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.
How “OO EE OO AH AH TING TANG WAL-LA WAL-LA BING BANG” Became a Hit
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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