ANIMATION SPIN
December 6, 2016 posted by Greg Ehrbar

The Original “Christmas with the Chipmunks” Records

The first of the two LP’s is the granddaddy of classic cartoon/novelty Christmas albums, while the second one deserves wider release with more airplay for its songs.

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CHRISTMAS WITH THE CHIPMUNKS
Alvin, Simon and Theodore with David Seville
Liberty Records LST-7256 (Stereo) LRP-3256 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP)
CD Reissue: EMI Manhattan CDP 7 48378 2 (1980)

Released in 1962. Producer: Nick Draklich. Voices and Musical Direction: Ross Bagdasarian. Cover Design: Studio Five. Running Time: 25 minutes.
Songs: “Here Comes Santa Claus” by Gene Autry, Oakley Haldeman; “Silver Bells” by Jay Livingston, Ray Evans; “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Johnny Marks; Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” by Haven Gillespie, J. Fred Coots; “It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas” by Meredith Willson; “Frosty the Snowman” by Steve Nelson, Jack Rollins; “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin; “The Chipmunk Song” by Ross Bagdasarian. Public Domain Songs: “Up On the House Top,” “Over the River and Through the Woods,” “Jingle Bells,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

CmasChipVol1Back-600Stylistically, Ross Bagdasarian Sr.’s twelve Chipmunks fall into four overlapping categories: original Chipmunk sound, original sound with variations, full orchestration, ‘60s pop and budget show tune. Both volumes of Christmas with the Chipmunks fall into the “orchestral” period, two of three albums (including The Chipmunks Sing with Children) that use a full orchestra almost from beginning to end.

Christmas with the Chipmunks is the second best-selling album among the first twelve albums (after The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles’ Hits). It is easily the most-reissued Chipmunk album–both in its record and CD incarnations—most recently released on red and green vinyl in a cover reproducing the original LP.

Neither album offers many credits, so there is no indication of who did the newer arrangements, much less where they were recorded. One wonders whether the rich orchestrations were created in the U.K. or Germany, a common money-saving practice for recordings in the ’60s. At any rate, the music beds sound just a little disconnected to the Chipmunks’ voices—as if they could be used for any number of other singers and groups (though to my knowledge, they never were).

For the most part, these ten songs are performed in a straightforward way. Only in “It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas” does Alvin play around with his phrasing and get a nudge from Dave. “Silver Bells” is a “serious” duet with Dave handling the verses and the Chipmunks picking up each chorus. “White Christmas” is Dave’s very first album solo. These songs were deleted on some reissues.

The two remaining tracks are picked up from earlier releases: “The Chipmunk Song” (1958) and “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1960).

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN

“Jingle Bells”
This is the closest the 1962 orchestral arrangements come to the earlier Chipmunk style, at least toward the end of the song. This version also includes the last verse that starts with “Now the ground is white,” which is often omitted on the infinite renditions of this traditional favorite.



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CHRISTMAS WITH THE CHIPMUNKS, VOL. 2
Alvin, Simon and Theodore with David Seville

Liberty Records LST-7334 (Stereo) LRP-3334 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP)
CD Reissue: EMI Manhattan CDP 7 90899 2 (1988)

Released in 1963. Producer: Nick Draklich. Voices and Musical Direction: Ross Bagdasarian. Cover Design: Studio Five. Running Time: 30 minutes.
Songs: “Jingle Bell Rock” by Joe Beal, Jim Boothe; “Hang Up Your Stockin’” by Johnny Mann; “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin; “Wonderful Day” by Ross Bagdsarian; “Christmas Time (Greensleeves)” with Lyrics by Ross Bagdasarian; “(All I Want for Christmas Is) My Two Front Teeth)” by Donald Gardner; “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas,” “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement C. Moore. Public Domain Songs: “O Christmas Tree,” “Deck the Halls,” “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

CmasChipVol2Back-600This follow-up LP didn’t make the Billboard charts, as it was not always given the reissue opportunities of its sister album. In the ‘70s, the two vinyl discs were sandwiched inside a single cover with the artwork on either side of the cover. In the ‘70s, Pickwick’s Excelsior label (which gave is Chipmunk Punk) issued this album under the title The Twelve Days of Christmas Starring the Chipmunks. Life on the store shelf can be a challenge when you’re number two.

