ANIMATION SPIN
June 21, 2016 posted by

The Final Two Albums of The Original Chipmunks

As the ’60s came to a close, Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. and his multi-million selling trio recorded two albums of songs from movies with before his untimely passing in 1972.

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THE CHIPMUNKS GO THE MOVIES
Alvin, Simon and Theodore with David Seville
Sunset Records (Liberty) S-5312 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / Stereo)
CD Reissue: Capitol Records (April 15, 2008); also download

Released in 1969. Producer/Voice Artist: Ross Bagdasarian. Arranger: Pete King. Running Time: 30 minutes.

Songs: “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “Hushabye Mountain,” “You Two,” “The Roses of Success” (from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang); “Supercalifragilisticexplialidocious,” “Chim Chim Cheree” (from Mary Poppins) by Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman; “We’re Off to See the Wizard/Follow the Yellow Brick Road” (from The Wizard of Oz) by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg; “The Bare Necessities” (from The Jungle Book) by Terry Gilkyson; “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” (from The Man Who Knew Too Much) by Jay Livingston, Ray Evans; “Consider Yourself” (from Oliver!) by Lionel Bart.

A time capsule of the post-Sound of Music era of reserved-seat blockbuster musicals (with a few exceptions), The Chipmunks Go to the Movies is a genial, warmhearted disc reflecting Ross Bagdasarian’s affection for the big screen (both as a fan and an actor who had appeared in such films as Rear Window and The Proud and the Profane).

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was touted as the big family musical of the late ’60s. It was going to be the next Mary Poppins–going so far as to feature the Poppins songwriters, musical director, choreographers and one of its stars. It didn’t quite pan out that way at the time, at least in the U.S., but it has certainly become a beloved favorite and its score is of classic value. Chitty’s score is the highest profile movie on this album, represented by four songs.

The album's back cover (Click To Enlarge)

The album’s back cover (Click To Enlarge)

The other big kids’ musical of the late ’60s, Oliver!, featured songs that some of us sang in school, including “Consider Yourself” (I actually played this version of the song for my elementary school music teacher, Mrs. Weir. She laughed when she heard Theodore giggle.)

In some instances, Ross Bagdasarian would write David Seville and the Chipmunks into the setting of a song, as he does with “We’re Off to See the Wizard.” The foursome is actually on the yellow brick road, with Alvin is amusing as always, planning to ask the Wizard for a new sports car and a small yacht.

It’s interesting to place this album in the context of the late’60s, in which the counterculture was counterbalancing by the familiar and traditional. While Bagdasarian enjoyed commercial and critical success with the Chipmunks’ two albums of pop and rock songs (Chipmunks ‘a Go-Go and The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles’ Hits), he chose to go with the tried-and-true mainstream of family movie music with his last two albums. Whether that was a business, sales or artistic choice remains to be seen.

Most Chipmunk albums contained twelve songs (14 for The Chipmunk Songbook), but The Chipmunks Go to the Movies had only ten. Two of them, “Que Sera, Sera” and “Supercalifragilistic,” were carried over from 1965’s The Chipmunks Sing with Children, so the total of new material is only eight (the Doctor Dolittle LP, explored below, had seven). By this time, production costs were high, sales were lower and Liberty was releasing its Chipmunk product on its budget Sunset label (along with a few Hanna-Barbera titles like The Flintstones Meet the Orchestra Family). The times they were a-changin’.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”

Dave and the boys go for a ride in the mighty fine motorcar in their version of the Sherman Brothers’ Oscar-nominated tune. This version was released as a single, backed with the haunting “Hushabye Mountain,” another rendition that proved that the Chipmunks could be as soothing and mellow as they could be raucous.


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THE CHIPMUNKS SEE DOCTOR DOLITTLE
Alvin, Simon and Theodore with David Seville
Sunset Records (Liberty) S-5300 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / Stereo)

Released in 1968. Producer/ Voice Artist: Ross Bagdasarian. Arranger: Pete King. Engineer: Bob Doherty. Art Director: Woody Woodward. Cover Design: Phil DeLara. Running Time: 25 minutes.

