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Archive for the ‘Alvin and The Chipmunks’ Category

Holiday Gift Guide Review: The Chipmunks, “Chipmunks Christmas”

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There’s only one “Christmas Song” – chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and all that.  And there’s only one “Chipmunk Song” – in which Alvin never gets his much hoped-for hula hoop.  What began as a novelty for Ross Bagdasarian, a.k.a. David Seville, led to three Grammy Awards for “The Chipmunk Song” alone and a chart-topping berth.  Indeed, it remains the only Christmas song to have ever reached No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart.  But that wasn’t all for Alvin, Simon and Theodore, with two successful television series, four theatrical films and dozens of albums to their names.  Yet the cornerstone of the Chipmunk legacy just might be the two Christmas albums recorded by Bagdasarian’s rodent troupe: 1961’s Christmas with the Chipmunks and 1963’s Volume Two.  Those Liberty Records albums have never gone out of print in one version or another, and for 2012, Liberty successor Capitol has spruced them up yet again for the brand new release Chipmunks Christmas (Badgasarian/Capitol 5099997914327).

To keep track of the holiday music made by impetuous Alvin, brainy Simon and lovable Theodore is somewhat of a daunting task.  The two original LPs each contained twelve tracks (including the 1958 “Chipmunk Song” single) which have been packaged and repackaged over the years.  The animated group then returned to the Christmas songbook with 1981’s A Chipmunk Christmas soundtrack album and 1994’s A Very Merry Chipmunk.  The best representation on CD of the core 24 tracks (other than the out-of-print but not too hard-to-find CDs of both original albums) came from Capitol in 2007.  That year’s Christmas with the Chipmunks contained all the tracks plus an offbeat 1968 remake of “The Chipmunk Song” with fellow Liberty artists Canned Heat.  Other editions, before and after ’07, have dropped, added and resequenced songs, and this year’s model is no exception.  The new Chipmunks Christmas offers eighteen tracks: sixteen from the original Liberty LPs plus 1994’s “Here Comes Christmas” from A Very Merry Chipmunk and 2008’s “Ho Ho Ho” from Undeniable, a studio album released on the heels of 2007’s smash hit film Alvin and the Chipmunks.  (That album also found Alvin, Simon and Theodore warbling tunes by Bon Jovi, Bob Marley and even Led Zeppelin!)  Though it’s incomplete as to the core Liberty recordings, the new Chipmunks Christmas is a perfect stocking stuffer for the kids at Christmas, or for the kids in all of us.

Only a Scrooge would be completely immune to the charms of the Chipmunks’ squeaky seasonal standards.  Most of the songs here are Christmas classics but Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. contributed one other original in addition to “The Chipmunk Song”: a sideways rewrite of that single entitled “Wonderful Day.”  In his arrangements of traditional staples like “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (c. 1780) and “Up on the Housetop” (c. 1864) and more recent Tin Pan Alley tunes such as “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” (1951) and “Frosty the Snowman” (1950), Bagdasarian brought plenty of personality to his well-defined Chipmunk characters and to his “own” role as the ever-exasperated David Seville.  The production values and orchestrations on these albums were top-notch, something not to be taken for granted in the realm of children’s recordings.

The music is varied, too; Bagdasarian/Seville takes the lead on Meredith Willson’s “It’s Beginning…” with Alvin taking a verse and the Chipmunks supporting him on background vocals.  There’s repartee between Seville and the Chipmunks on tracks including “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” in which Bagdasarian introduces another voice: that of the titular reindeer.  Alvin, Simon and Theodore each take a verse on the jaunty “Up on the Housetop.”  Bagdasarian and company even play it straight for a pleasantly wistful rendition of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” sung by Dave and Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” always the most melancholy of holiday songs.

What’s new on Chipmunks Christmas?  Hit the jump for that, and more! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 19, 2012 at 11:38

Cash, Perkins, Lewis and…The Chipmunks? Ace Revisits 1958 On “The London American Label”

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After a terrifically eclectic volume dedicated to the hits, misses and everything in between of 1963, Ace’s London American Label turns the clock back to the early days of rock and roll via the pioneering British imprint.  The London American Label: 1958, the sixth volume of the series, similarly offers something for everyone.  Unlike so many other British labels mining this period thanks to public domain law, Ace licenses each and every track from the current copyright owners and remasters them for optimum sound.  These classics cover a wide swath of genres, reflecting a time in American music history when rock and roll was just taking a hold: rockabilly, country, traditional vocal pop, and doo wop, to name a few.  (To read more on London American, you’re just a hop, skip and a click away!)

