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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Saturday Morning: Alvin and the Chipmunks

We've waited all year, and it's almost here! Happy Christmas Eve, everybody!

For today's blog entry, I really wanted to go back in time. To a Christmas long ago that holds such fond, fond memories. It's very much linked to the theme for today, which is Saturday morning programming. And, it's linked to a show that I specifically saved for today of all days. That's how much this show meant to me.

So, let's take a trip back in time. Christmas 1988 to be specific. That particular Christmas was a very special one for me, as it was probably the last Christmas where everyone in my immediate family still lived under the same roof. The following year, my eldest sister would end up getting married and leaving home once and for all. As for the other sister, she was seemingly sixteen going on thirty-five. As the lone person under the age of ten in the family at the time, I was not exactly all that thrilled with the idea that everyone else in my family was getting older, and I was still just a kid.

Granted, the age differences between my siblings and I don't seem all that huge now that we're all full-grown adults...but when you're a kid, it seems a lot more noticeable.

Anyway, Christmas 1988 was turning out to be one of those Christmases that was filled with lots of happiness, and joy, and wonderful holiday traditions. And of course, just like most other Christmases that I can remember, there was an assortment of beautiful presents. My parents may not have had a whole lot of money to go around back in the 1980s, but they certainly did know how to make a dollar stretch. I can't remember having a Christmas where we did without, anyway.

That particular Christmas, I can remember there being three gifts that were all identically wrapped. All three of them the same size, same weight, same wrapping paper even. Two of them were for my sisters, the third one for me. They were a gift from Santa Claus.

And when the three of us opened them up, well...this is what we got.

All three of us had gotten one of the three Alvin and the Chipmunks dolls for Christmas. 

My eldest sister got Alvin, which made sense. He was the leader of the Chipmunks and her favourite colour was red. The other sister got Theodore, who was her favourite Chipmunk of the three.

As for me, I ended up with Simon. Which ended up being a good choice, as I always saw myself as smarter than my sisters.

(Little sibling rivalry joke there. Heh.)

No, in all seriousness, Simon was always my favourite. And, besides, Simon was the tall one of the group and wore glasses. I wear glasses and am at least six to eight inches taller than my sisters. Really, looking back on it back then and seeing how I turned out as an adult, the choice couldn't have been more perfect.

You know, twenty-three years later, the Chipmunk dolls still exist. They're all at my parents place, each one displayed prominently in our Christmas decorations each year. Alvin, Theodore, and my Simon doll. Simon still even has the little piece of tape hanging from his glasses when I accidentally broke them.

But that was cool. It just added a little extra memory to the fondness that I have of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and how they made Christmas '88 all that more memorable.

Of course, growing up, I was always surrounded by Alvin and the Chipmunks. One of the first cassette tape albums that I ever owned was an Alvin and the Chipmunk album! It was one of those albums that was obviously released during the 1980s as the Chipmunks and their girl counterparts known as the Chipettes did cover versions of popular eighties hits. Michael Jackson's 'Beat It', Cyndi Lauper's 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun', Billy Joel's 'Uptown Girl', and many more. Gimme a sec...

...okay, I just Googled it, and found that the album was called “The Chipmunks: Songs From Our TV Shows", released in March 1984.

You know, come to think of it, I think my parents bought me the tape because I was so into the Saturday morning television show that aired on NBC at the time.

The cartoon, which aired on NBC from September 1983 to December 1990, was probably my first introduction to the Chipmunks. And it was such a wonderful show. I have so many fond memories of watching that show while devouring bowl after bowl of whatever sweetened cereal was in our pantry at the time. I never missed one episode of the show, and after a while, I could sing along with the Chipmunks no matter what episode aired.

It's also nice to know that the Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise is being brought to a brand new generation of viewers through the computer-animated feature films that have aired since 2007. The film versions have already released two highly successful films, and a third sequel, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, was released just a few days ago, on December 16, 2011. While I haven't seen any of these films (for some reason I can't get used to the fact that Dave Seville is played by the same guy from 'My Name Is Earl'), again, it's nice that a new generation is being exposed to the same cartoon characters that brought me joy in my own childhood.