Songs: “Doctor Dolittle,” “My Friend, the Doctor,” “Talk to the Animals,” “When I Look in Your Eyes,” “Fabulous Places,” “I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It,” “Beautiful Things” by Leslie Bricusse.

When Ross Bagdasarian passed away, depending on the obituary, this album was listed as his last. It was not, but the two records are very closely related in their laid-back manner and easygoing musical setting.

The back cover of the album (click to enlarge) looks like "Mystery Science Chipmunks 3000"!

The back cover of the album (click to enlarge) looks like “Mystery Science Chipmunks 3000”!

This album has a story thread that is sustained at the beginning of each track. The four of them has just come home from the theater, where they watched 20th Century Fox’s superspectacular musical version of Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Dolittle stories, starring Rex Harrison. Alvin, Simon and Theodore liked it so much they want to see it again, so Dave agrees on the condition that they take a quiz, which is really a way to set up each of the songs.

Most of the set up for this continuity occurs at the start of “My Friend, the Doctor,” but every song has a small amount of story. The pieces don’t really fit together as a whole, however, if one has not seen the movie. The album is more of a teaser than a storyteller.

Musically, it’s a pleasant, easy listening experience that does not sound at all like the early Chipmunk records, but more in the vein of The Chipmunks Sing with Children, minus the large orchestra. Pete King, who arranged the Children, Dolittle and Movies albums, gave all of them a style that sets these apart. Viewed as a whole, the original twelve Chipmunk albums evolved in style from 1959 to 1969

1967’s Doctor Dolittle was far from a box office success, but Leslie Bricusse’s score was much recorded by everyone from Bobby Darin to Sammy Davis, Jr. Several of the songs are still easy listening staples today. Though very accessible on video and TCM, the movie was overshadowed by Eddie Murphy’s hit 1998 comedy version. Perhaps for this reason, The Chipmunks See Doctor Dolittle is the only Chipmunk album to miss being reissued as a CD or download.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Talk to the Animals”

Liberty’s budget label, Sunset Records (a Transamerica Company – soon to be merged into United Artists Records), released this Oscar-winning song as a single with “My Friend the Doctor.” The dialogue segments were cut rather abruptly in each instance, with each song starting without any musical intro, rather than allowing the music beds to open each song without the voice tracks.

18 Comments

  • It was a surprise to me to learn, years later, that these two films–“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and “Doctor Dolittle” were not enormous blockbuster hits. Judging from all of the hype surrounding each of these movies you would have thought they were the most popular movies ever. You could not open a box of cereal or read a comic book without seeing a reference to Doctor Dolittle and later to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. There were toys, contests, bath towels, posters, records, coloring books–you name it. You literally could not go anywhere without running into the hype. The images were everywhere–billboards, grocery stores, shopping malls, airports, public buses. The producers so burned these films into the public consciousness that they seemed like mega-hits before they even reached the theatres.

    The Chipmunks really do justice to all of these songs–what they manage to do is capture the “magical” quality that songs aimed at family audiences tended to have in those less-jaded days. It transports the listener back to a remarkable musical era.

    One quibble with the “Movies” album–in the middle of the song “You Two” Dave intervenes and says “I thought there were four of us.” But the very next reprise of the song, Dave sings “I have you two.” Wouldn’t it be “you three” if he’s singing to the three chipmunks, especially where he just emphasized that they are a quartet? Surely Bob and Dick would have allowed that alteration of their lyric to accommodate the situation. It’s a major inconsistency, as if someone didn’t do the math correctly.

    Apart from that, every one of these songs is delightful and well worth the listening.

    I’m so glad to see the “Doctor Dolittle” album represented. When it wasn’t showing up in the lists of Chipmunk albums, I wondered if I had imagined seeing it in a record store years ago. I’m glad my memory is reliable, in this instance at least.

    Thanks for sharing these delightful gems.

    • Thanks as always for your insightful comments, Frederick!