Nevertheless, in some ways this is the better of the two—though it seems unthinkable to own one without the other. Volume Two offers a jazz/pop sound in addition to the orchestral style, particularly in the excellent tune, “Hang Up Your Stockin’.” It was composed by Johnny Mann (a renowned musical director in his own right), who shared musical duties with Bagdasarian on The Alvin Show, and it really ought to be included on more annual holiday playlists.

“Hang Up Your Stockin’” is a longtime favorite of your humble author, who introduced the recording to Grammy-winning producer/arranger Dennis Scott. He liked it so much, he created his own version—with a new bridge—for the 2008 album, Kids Christmas Party.

Another track from this album, “(All I Want for Christmas Is) My Two Front Teeth,” besides being a rare solo for Theodore, was used for a sketch on the highly revered TV sketch comedy series, SCTV. It was a spoof of a then-ubiquitous series of commercials with the slogan, “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” with Rick Moranis as David Seville!

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN

“Wonderful Day”
Fans of The Alvin Show animated series will immediately recognize this melody as background music from the show. It can be heard in the song, “Down in the Valley” on The Chipmunk Songbook album.

11 Comments

  • As for the identity of the person responsible for the orchestral arrangements of these albums, i’d be inclined to look closer to home than the U.K. or Germany.

    Specifically, two names come to mind: Johnny Mann and Tommy “Snuff” Garrett.

    Mann is credited as one of the voices on the credits of “The Alvin Show”. It is likely that he provided the vocal arrangement for that show’s opening theme song.
    As Mann was a regular employee of Liberty Records, and as his Singers were one of their top sellers of long-play albums, it is not outside the realm of possibility that he had a hand in vocal or orchestral arrangements for these albums.

    Tommy Garrett mostly worked with the “teenybop” artists at Liberty–folks such as Bobby Vee and Timi Yuro. But he also had a hand in the easy-listening end of the label’s catalog, with his “Fifty Guitars of Tommy Garrett” albums, which appeared in Liberty’s higher-priced “Premier” series aimed at high-fidelity aficionados.

  • I always like hearing about these recordings, and I still enjoy the animated show for what it is. It is limited animation, but it does bring laughs, especially during some of the CLYDE CRASHCUP segments. Thanks for this and, maybe, one year, there will be a package featuring all those earliest CHIP MUNK albums featuring Ross Bagdasarian, Sr.

  • I love this so much. Forget, with all due respect intended, what Janice Karman (Ross Jr.’s wife) wants—-THESE ORIGINAL albums from the ORIGINAL, “Ross Sr.” vintage era: are the real thing!

    I know Johnny Mann’s name of being on the voices, and also musical director. Of course, Ross Bagdasarian was the music guy (oh. AND ALVIN. They ALSO executive produced the show. Ross Bagasarian. (and Alvin) – tee hee).

    SOME things about the background music that us first generaiton fans and some younger ones,too, would note, and this is for any of the sitll younger readers, esp.as it may be or may be or interest! Anyway,

    The show had a catchy up-tempo comic chase or accidental falling down comic stinger with a very fast tempo, fast drums and hornsthan ended the same way as MGM comic actor-singer-dancer Carleton Carpenter and Debbie Reynold’s immortal “Abba Dabba Honeymoon” ended but was otherwise an original composition-think Clyde when barefoot, stubbing his toe or Alvin and the Chipmunks “tobogganing” on a metal trash can lid down the snowy hills of (pick which) mountain and David yelling “Alvin!!

    It has a brass sound and end with the DadadaDADAAAAA (again, think “on an Abba Dabba Honeymoon’s last few notes’). As Bagdasarian got help for “Ed Sullivan” in getting his chipmunks as puppets designed from another legend, Bob Clampett, in 1960 when HE was getting his OWN iconic animated project, the cartoons of Beany and Cecil on TV (while still doing them for foreign theatrical use), there may be a coincidence that a circus piece, similiar to the “Abba Dabba”, final note is band comic running or falling down cue I used wound up—think when Beany and the gang go to the Schmoon, and the Jackie Gleason like Schmoon and Cecil the Sea-Sick Sea Serpent encouner each other, and then the Schmoon monster (Cecil:”Now THERE goes a good kid” before the inevitable double take) then he chases off. It’s just like the Bagasdarian chase cue I mentioned used in Alvin – or “Cecil meets Cecilia”(which has a LOT of borrowed Walter Lantz cues from Chew Chew Baby). At the end, Cecil throws the “found out” villian Dishonest John, and then meets Cecilia and that Chipmunk music, as a circus style theme is played. Sorry for going a bit off topic.

