Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about music and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the music urban legends featured so far.
MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: Alvin and the Chipmunks made a comeback in 1980 based on a joke by a New York disc jockey.
The origins of Alvin and the Chipmunks go back to early 1958, when Rostom “Ross” Bagdasarian, an aspiring actor and singer (who had been in some plays and films and also had a novelty hit in the mid 50s called “The Trouble With Harry”) used experimentation with tape speeds to record his #1 hit (another novelty record) called “The Witch Doctor” under the stage name David Seville.
You know the one, “Oo ee, oo ah ah, ting tang, walla walla bing bang”
Later in 1958, Bagdasarian used the same technology to create “The Chipmunks,” and he had his second #1 hit, the popular Christmas tune, “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late),” also as David Seville (although I believe he doesn’t even list himself on the record at all, just the Chipmunks).
The song turned the Chipmunks into a mini-industry of their own.
They had their own animated series in 1961 called The Alvin Show.
The last album released by the Chipmunks under Bagdasarian was 1969’s The Chipmunks Go to the Movies.
Bagdasarian died of a heart attack in 1972 at the age of 52.
In the late 1970s, the Chipmunks were beginning to have a bit of a return of popularity as NBC began replaying the 1961 cartoon series on Saturday mornings in 1979. That led to the biggest break for the Chipmunks, all based on a joke by a disc jockey!
Los Angeles KMET disc jockey Chuck Taylor played the 12″ version of the Blondie song “Call Me” at double speed and told everyone that it was a “new Chipmunks record.”
The response was tremendous. It appeared that the time was right for a new Chipmunks album!
Ross Bagdasarian, Jr., who had taken over his father’s business, quickly recorded a new album and put it out in June 1980 titled Chipmunks Punk.
The album went gold and set up the release of the 1983 Alvin and the Chipmunks cartoon series that last eight seasons, and whose popularity certainly played a part in the eventual Alvin and the Chipmunks film (which had TWO sequels, or should I say “squeakel”? No, I really shouldn’t say that, although they did).
And it was all due to a joke by a DJ.
The legend is…
STATUS: Basically True
Thanks to Scott for the question and thanks to Ben Myers’ great book on Green Day, Green Day: American Idiots & The New Punk Explosion, for the confirmation!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org