The seed to the Chipmunks idea was planted with
David Seville's (Ross Bagdasarian
) hit song,
"The Witch Doctor,"
in 1958, in which he used a tape speed
trick to produce the squeaky
By recording at half speed
, his voice took on a
sound when it was played back at
the normal rate. While "The Witch Doctor"
was not the first song to use this technique, its catchy chorus
highlighted the effect
Encouraged by its success, Bagdasarian built on the
idea. Rather than having one voice, he made it into
a high-pitched trio. He took the Chipmunks' names from
three people at Liberty Records (Al Bennett, Sy
Waronker, and Ted Keep). Under the name David Seville,
he released their debut with "The Chipmunk Song (Please Christmas Don't Be Late)" in December of 1958. The song took off, and spent four weeks on top of the charts, even earning three Grammy Awards.
It continued to chart for the next several years during
the Christmas season, eventually earning a spot among
ASCAP's Top 25 Holiday Songs of the 20th Century.
The next few years saw a handful of further singles,
Then, in 1961 a prime time animated series, "The
Alvin Show", was launched. It gave the Chipmunks
individual personalities, and secured the popularity of
Bagdasarian's creation. He provided the voices for Alvin,
Simon, Theodore and himself. Record covers featured the
group as drawn for the show, with
floor-length sweaters and trademark features, like
Simon's glasses and Alvin's baseball cap.
The show ran from 1962-1965, and enjoyed continued
exposure in reruns.
Alvin kept 'with it' by doing an album
of Beatles songs in 1964, as well as tackling
popular Hollywood tunes. By the late `60s, Bagdasarian was tired of being known as a
gimmicky children's composer, and retired the Chipmunks
to attempt more serious songwriting. They appeared
on one more record in 1968, joining Canned Heat
for an update of their Christmas tune, "The Chipmunk
In 1972, Ross Bagdasarian died of a heart attack.
In 1979, NBC added reruns of The Alvin Show,
rekindling interest in the group. Requests for a new
Chipmunks song were pouring in to a radio station after
they'd played Blondie's "Call Me" at the wrong
speed on the turntable, crediting the sped-up vocals to the
Chipmunks. This set the foundation for the return of Alvin,
Simon and Theodore to the pop culture spotlight, led by
David Seville's son, Ross Bagdasarian, Jr.
The Chipmunks got back into the studio for an
album of popular hits by Pat Benatar, The Cars, and
Blondie. He provided the voices of Alvin, Simon,
and David Seville, and his wife supplied the
voice of Theodore. The album, "Chipmunk Punk",
was a success and resulted in follow-up releases,
including a new Christmas album and a tie-in animated
television special in 1981.
A new cartoon series, "Alvin & The Chipmunks,"
aired in 1983 and ran for the rest of the decade. With the
new show, the appearance of the group changed again,
keeping their wardrobe colors, but adding more detail
and making them cuter and cuddlier than their previous
look. A trio of female counterparts was also introduced
in the program. Brittany, Jeanette, and Eleanor were
known as the Chipettes, and often joined the boys
in their exploits.
In the `90s, Bagdasarian, Jr. had the Chipmunks tackle
a variety of musical trends, from country music
("Achy Breaky Heart","Don't Rock the Jukebox") to dance mixes ("Macarena," "I'm Too Sexy,").
He also entered the direct-to-video market of children's
videos with several feature-length Chipmunks adventures.
A 40th Anniversary CD in 1999 featured a selection of
earlier material, as well as an audio interview with Ross
Bagdasarian, Jr, conducted by Alvin himself.