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 voice. By recording at half speed, his voice took on a comical, high-pitched 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 Song."

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.


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