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Alvin And The 'Chipmunk Song' Christmas Hit: David Seville's Novelty Act

Music | December 22, 2020

Album cover art of 'Christmas With The Chipmunks.' Source: Amazon.com

In 1958, The Chipmunks, a nonexistent musical act, achieved a #1 hit with "The Chipmunk Song," also known as "Christmas Don't Be Late." The Chipmunks weren't really chipmunks -- it was recording-studio trickery by David Seville (real name: Ross Bagdasarian) that had yielded a previous chart-topping novelty hit, "Witch Doctor," earlier that year. Alvin, Simon and Theodore would become superstars on multiple media platforms -- music, TV, comics and eventually movies -- all thanks to a Christmas hit with a famous line about a hula hoop.

Seville Sped Up His Voice To Sound Like Chipmunks

Ross Bagdasarian at the piano with Alfred Hitchcock in 'Rear Window.' Source: IMDB

Ross Bagdasarian, known in his music career by the stage name David Seville, found moderate success as an actor with his roles in films such as Rear Window and Viva Zapata and the Broadway play Time Of Your Life, but was struggling to fulfill his greatest dream of songwriting. With $200 left to his name in 1957, he risked everything when he spent the last of his funds on an elaborate tape recorder with complex settings. While exploring the possibilities Seville discovered a technique of speeding the recording that changed his career forever. He used this process to create squeaky, high-pitched singing voices on his 1958 song "Witch Doctor," which topped the Billboard Top 100 for three weeks. Although these voices were not yet The Chipmunks, later compilation albums would give the tiny animals the credit.

The Lyrics To 'Witch Doctor'

'Witch Doctor' record sleeve art. Note that it is not a Chipmunks song. Source: Amazon.com

"Witch Doctor" is one of the great novelty hits of all time. It has a simple storyline (guy loves girl) and touches on the '50s fascination with "exotic" cultures. And above all, it's got that high-pitched vocal gimmick.

I told the witch doctor I was in love with you
I told the witch doctor I was in love with you
And then the witch doctor, he told me what to do
He said that
Ooo eee, ooo ah ah ting tang
Walla walla, bing bang
Ooo eee, ooo ah ah ting tang
Walla walla, bing bang
Ooo eee, ooo ah ah ting tang
Walla walla, bing bang
Ooo eee, ooo ah ah ting tang
Walla walla, bing bang
I told the witch doctor you didn't love me true
I told the witch doctor you didn't love me nice
And then the witch doctor, he gave me this advice
He said that
Ooo eee, ooo ah ah ting tang
Walla walla, bing bang
Ooo eee, ooo ah ah ting tang
Walla walla, bing bang
Ooo eee, ooo ah ah ting tang
Walla walla, bing bang
Ooo eee, ooo ah ah ting tang
Walla walla, bing bang
You've been keeping love from me just like you were a miser
And I'll admit I wasn't very smart
So I went out and found myself a guy that's so much wiser
And he taught me the way to win your heart
My friend the witch doctor, he taught me what to say
My friend the witch doctor, he taught me what to do
I know that you'll be mine when I say this to you
Ooo eee, ooo ah ah, ting tang
Walla walla, bing bang
Ooo eee, ooo ah ah, ting tang
Walla walla, bing bang
Ooo eee, ooo ah ah, ting tang
Walla walla, bing bang
Ooo eee, ooo ah ah, ting tang
Walla walla, bing bang

The Chipmunks First Find Success With A Christmas Song

Early Chipmunks record sleeve art. Alvin, Simon and Theodore are not depicted in their final, cartoon-ready form. Source: eBay

After the success of "Witch Doctor," Seville decided to use this sped-up recording process to create the concept of the singing group The Chipmunks. Alvin, Simon, and Theodore were the characters voiced by Seville and named after Liberty Records executives Alvin “Al” Bennett, Simon “Sy” Waronker, and Theodore “Ted” Keep. Seville brought the idea to Liberty Records who were on the verge of bankruptcy in an effort to rescue the company, and his plan worked. The Chipmunks released their first official recording in fall 1958 with their Christmas tune "The Chipmunk Song," originally listed as "The Christmas Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)."  The song was a massive hit for the holiday season and stayed at no. 1 on the Billboard charts for four weeks and eventually won multiple Grammys. 

