RCA Records released the first Chipmunks album to tell a story when Alvin, Simon and Theodore made their network TV comeback in a Christmas special involving Chuck Jones.
A CHIPMUNK CHRISTMAS
Featuring Alvin, Simon and Theodore and Special Guest Star Santa Claus
RCA Victor Records AQL1-4041 (Stereo / 12” 33 1/3 RPM LP with Gatefold)
First CD Reissue: Chipmunk Records (Sony) LK-52917 (1992)
Released in 1981. Producer/Writers: Ross Bagdasarian Jr., Janice Karman. Arranger: Chris Caswell. Musicians: Chris Caswell, Ernie McDaniel, Barry Zweig, Ernie Corallo, Michael Buono, David Sherr, Doug Walter. Production Assistant: Steve Karman. Art Direction/Design: Rick DeTorie. Illustrations: Rick DeTorie, Toby Bluth. Engineer: Randy Tominaga. Assistant Engineer: David Clark. A&R Coordination: Marge Meoli. Art Director: Paul Wenzel. Running Time: 33 minutes.
Voices: Frank Welker (Santa Claus/Narrator); Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. (Alvin, Simon, David Seville); Janice Karman (Theodore); June Foray (Mrs. Claus, Shopper); Charles Berendt (Clyde Crashcup). Additional Voices: Bergen White, Dennis Wilson, Buzz Cason, Dean Andre, Jim Hass. Andre Pfeiffer.
Songs (Album and Special): Chipmunk Jingle Bells” (Traditional), Special Lyrics by Ross Bagdasarian, Jr., Janice Karman; “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” by Ross Bagdasarian, Sr.; “It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas” by Meredith Willson; Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson, Mitchell Parish. Traditional Songs: “Silent Night,” “Deck the Halls,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
Songs (Album Only): “The Spirit of Christmas,” “Crashcup’s Christmas” by Chris Caswell; “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane; “Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)” by Gene Autry, Oakley Haldeman.
From the late 1960s to the late 1980s, Alvin and the Chipmunks (with David Seville) kept a relatively low profile. Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. had passed away in 1972, leaving a library of classic albums. We’ve explored all twelve of them in previous Animations Spins:
During this dormant period, fans had to be contented with searching record stores in order to complete their LP and 45 collections, picking up the odd piece of merchandise without the help of eBay, and hoping a local station might run The Alvin Show again in syndication—however brief each run might be. NBC brought the reruns back to Saturday morning TV in the late ‘70s, in an undesirable early time slot. Still we got up and watched.
Today, Alvin and the Chipmunks have are a successful “I.P.-franchise-tentpole-brand-initiative-platform-strategy” thingy. But there was a time when the prospect of new Chipmunk records and animation was electrifying. So when a new NBC TV special was announced for the 1981 holiday season—a special that had just appeared in stores in the form of a record album on RCA Records—it was quite an event. For the first time in twenty years, viewers would see the Chipmunks in an animated TV show again.
The 1981 animation design of Alvin and friends was created by the legendary Chuck Jones. Jones gave them freckles, cuddly, bouncy forms and expressive facial features including the signature eyelashes. For the first time, the Chipmunks moved in fluid animation, under the direction of Jones veteran Phil Monroe (whose voluminous credits as an animator include Long Haired Hare and The Rabbit of Seville (no relation).
Jones’ role as Creative Consultant and the involvement of people such as Monroe puts this special into the august company of other Jones-related holiday specials like How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cricket in Times Square. There is one moment that coincidentally recalls a climactic moment in Cricket, in which the bustling city stops momentarily to enjoy a few seconds of peace as a carol plays. The sequence is brief in the TV version of A Chipmunk Christmas, but it is more pronounced on the record (and beautifully sung by an uncredited Janice Karman, whose voice gets little recognition perhaps because it’s usually sped up for Chipmunk and Chipette voices).
In its original 12” LP record form the album was something special. The first Chipmunk album with a gatefold cover, it contains a watercolor animation art with song lyrics. The color and art direction of the cover is similar to that of the TV special, but the character design for the album differs from that of Jones and must have been done independent of the TV production (most likely before).The album version of A Chipmunk Christmas is significant for two other reasons. While other Chipmunk albums offered sections of amusing dialogue and even extended continuity between songs, as on The Chipmunks See Doctor Dolittle, there was never an album-length Chipmunk story record before A Chipmunk Christmas. Plus, one of the greatest voice actors of our time, Frank Welker is perfection as Santa Claus, narrating the story and occasionally chatting with Alvin, Simon and Theodore until they get him back on track. Welker has recorded surprisingly few children’s album narrations, if any at all besides this one.>p>
For a 24-minute special, a lot of songs and melodies are crowded in, yet there is never a rushed feeling. The LP includes all the songs in their entirety, with the exception of the Bagdasarian classic “Wonderful Day,” which is only in the special (and on the second Christmas with The Chipmunks LP). There are four extra songs on the album, two of them by musical director Chris Caswell. “The Spirit of Christmas” is a melodic tune that, while nicely done with Dave feeding the lyrics to the Chipmunks, would really be outstanding if performed as a fully realized song.
Caswell also gifted Clyde Crashcup with his one and only ditty, “Crashcup’s Christmas.” His appearance in the special is too brief to include the song, but his very presence is enough for rejoicing, as it was also the first time viewers saw him in new animation in the two decades since his Alvin Show days.
And though the wondrous June Foray only has a few lines on the album, her voice is magical as Mrs. Claus and comical as an angry shopper (like one of those funny voice she did for Jay Ward, Stan Freberg or Warner Bros.)
The album was reissued on CD several times, even included as a bonus inside the anniversary edition of the Chipmunk Christmas DVD.
Happy Holidays everyone!