      Like you, I assumed both Dolittle and Chitty were megahits until years later when I read up on them and also after Judith Crist dissed them in TV Guide (Chitty: “Too icky-poo cute for our tastes.”)

      Re: “You Two,” I always assumed that when Dave joined in the song, the word was used as a homonym (“I have you, too./ I have you two.”)

    • It’s felt the utter flop of DOCTOR DOLITTLE killed off the concept of major merchandising programs for theatrical films…until STAR WARS.

    • I also assumed, Frederick and Greg, that both movies were big box office hits – for the very same reasons (merhcandise,etc.)

    • I’m actually surprised 20th Century Fox hadn’t re-released the CHIPMUNKS/DR. DOOLITTLE album in recent years as the studio owns both the DOLITTLE franchise (five films – including 2 theatricals with Eddie Murphy) and those recent CHIPMUNKS movies (4 theatricals). It would have been a “win-win” for Fox by branding the two in one product.

  • And the Chipmunks went to a 7 year “hiatus” after Ross Bagdasarian Sr’s death in 1972 until 1979 his son Ross Jr took over his father enterprise when Chipmunk Punk was released. Ross Jr was at first studying to be a lawyer but after his father’s sudden death he took over along with his wife Janice Karman rejuvenated The Chipmunks along with adding The Chipettes for future generations to see and hear The Chipmunks.

    • Ross Jr. wrote a beautifully eloquent comment elsewhere on the internet about the rebirth of the Chipmunks. I hope he won’t mind reprinting part of it here:

      “Janice and I started to resurrect my father’s creation shortly after he passed away in 1972. We simply wanted to get the record company to re-release the albums he had made or get the network to play his old episodes. But unfortunately, we couldn’t interest anyone because The Chipmunks had become passe at that point, so we had to create our own new albums, TV shows, etc.

      “It took Janice and me many years before we were able to interest anyone. Finally, in 1980 we made a new album that went platinum. We followed that up with The Chipmunks first Christmas special, which Janice and I wrote, produced, voiced and funded. Janice also redesigned the characters for that special. My dad’s look was very stylized, which was the norm in the early ’60’s. But Janice didn’t stop there, she further redesigned them for the TV series (1983-1991) when she also created, designed and voiced The Chipettes, then further redesigned them for the films and again, for our new series.

      “But she also did much more. She expanded the personality of Theodore and Simon in major ways. My dad’s show was a wonderful series that highlighted the relationship of Alvin and Dave. Theodore was basically someone who giggled and ate. Simon was mostly smart. Janice made both characters much more dimensional. Theodore became the baby of the family, innocent, honest, naive and sweet. Simon grew from just being smart, to having a quick wit and a person who stands up for his principals. She made these changes in our TV series in the 80’s and in the movies, as well as our newest series.

      “The fact is that no one has done more for Alvin and The Chipmunks over the past 37 years than Janice. She spends 7 days a week working to make these shows as special as they can be. She not only designed the characters and the look of the new series, but calls out every color of every background, prop, costume, etc. She voices Theodore, Brittany, Jeanette, Kevin, Miss Smith, Miss Croner and others, and directs the rest of the voices as well as the show itself. She listens to every pre-mix and makes sure that every cue not only captures the emotion of the scene, but enhances it.

  • I’m pretty sure Joel Hodgson has mentioned them, and/or Alvin & the Chipmunks were referenced in an MST3K bumper sketch (with Mike Nelson?), as being an influence.

  • To Jerry: 20th Century-Fox has not operated a record label in over 20 years. Their last venture in that area, Fox Records, closed in 1995. (The original 20th Century-Fox record division, aka 20th Century and 20th-Fox Records, was sold to Casablanca Records in 1981.) 20th’s music publishing division licenses “Glee” and other sound track releases to Sony and other companies. The Chipmunks-Dr. Dolittle album rights are owned either by the Bagdasarian family, Universal Music (as successor to Liberty Records) or some combination of both.