The Lyrics To 'The Chipmunk Song'

Source: Pinterest

[Spoken intro: Dave, Alvin, Theodore, & Simon]
DAVE: Alright you Chipmunks, ready to sing your song?
ALVIN: I'd say we are
THEODORE: Yeah, let's sing it now
DAVE: Okay, Simon?
SIMON: OK
DAVE: Okay, Theodore?
THEODORE: OK
DAVE: Okay Alvin? Alvin? Alvin?!
ALVIN: Okay!
[Verse: The Chipmunks, & Alvin]
Christmas, Christmas time is near
Time for toys and time for cheer
We've been good, but we can't last
Hurry Christmas, hurry fast
Want a plane that loops the loop
Me, I want a hula-hoop
We can hardly stand the wait
Please, Christmas, don't be late
[Interlude: Dave, Alvin, Theodore, & Simon]
DAVE: Ok, fellas, get ready
That was very good, Simon
SIMON: Naturally!
DAVE: Very good, Theodore
THEODORE: Hahahaha
DAVE: Uh Alvin, you were a little flat
Watch it, Alvin—Alvin? Alvin?!
ALVIN: Okay!
[Verse: The Chipmunks & Alvin]
Want a plane that loops the loop
I still want a hula-hoop
We can hardly stand the wait
Please, Christmas, don't be late
We can hardly stand the wait
Please, Christmas, don't be late
[Outro: Dave, Alvin, Theodore, & Simon]
DAVE: Very good, boys
ALVIN: Let's sing it again
SIMON: Yeah, let's sing it again
DAVE: No, that's enough, let's not overdo it
ALVIN: What do you mean overdo it?
SIMON: We want to sing it again
DAVE: Now wait a minute, boys
THEODORE: Yeah, why can't we sing it again?
DAVE: Alvin, cut the c—Theodore, just a m—Simon, cut that out—boys

The Chipmunks Became A Multimedia Phenomenon In The '60s

Source: eBay

With the leadership of Seville, The Chipmunks released a plethora of albums throughout the next decade including Let’s All Sing With The Chipmunks (1959), Sing Again With The Chipmunks (1960), Chipmunks A Go-Go (1965), and their final record of the original era The Chipmunks Go To The Movies (1969). The adoration from children all over the country even led to a comic book The Three Chipmunks on Dell’s Four Color Comics in 1959 -- and many more comics would follow.

The Chipmunks Earned Themselves A Spot On Television

Source: Pinterest

The Chipmunks had become so popular that by 1961 they had their own animated musical television series The Alvin Show produced by Format Films. Seville was heavily involved in its production and found inspiration for the music and adventurous storylines through road tripping with his cousin throughout the country. Seville was featured in the show as the human father of the chipmunk kids who would record music while the mischievous rodents caused innocent trouble throughout the neighborhood. Seville also voiced himself and The Chipmunks while they spoke and performed their various musical numbers. The show was a massive hit and has been credited as one of the greatest animated series of all time, but unfortunately their Wednesday 7:30 PM timeslot competed against the notorious western show Wagon Train. Thus The Alvin Show only lasted for one season until 1962.

A New Era Of The Chipmunks Began With Seville’s Son

Seville’s sudden passing of a heart attack in 1972 ended the original era of The Chipmunks. However, Seville’s son Ross Bagdasarian Jr. revived the group when he took over their voices and released the album Chipmunk Punk in 1980 which featured squeaky versions of modern songs. In 1983, the name was changed to Alvin And The Chipmunks, which became the title of their new series that began in 1981. Reruns of the original series aired on NBC, updated merchandise was sold, new albums were recorded, and a fresh Christmas special The Chipmunk Christmas all helped to contribute to the 1980s comeback. The Chipmunks continued to adapt throughout the succeeding decades, and a live action film with CGI chipmunks was released in 2007 with sequels following in 2009, 2011, and 2015. The talking voices of these chipmunks were voiced by Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, and Jesse McCartney, but Bagdasarian Jr. performed their singing acts. Another series ALVINNN!!! And The Chipmunks began in 2015 on Nickelodeon. By now it seems the legacy left behind by David Seville will captivate the attention of children throughout all generations to come as it continues to adjust to changing times.

Tags: Christmas Songs | The Chipmunks

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Emily Morenz

Author

Despite her younger age, Emily Morenz (Emo) is a serious 1960s/1970s enthusiast who is pretty much the Austin Powers of this decade. Through her all-vintage wardrobe, obsession with old time rock 'n' roll, and her mid century bedroom and 1,200+ vinyl collection you might think she just stepped out of a time machine. Emo plays the rare gems of the ‘60s and ‘70s on her radio show on OC’s 101.5 KOCI and teaches rock ‘n’ roll history on her podcast “The Rock & Roll Sweetheart.” When there's not a pandemic, she's rockin’ out with all the middle aged-men at every single classic rock concert happening around the town, and she will battle her away to front row and dance hard. Paul McCartney even once brought her up on stage to dance...while she was in a walrus costume. You also might find Emo surfing waves, skateboarding through a neighborhood, groovin' '60s gogo style, and pretending like she can play bass. And she's obsessed with peanut butter and corgis.