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.
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 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.
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.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.