The Chipmunks were a novelty group born of one man's fascination with tricks using different recording techniques at Liberty Records in Los Angeles. The story of the Chipmunks is the story of Ross Bagdasarian, a.k.a. David Seville.
Ross Bagdasarian was born in Fresno, California in 1919. His cousin is noted playwright William Saroyan. Ross worked as an actor and spent two years acting in Saroyan's The Time Of Your Life. The two of them wrote a song they called Come On-A My House while they were driving across New Mexico in 1939. The song was used in an off-Broadway play called The Son in 1950 before it was recorded by Kay Armen. In 1951 a recording by Rosemary Clooney of Come On-A My House became a huge hit. Ross continued with his acting career and appeared in some films, including Stalag 17, Viva Zapata and most notably, Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 masterpiece Rear Window.
He decided to use the name David Seville for his work in recording studios, which was becoming more frequent and more interesting to him. He also continued with his songwriting, and composed and recorded an instrumental titled Armen's Theme in 1956. Some novelty songs followed in 1957 and 1958, such as The Bird On My Head and Gotta Get To Your House. And there was another one, one which went on to be his first big hit song as a recording artist.
He had been writing songs and recording at Liberty Records. On April 14, 1958 what proved to be his first big hit entered the charts: Witch Doctor. Seville had read a book titled Duel With The Witch Doctor. He experimented with recording at half speed and then playing his tapes back at full speed. The result was Witch Doctor, and the public liked it. It shot up the charts until it could go no higher, resting in the #1 position for three weeks of its eighteen week run.
He then tried more experiments with tape speed, this time adding the voices of three characters that he created whom he called Alvin, Simon and Theodore. Collectively, because of the sound of the speeded up voices, they were known as the Chipmunks. They were named for Liberty Records executives Alvin Bennett, Si Waronker and Ted Keep. Late in 1958 Ross released The Chipmunk Song with the singing credits going to The Chipmunks with David Seville. In the first five weeks after its release, the song sold three and a half million records, and in December, 1958 it was the #1 song on the pop charts. The Liberty executives were delighted.
Seville followed up, changing the name of the group slightly to David Seville and the Chipmunks, and the following February reached the top ten again with Alvin's Harmonica. The group resurrected a song that had been popular early in the twentieth century titled Ragtime Cowboy Joe and had another hit. Chipmunks' albums were very popular and selling quite well in the late 50's. More recordings were made into the early 60's, some of them with seasonal themes, and the Chipmunks placed several more songs in the top forty up until 1962.
Seville's creation of the Chipmunks had become part of pop culture. A total of four albums charted in the late 50's and early 60's, including one called The Chipmunks Sing The Beatles Hits. In the early 60's the Chipmunks even had a prime-time animated television show. The enormous popularity of the Chipmunks wound down but their place in the entertainment world endured. By 1970 they had sold over thirty million records.
Ross Bagdasarian died in early 1972, in Beverly Hills. He was only 52 years old. His son, Ross Bagdasarian, Jr., revived the Chipmunks in 1980 and two more albums were released, including Chipmunk Punk. The group had its own animated series on Saturday morning television in the mid 1980's and continues to be popular.
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