    In addition to these albums, Ross Bagdasarian, Senior released a “straight” version of “When I Look In Your Eyes” under his own name on Imperial Records (a Liberty division,) replacing the last line “Isn’t it a pity you’re a seal” with “How I love the things your eyes reveal,” and a VERY FUNNY one-shot Chipmunks single on Dot Records, “Sorry About That, Herb!”, a simultaneous spoof of Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass and Ray Conniff’s ba-bah-baah choral records. It was co-produced by Snuff Garrett (Bobby Vee, Gary Lewis, Cher, etc.) and may have been released only in Canada. (You can hear it on You Tube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjVyIubpqaM )

    • To Jeff: Thanks for the clarification as to the status of the 20th Century Fox record label.

      My point was that it was in Fox’s favor to to push for a Chipmunk/Dolittle cross over recording – and the fact that one already exists is reason enough to keep it accessible on iTunes. Too bad they have no one with Greg’s scope of knowledge, nor anyone in-house interested in synergistic opportunities such as this.

      At least we have Greg Ehrbar and his fantastic Animation Spin column to enlighten us each week.

    • Diana Krall also sung a cover version of When I Look In Your Eyes with the lyrics “How I love the world. Your eyes reveal” instead of the original lyrics sung by Rex Harrison in Doctor Dolittle or the Ross Bagdasarian Sr version.

    • I stand corrected on the “…Look In Your Eyes” lyrics. I wrote my earlier post from memory, without the actual record at hand. This past weekend I dug the original 45 out of my half-vast collection, and the end lyrics are indeed “the world your eyes reveal,” same as the Diana Krall recording.
      For the record (pun intended or not,) it’s the B-side of Liberty 45 rpm 56048; the A-side is a Bagdasarian original, “The Winds of Time.” My copy is a DJ promo edition.
      Ross Bagdasarian’s later non-Chipmunk-related 45’s are an interesting and sometimes bizarre batch; it would seem that his contract with Liberty was such that he could pretty much record what he pleased, as long as it wasn’t too expensive, and as long as he kept the Chipmunk records coming as well.
      I recently read an online interview with Bobby Vee from several years back in which he shared pleasant memories of both working for Liberty and with RB.

  • Janice should give a bit of credit to the late Toby Bluth and Corny Cole for re-designing the Chipmunks. Toby did a lot of work on the Chipettes.

    • I agree with Mark (as always — hi, Mark!). I worked on the NBC “Chipmunks” show for Ruby-Spears for 4 years, and the producers told me that Bagdasarian and Janice had very little to do with the show and R-S were totally involved in the scripts, design, and production. As far as I know, the couple only provided voice work. There was friction between them and the producers, and I think when the contract was up, they took the show to DIC and only then did they redesign the characters fairly drastically.

    • As far as I can tell, the biggest influence on the “look” of the Chipmunks, where their hand-drawn TV versions are concerned, was Chuck Jones’s redesign of them (and “David Seville” as well) for the 1981 TV special “A Chipmunk Christmas.” All the Ruby-Spears and other later versions seem to come mainly from that source.
      RB Jr. seems to have shown relatively little interest in reissuing his father’s original recordings and TV shows, at least judging by what’s available. Speaking for myself, I would welcome a first-class CD reissue of David Seville/Ross Bagdasarian’s non-Chipmunk instrumental flipsides, album tracks, and one-shot singles from the 50’s and 60’s. It’s pretty great “lounge” stuff with an offbeat sense of humor.

  • I remember the Chipmunk’s cover of the title song Chitty Chitty Bang Bang getting a moderate amount of radio AirPlay. It may have been the first time I heard the song, even before I knew there was a movie. Does anyone know how it charted?

    • I’m not sure if it charted, sorry.

    • If you lived in the Allentown, Pennsylvania area in 1968, it did! Here’s a link to a chart from WAEB radio:
      http://www.las-solanas.com/arsa/surveys_item.php?svid=7520
      This site, called ARSA – the Airheads Radio Survey Archive – has preserved literally tens of thousands of radio station survey charts from around the USA and the world, from the 1950’s thru the 1980’s. Boy is it fun…
      http://www.las-solanas.com/arsa/index.php

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