    But to wrap that aspect of this reply up, OBVIOUSLY being a friend to David Seville, turning his Chipmunks on a live TV show, pays off, explaining that background music winding up. And of course, those pieces turned into further Chimpmunk songs.

    One other thing. A 1959 hit single with just Ross and some female, maybe his wife and song namesake Armen, play a man and woman trying to say “hi” to each other, as neither’s married, called “Judy“, and an actual hit, turned up, as background music on both the Alvin and Clyde Crashcup segments!

    • It’s true Janice has no real love for the classics her father-in-law made.

  • Gawd I still got the original copy of Christmas with the Chipmunks! Me and my brothers played this record every Christmas when we were young. My favorite tracks from the original LP were Here Comes Santa Claus in which Alvin had a “spoken part” that he literally milked much to Dave’s chagrin .

    Up On the Housetop in which each of the Chipmunks had a solo.

    Silver Bells where Dave had a rare solo and the Chipmunks accompanying Dave as the background vocalists.

    And Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer in which Dave had a slight cold, I wonder who did the vocals for Rudolph?

    • I would assume that Ross Sr. did Rudolph’s voice, only it seemed sped up at a different rate, much like going from 33 to 45 rpm.

  • One of the most impressive things about both albums, to me anyway, is Ross Bagdasarian/David Seville’s “unmunked” vocal performances of “White Christmas” (first album) and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (second.) They are tender and sincere, and the string arrangement on “White Christmas” (whoever wrote the chart) is gorgeous. I’ve created remixes that replace the Dave-and-Alvin dialogue from the beginnings and endings with similar-sounding intros and codas lifted from other artists’ records (NOT easy to match up!) and they impress and surprise friends who wouldn’t be caught dead listening to “David Seville and the Chipmunks.” (PS: Their loss…)

    • Yes, the radio stations should of played David Seville’s beautiful “unmunked” renditions of White Christmas and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas instead of The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late). Their loss I guess.

    • I’m no hater when it comes to “The Chipmunk Song,” after all, it’s what started everything. Basically, it’s a pretty, schmaltzy, old-fashioned waltz. RB wrote a number of those, including “Wonderful Day” and the non-Chipmunk “Judy” (aka “The Prom.”) Before emerging as “The Chipmunk Song,” RB recorded a couple different versions Liberty Records rejected; one was an instrumental, the other a choral version with a different lyric, “In A Quiet Village Park.” What is probably a portion of one of the rejected versions can be heard as instrumental “filler” at the start of the Alvin Show cartoon version of “Chipmunk Song.”

  • A couple of odds and ends:
    First, those guesses of Johnny Mann and Sy Zenther are better guesses than outside help. Both were Liberty artists and Tommy (Snuff) Garrett was always in the thick of things on the label.

    In 2007, EMI/Capitol finally released all of the Chipmunk Christmas holdings on one CD, including a single not mentioned, the 1968 combination of blues boogie band Canned Heat and the Munks revisiting The Chipmunk Song. The Munks would have been a better act at Woodstock than Sha-Na-Na. In regular EMI/Capitol rationale, 2008 saw a return to a truncated version of the material. That 2007 complete set is out there with a little hunting.

    Odd, too, that the two Christmas albums were only put together one year as a two LP set in the vinyl era. Outside of the Elvis Christmas holdings, the Chipmunks must be the the modern-era group with the most reisuues of Christmas music. Today, Univeral Music controls the David Seville/Munks and the original LP is availalbe as an overpriced piece of hipster vinyl-stereo only.

    Meanwhile, AFAIK, the original mono 1958 45 version has never been available on any LP, not even on compilations. Add to that,the inventinve Ross Bagdasarian b-sides, usually instrumentals with goofy titles (e.g.-the Chipmunk Song originally had “Almost Good” as the B-side-a bouncy jingle-like ditty with Ross occasionally voicing the phrase “Hey,that’s almost good!” over the music) have never been collected as a set. Shameful!

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