But the origins of the Chipmunks goes way back. Even before I was born.

The origins of Alvin and the Chipmunks came about in 1958. The creator of the Chipmunks was a man by the name of Ross Bagdasarian. In 1958, Bagdasarian had been on the charts with the song, 'Witch Doctor'. It became a big hit in the summer of 1958, and spent two weeks at the top of the charts. Of course, the song was recorded by Bagdasarian under the stage name of David Seville. Part of the novelty of the 'Witch Doctor' record was the fact that in some parts of the record, the vocals were sped up, making Bagdasarian's voice more high-pitched as a result.

Like that of a chipmunk.

'Witch Doctor' was a hit on the charts, but it also won a couple of Grammy awards for song engineering the same year the song was released.

And the success of 'Witch Doctor' prompted Ross Bagdasarian to use the same engineering techniques to create a new singing group.

The premise was for Ross to use his stage persona of David Seville to promote a hot new group that was making the scene. The catch? The group was made up of three singing chipmunks that he had adopted as his own children. The chipmunks each had their own names and personalities. Alvin was the troublemaking lead singer. Simon was the intelligent, bespectacled Chipmunk. And Theodore's personality lead him to be a little gullible in nature, but he probably had the sweetest disposition of all of them.

And here's a bit of trivia for you. The three Chipmunks got their names from the executives of their original record label.

It was decided that with the Christmas season fast approaching, the Chipmunks first single would be a holiday themed one. So, during the fall of 1958, Ross Bagdasarian went to work singing each of the Chipmunks parts in a different pitched voice, and then harmonizing them together to form the Chipmunks group.

And, here's the perennial Christmas classic that came about as a result.

ARTIST: The Chipmunks (featuring David Seville)
SONG: The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)
ALBUM: Let's All Sing With The Chipmunks

Ah, yes...Christmas Don't Be Late. Once again, I have such fond memories of this song. To me, you can't have a Christmas without hearing this song at least once. It's a classic song where the Chipmunks sing about not being able to wait for Christmas, and how all they really want for Christmas are toy planes that fly around in loops, while all Alvin really wanted was a hula hoop (which back in 1958 was one of the most requested toys on Christmas lists).

The song immediately became a hit, landing on the top of the charts on December 22, 1958. It remained on the top of the charts until January 12, 1959. It would become the biggest hit that Ross Bagdasarian would have his name attached to. It was also the last Christmas themed song to ever hit the top of the Billboard charts. Even as of 2011, no other Christmas themed single had even come close to making the top of the charts in North America.

Bagdasarian shifted his main focus towards the Chipmunks project and released a television cartoon known as the Alvin Show (it ran for one season in 1961), and several records starring the Chipmunks. Between 1958 and 1969, Bagdasarian recorded a few albums as the Chipmunks, and each one sold quite a few copies worldwide.

Sadly, on January 16, 1972, Ross Bagdasarian suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 52. For seven years, the Chipmunks went silent. After all, the man behind the Chipmunks was gone, and it seemed as though the Chipmunks would soon fade away into the background.

Enter the son of the Chipmunks creator, Ross Bagdasarian Jr. and his wife, Janice Karman.

In 1979, when the younger Bagdasarian was thirty, he decided to honour his father's legacy by rebooting the Chipmunks franchise. With Bagdasarian taking over the voices of David Seville, Alvin and Simon, and Karman becoming the new voice of Theodore, the Chipmunks were reborn.

During the last half of 1979, the husband-wife duo of Bagdasarian and Karman recorded the newest Chipmunk album, and in June 1980, the album 'Chipmunk Punk' was released in stores. The album, which were cover versions of punk classics by artists such as Queen, Blondie, The Knack, and Tom Petty, sold very well in stores, and peaked at #34 on the Billboard 200 Albums list that same year.

And with that, the modern-day version of Alvin and the Chipmunks was reborn.

I for one am grateful that Ross Bagdasarian Jr. and Janice Karman decided to bring back the Chipmunks once more, to honour the legacy that his father created back in the late 1950s.

After all, I wouldn't have had this Christmas memory to share this 24th of December if they hadn't.

Merry Christmas Eve, everybody!

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