How Did a Disc Jockey’s Joke Inadvertently Lead to an Alvin and the Chipmunks Comeback?

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.

thealvinshowsunsetlpfront

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.

chipmunk_punk_cover

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 bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

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3 Responses to “How Did a Disc Jockey’s Joke Inadvertently Lead to an Alvin and the Chipmunks Comeback?”

  1. Do The Chipmunks have any relationto, or inspiration to or from Pinky and Perky from the UK?

  2. No direct relation, but the timing on the two groups is close enough for me to buy either one of the following scenarios:

    1. Ross Bagdasarian heard Pinky and Perky’s debut single in 1958 and it inspired him to try the same thing with his first “Sped-up” song, “Witch Doctor” (“oo,ee,oo,ah,ah,ting,tang,walla walla bing bang”) later in 1958.
    2. Ross Bagdasarian independently came up with the idea to speed up songs for comedic effect and it just happened to be at roughly the same time as Pinky and Perky.

    I can believe the first since Bagdarasian came up with his idea soon after the debut of Pinky and Perky but I can believe the second because we’re talking a pretty close window between the debut of Pinky and Perky and the debut of “Witch Doctor.” Honestly, if I had to pick one, I’d probably go with #2.

  3. ParanoidObsessive on October 24th, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    I can believe #2, if only because as a kid it seemed completely instinctive to turn the speed up on my record player from 33 to 45 and giggle as whatever I was playing sounded all squeaky. Doing that seems like something that tons of people probably did without ever knowing other people had already done it.

    Then it’s just a matter of being the guy who did that, AND realizing that people might buy something like that as a comedy record.

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