipmunks “Stole” Christmas



Snowmen, Santa and angels generally come to mind when thinking of Christmas, but chipmunks?  The Chipmunk Christmas song has an interesting story, starting with an imaginary  witch doctor and a very stubborn rodent.


Song writer Ross Bagdasarian was born in Fresno California in 1918.  He co-wrote Rosemary Clooney’s Come-on-a-My-House but failed to score another hit.  He did some acting jobs and had minor roles in such major movies as Rear Window and Stalag 17, but none provided enough income to take care of his growing family.




In 1957 he had only two hundred dollars to his name and being a gambler Bagdasarian spent all but ten of it on a tape recorder.   He sat down to write “Witch Doctor,” a strange  song about a man  hopelessly in love who goes to see a witch doctor for advice. Bagdasarian needed a different voice for his witch doctor and that’s when the tape recorder came in handy.  He experimented with different speeds, found the witch doctor’s unique voice and had a hit on his hands. 


   How a Chipmunk Saved Us from Singing Potato Bugs


The song saved Liberty Records from bankruptcy but not for long.  They needed another hit and asked Bagdasarian to write one.  His four year old son clamoring for toys inspired the words to a Christmas song but he wanted to do something creative like Witch Doctor.  While driving through Yosemite and thinking of singing potato bugs, butterflies, gophers and ostriches, he was forced to stop his car for a chipmunk. The furry creature stood on hind legs in the middle of the street daring him to pass.  Bagdasarian loved the audacity of the chipmunk and a star was born.


In a brilliant piece of marketing, Bagdasarian named his chipmunks Alvin, Simon and Theodore after  record executives at Liberty.  All that was needed was the straight man for the chipmunks. Since the name Bagdasarian was too lengthy to fit on a 45, he changed his name to David Seville (Seville was the city where he was stationed during World War II). 


Christmas Wouldn’t be the Same Without ALVINNN!!


The song was released in 1958 and sold as many as 500,000 copies a day!  Bagdasarian won three grammys and six months later the chipmunks landed their own network show.  Bagdasarian died suddenly of a heart attack in 1972 at the age of fifty-two but his son carries on the legacy and the chipmunks continue to delight young and old.    


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24 thoughts on “How the Chipmunks “Stole” Christmas”

  1. I just love the Chipmunks. Alvin, Theodore, and Simon. They have made me laugh for years. When I was young back in the day when you would play records on a record player, I would speed up the records to make them sound like the Chipmunks. I know a lot of other people also did this. It was so much fun.

  2. Margaret thanks so much for this. You know, it seems like singing chipmunks would be sort of embarrassing to an adult man. And yet there is so much great creativity in cartoons and a lot of children’s music that I have a lot of respect for it.
    PS I’ve read Dawn Comes Early and LOVE IT.

  3. I’ve been waiting for this post, Margaret. Love the story, and I’m old enough to remember the Witch Doctor. We used the song in a high school assembly. Had no idea about the connection with the chipmunks (but grateful my 6-year-old granddaughter’s OTHER grandma is taking her to see the new movie).
    Your new cover is just beautiful.

  4. Patty,

    Glad you enjoyed it. I had my qualms about this. I wasn’t sure that it belonged with all the beautiful Christmas carols and music the other fillies wrote about.

    Take care–and happy New Year!

  5. Fun stuff, Margaret. My 13 year-old daughter loves the Chipmunks. They have that enduring quality that keeps them alive from generation to generation. And boy am I glad they’re not potato bugs. Ewww.

  6. Mary, I, too, am fascinated with the creativity of cartoons, children’s books and music.

    I’m delighted you liked my book. It means so much coming from you–one of my favorite writers. You are Dawn’s first reader. I think that makes your word King or something, doesn’t it?

  7. Hi Elizabeth,

    Hate to admit it but I remember The Witch Doctor, too. Since writing this post I haven’t been able to get that silly song out of my head!

    I haven’t seen the new chipmunk movie yet, but I saw the last one. Oddly enough I enjoyed it!

  8. Fun post, Margaret. I can just see that little chipmunk standing firm, and so much cuter than a potato bug. :o)

    I look forward to reading “Dawn Comes Early” the cover is beautiful.

  9. Margaret, Thanks so much for the Chipmunk history lesson. I too hate to admit remembering when WITCH DOCTOR and COME-ON-A-MY-HOUSE came out. I didn’t realize the Chipmunks were that old. I of course remember it coming out and their TV show. It shows how timeless they are that they have movies out now and are as popular as ever. My grandson at 13 loves them. Must be something that appeals to that pre-teen/early teen sense of the ridiculous, Karen.

    Thanks for a lighter look at the Christmas song traditions. The serious side is lovely and important, but the fun side of the holiday is also to be acknowledged and embraced.

    Enjoy what is left of Christmas 2011 and have a great and productive 2012. By the look of DAWN COMES EARLY, we will already be benefiting from your talent.

  10. Love those chipmunks! The music, the cartoons, and even the modern movies… It is great to see my nephews enjoying them too!

  11. Margaret, what a fun post. Interesting information that made me smile. I can sing the whole song “The Witch Doctor” … shows how old I am. Love Alvin and the boys! Thanks for sharing such a fun post. Hugs, P

  12. Margaret,
    I thoroughly enjoyed this post of yours. I remember the “Witch Doctor” song–I was young, but my 2 older sisters learned it and drove my mother crazy singing it around the house all the time. LOL The other one they learned that drove Mom nuts was the Name Game song or whatever it was called “Banana-nana fo fana, mi my moanna…” or however it went. LOL I wasn’t coordinated enough to get it down as young as I was, but they had great fun with their friends trying to get me to sing it with them and make a total fool of myself. Thankfully, I was not very old. LOL This was so interesting–I always loved the Chipmunks growing up, and when my son was little there was a series of videos for kids that starred the chipmunks. One of them was a take off on that song from Top Gun–“Flying Though the Danger Zone.” Oh, my I thought I would have that vhs memorized by the time Casey turned 5…LOL Great post! Hope you had a wonderful Christmas and I love your cover for your new book–It looks like an awesome read, Margaret–I can’t wait.

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