Saturday, December 24, 2016

How a Chipmunk Saved Us From Singing Potato Bugs

Snowmen, Santa and angels generally come to mind when thinking of Christmas, but chipmunks?  Whether you love or hate The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) it does have 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 hits 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, he spent a hundred and ninety dollars on a tape recorder.   He sat down to write Witch Doctor, a strange song about a teen hopelessly in love who goes to see a witch doctor for advice. He wanted a different voice for his witch doctor and that’s when the tape recorder came in handy.  He experimented with different speeds and found the witch doctor’s voice. Suddenly the country was singing OO EE OO AH AH TING TANG WAL-LA WAL-LA BING BANG, and he had a hit on his hands.
The Witch Doctor song saved Liberty Records from bankruptcy, but not for long.  The company needed another hit and asked Bagdasarian to write one (no pressure, right?). His four-year-old son inspired the words to a Christmas song but he wanted to do something creative like Witch Doctor.  While driving through Yosemite and thinking of potato bugs, butterflies, gophers and ostriches he was forced to stop his car for a chipmunk. The furry creature stood on hind legs 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 Bagdasarian was too lengthy to fit on a 45 record, he changed his name to David Seville (Seville was the city where he was stationed during World War II). 
The song was released in 1958 and soon Alvinnnnnnnnnnnn” was hitting the charts.  It sold as many as 500,000 copies a day and was the last Christmas song to reach number one in record sales. Bagdasarian and his singing rodents 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. His son carried on the legacy and the chipmunks continue to delight (and annoy) to this day.    

 Start your New Year with a little romance...

              Welcome to Two-Time, Texas
       Where tempers burn hot, love runs deep
                and a single marriage can
                  unite a feuding town...
               ...or tear it apart for good.

             Available in print and eBook
A great story by a wonderful author-Debbie Macomber


  1. What a great post! Thank you for sharing, Margaret, and Merry Christmas!

  2. Nice to know how the chipmunks came into being. I remember seeing Alvin, Simon and Theodore singing on TV when I was younger. Thank you for sharing. Have a blessed and merry Christmas.

    1. Hi Marilyn, thank you for stopping by. Merry Christmas!

  3. I am thrilled to learn this piece of history. I grew up with Alvin singing this song and my granddaughter now watched Alvin on Disney.
    Thank you and Merry Christmas!

    1. Hi Connie, isn't it fun to watch the grandchildren enjoy some of the same things we enjoyed as children? It really does create a bond. Merry Christmas!