Every volume of The London American Label offers a number of recognizable hits, and 1958 is no exception.  You’ll find Eddie Cochran’s sizzling “Summertime Blues” and Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash.”  Three quarters of The Million Dollar Quartet make an appearance:  Johnny Cash (“Guess Things Happen This Way”), Jerry Lee Lewis (“Break-Up”) and Carl Perkins (“Lend Me Your Comb”).  In a more traditional country vein is Jimmy Starr’s version of Conway Twitty’s standard “It’s Only Make Believe.”  Befitting any compilation of the golden era of rock and roll, Chuck Berry and Little Richard both make a riotous noise with “Sweet Little Rock and roll” and “Ooh! My Soul,” respectively.  Before reinventing himself as a tuxedoed entertainer or an earnest folk singer, Bobby Darin established his rock credentials, and he’s heard on his early calling card, “Splish Splash.”

Traditional pop is also represented.  Jane Morgan is heard with “The Day The Rains Came.”  The Mills Brothers were a clear influence on the sound of early doo-wop; they returned the favor with a cover of The Silhouettes’ “Get a Job” originally released on the Dot label.  The early Drifters line-up tackles “Moonlight Bay,” a standard that’s likely familiar to any longtime Looney Tunes fans!  Clyde McPhatter of that group appears solo on “Come What May.” 

Looking for humor?  The irreverent Coasters deliver with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s “The Shadow Knows.”  And the disc concludes with Ross Badgasarian, Sr. a.k.a. David Seville, giving voice to Alvin, Simon and Theodore with the original “The Chipmunk Song.”  (Perhaps Ace is the label up to the task of delivering a comprehensive David Seville and the Chipmunks anthology?)

The London American Label: 1958 hits stores in the U.K. on June 27 and in America one week later.  Hit the jump for a pre-order link plus the full, diverse track listing and discographical information!

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Written by Joe Marchese

May 17, 2011 at 10:23

Reissue Theory: David Seville, By Any Other Name

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If you told anyone following the music industry in 1958 that David Seville’s musical legacy would be eagerly consumed by kids more than 50 years into the future, they might laugh. After all, Seville’s greatest “discoveries” aren’t exactly real – they’re in fact a trio of animated chipmunks named Alvin, Simon and Theodore. And their musical style – a high-pitched warbling that made novelties like “Witch Doctor” and “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” into left-field, award-winning hits – constantly travels on the line between clever and crazy.

But if you can believe it, The Chipmunks have had a rather extraordinary few years. Two theatrical releases in 2007 and 2009 grossed $361.3 million and $443.1 million worldwide, respectively. Their respective soundtracks – both Top 10 hits – went platinum and gold. In spite of more than a half-century of recording advancement and shifting popular taste, kids just cannot get enough of songs sped up as though the singers inhaled helium.

Seville – the stage name of one Ross Bagdasarian, a moderately successful songwriter best known outside Chipmunk lore for his appearance as the frustrated songwriter in Alfred Hitchock’s 1954 film Rear Window – wasn’t some crazy guy (although he created characters who now make kids laugh by eating poop). Seville had a huge hit as co-writer of the semi-ethnic “Come On-a My House” (which Rosemary Clooney took to the top of the charts in 1951) and another considerable hit with “The Trouble with Harry,” a novelty tune that further connected him with Hitchcock; it was based on the Master of Suspense’s film of the same name.

Of course, it was Bagdasarian’s purchasing of a V-M tape recorder and penning of a catchy tune called “Witch Doctor” that propelled him to success in 1958. Later that year, he would take the high-speed voice in the chorus of “Witch Doctor,” multiply it by three and give the world those unforgettable Chipmunks. But Seville had a good three years of recorded singles before “Witch Doctor” – all released on Liberty Records – that today prove his worth as a pretty funny tunesmith without all the production gimmicks. Today, most of these tracks have been relegated to the dustbin of history, with only a few hard-to-find compilations making the rounds.

Would EMI – the current executors of the Liberty Records catalogue – ever reissue this material to capitalize on the rather surprising endurance The Chipmunks seem to have? If they ever did, it might look a little something like this Reissue Theory look at the David Seville discography. You’ll hardly stand to wait to see what it looks like after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

July 12, 2010 at 10:30