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A Short History of the Chipmunks
Alvin and The Chipmunks have been delighting audiences around the world for over 50 years. From the moment they sprung into being with their #1 Christmas hit "The Chipmunk Song,” the creative brainchild of singer/songwriter Ross Bagdasarian, Sr., the ‘Munks' catchy sound has been a pop culture mainstay, for both young and old.

In 1958, Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. was a down-on-his-luck musician/songwriter with a family to feed. He was signed with Liberty Records, a struggling label desperate for a hit. In the spirit of a true artist, Bagdasarian, Sr. was a risk taker. He cleaned out the family's savings account and bought a state-of-the-art tape recorder, then he sat down and tried to figure out what he would do with it. Looking around his desk, he saw a copy of a book called Duel with the Witch Doctor. That was his inspiration for the number one hit song "Witch Doctor,” an instant smash that everyone knows by its nonsensical refrain: "OO EE OO AH AH ting tang wal-la wal-la bing bang.”

Bagdasarian employed a unique technique for the voice of the Witch Doctor. He slowed the tape recording speed down and recorded the lyrics in a slow, low voice, then played it back at regular speed. This technique would later come to define the iconic voices of Alvin, Simon and Theodore.

As "Witch Doctor” surpassed the million-selling copy demarcation, Liberty Records found themselves flush with cash. But the money wasn't enough to save the label indefinitely and Liberty soon needed another hit … so once again they called on Bagdasarian.

Tapping back into his surroundings for inspiration, Bagdasarian found himself listening to the insistent refrain of his four-year-old son begging to know when it would be Christmas — this was in the heat of summer 1958 — and he penned the perennial Christmas favorite, "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)” … but he didn't title it that because The Chipmunks didn't exist yet.

Bagdasarian loved the voice he created for the Witch Doctor, but he wanted to take it somewhere new, imbue it with personality, he just didn't know in what way. One day, as he drove through Yosemite National Park, a chipmunk ran in front of his car, stopped in the road, rose up on its haunches and seemed to challenge Bagdasarian to pass. The rest is history … as that little chipmunk became Alvin.

Bagdasarian created two sidekicks for the mischievous Alvin: Simon, the intellectual and practical one; and Theodore, the giggling one that loved to eat. Together they were Alvin and The Chipmunks, deriving their names from three of the executives at Liberty: Al Bennett, Si Waronker and Theodore Keep. A few years before, Bagdasarian began recording under the stage name, David Seville. So this new musical act was born, David Seville and The Chipmunks.

Although it was a bit of a struggle to get "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)” radio air play in the beginning, Bagdasarian found a small station in Minneapolis willing to play it before the Christmas season officially began. The switchboards lit up like a you know what, and word of mouth got the song rotation on more and more stations until it became the fastest-selling number one hit single up to that time, over four and a half million copies in seven weeks (that milestone was eventually surpassed by The Beatles with "I Want to Hold Your Hand” in 1964), and would go on to win three Grammy® Awards and be nominated for a fourth.

The Chipmunks made their network television debut – as puppets performing with "Dave Seville” (Bagdasarian) – on "The Ed Sullivan Show.” Again, they were an immediate success. People were clamoring for more of the ‘Munks, and a look was designed that was very different than what we have come to associate with The Chipmunks. In the beginning, The Chipmunks looked, well, very much like chipmunks … not quite photo-realistic, but based more on the animal than on a plushy derivative. A cottage industry ensued with all kinds of ‘Munk toys and memorabilia, and of course, records.

The Chipmunks were huge. People couldn't get enough of them. After the 1960 release of the single "Alvin for President,” Bagdasarian received a letter of support from then senator John F. Kennedy, a Presidential candidate. Kennedy wrote back to Bagdasarian saying that he was glad to know he had at least one worthy opponent. There seemed to be no limit to their popularity. In three short years, The Chipmunks had sold sixteen million records, won several Grammys among numerous nominations, and were riding the crest of an unprecedented merchandising campaign. It was time to bring them to life in a dynamic, visual medium.

The Alvin Show debuted on television in the fall of 1961 and with it, a new look for Alvin, Simon and Theodore — and for that matter, Bagdasarian since the character of Dave Seville was now born into the world of animation.

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