The Muppets' 'Mah Na Mah Na (Doot Doo-Doo Doot Doo)' Came From A Smutty Movie About Sweden

Entertainment | January 17, 2020

The Muppets threesome. Source: independent.co.uk

"Mah Na Mah Na" is one of the best-known gibberish songs in entertainment -- and not because of its original appearance in a smutty Swedish movie. "Mah Na Mah Na" (featuring the female response "doot doo-doo doot doo") found its true home on The Muppet Show. Yes -- it's that "Mah Na Mah Na (Doot Doo-Doo Doot Doo)."

The Ultimate 'Earworm'

Source: Amazon.com

The call-and-response vocals of "Mah Na Mah Na" bridge the divides of language, geography, education, and probably even species. Everybody and their pets can instantly get the story here. A gruff-voiced male grunts some jazzbo razzmatazz: "Mah Na Mah Na." And then the female chorus comes back at him, all whimsy and melody, "Doot Doo-Doo Doot Doo." Nothing to it.

Really, nothing to it. But much like "Comma comma down dooby doo down down" or "Doo wah diddy diddy dum diddy doo," "Mah Na Mah Na" is aurally sticky. When you hear it, it moves into your ear canal and is damn difficult to evict. 

From Italy With Love

The versatile composer Italian Piero Umiliani (store.tidal)

The composer of "Mah Na Mah Na," Piero Umiliani, composed music in the ‘60s and ‘70s for all types of films from exploitation films to spaghetti westerns. Clearly, versatility was his strength. What other composers do you know that could write a song that worked equally as well on Sesame Street and in a Swedish sauna with scantily clad girls? 

The Song Was First Heard In A Trashy Movie About Sweden

Source: YouTube

"Mah Na Mah Na" made its debut in the 1968 Italian mondo film Svezia, inferno e paradiso (Sweden: Heaven and Hell). A "mondo" film is an exploitation documentary, usually purporting to show a true story of sex or violence in a certain population or subculture, though the "truth" is debatable. Mondo films were effective in the pre-internet world, when audiences were likely to believe what they were seeing if it looked and sounded like a documentary.

Sweden: Heaven and Hell rips the lid off of the supposedly scandalous and deviant culture and mores of Sweden, "where the facts of life are stranger than fiction." The Sweden depicted in the movie is all about married swingers, teenage sex education, lesbian nightclubs, contraception, adult movies, drug addiction, alcoholism, suicide, and biker gangs. And there is, of course, a scene where a dozen young blonde Swedish girls come in out of the cold to a warm sauna session, to the sweet strains of "Mah Na Mah Na:"

A Song So Nice They Played It Far More Than Twice

The first version of "Mah Na Mah Na" (youtube)

The original 1969 rendition of "Mah Na Mah Na" sounds slightly different from the Muppet Show version. The Muppets made it more theatrical and humorous, using the gruff male singer as an amusing device to juxtapose the more talented and confused female singers. Like most Muppet Show gimmicks it works wonderfully. Even as an adult, it’s difficult not to bob your head slightly to the ridiculously catchy beat and enjoy the antics of these fuzzy creatures. 

A Hit Song That Keeps Coming Back

“Sweden: Heaven and Hell” doesn't look so bad (listal)

While "Mah Na Mah Na" never threatened to win a Grammy, it did have its moment of fame in '68 and '69. British comedian Benny Hill used it as the soundtrack to wordless sketches on his TV show, and Muppets performed it on The Ed Sullivan Show. "Mah Na Mah Na" peaked at #55 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, made it to #22 on the Canadian pop chart, and nearly cracked the top ten of Billboard's (U.S.) Adult Contemporary chart.

"Mah Na Mah Na" returned to the airwaves in 1977, becoming a top-ten hit in the UK. Many artists have fiddled around with the song, usually ironically or to entertain children, including trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who played it live at Lincoln Center, and the band Cake.

Perhaps the two most familiar recent versions of “Mah Na Mah Na” occurred on the British series The Office, and on Sesame Street where Sandra Bullock gets her "Mah Na Mah Na" on. If you are at all a Sandra Bullock fan, we recommend it.

Tags: Children | Movie Soundtracks | Muppets | Novelty Music | Remember This?... | Sweden

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Kellar Ellsworth


Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!