A focus on the recordings resulting from the second network TV series starring David Seville and his chart-topping Chipmunks.
THE CHIPMUNKS: SONGS FROM OUR TV SHOWS
Featuring The Chipettes
IJE Records LP-3300 (33 1/3 RPM, Stereo)
Released in 1983. Producers: Janice Karman and Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. Background Vocals: Ron Hicklin, Howard Pfeifer, Gene Morford, Jon Joyce, Edie Lehman, Debbie Hall. Engineer: Randy Tominaga. Mastered By: Gregory Fulginiti. Art Direction: Rick Detorie. Illustrations: Corny Cole, Liz Chapman. Running Time: 33 minutes.
Pop Songs: “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel; “Surfin’ USA” by Chuck Berry and Brian Wilson; Witch Doctor” by Ross Bagdasarian, Sr.; “Beat It” by Michael Jackson; “It’s My Party” by Herb Wiener, Wally Gold & John Gluck Jr.; “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Robert Hazard.
Original Songs: “We’re the Chipmunks” by Janice Karman and Chris Caswell; “I Give Up on You” by Karen Koon; “There’s No Rock and Roll on Mars,” “C Team” by Janice Karman, Ross Bagdasarian Jr., and Howard Pfeifer; “It’s a Jungle Out There” by Janice Karman, Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. and Karen Falentine; “Pump, Pump, Pump” by Jeff Silverman and John Philip Shenale; “Captain Chipmunk” by Janice Karman and Ross Bagdasarian, Jr.
While remakes and reboots are as common today as monosodium glutamate, there are several reasons why we continue to encounter them. One is that a proven property seems to be a lower risk, especially in a concept pitch and on a spreadsheet. The successful ones yield can be so profitable, that greenlighting remakes can be hard to resist. As our colleague Jerry Beck has often pointed out, usually the new version rekindles interest in the original, and the best material survives and endures no matter how many times it is remade.
Another phenomenon occurs with time: the remake matures with a loyal audience of its own. In the case of The Chipmunks’ second network series for NBC, the passing of—yes!—forty years gives such a property its own identity.
Social media sites are made for “which was better” discussions, fraught with nostalgic attachment, facts, and emotion. There were a lot of reasons why The Alvin Show only lasted one season (best discussed on Facebook, too). It was a marvelous series, capturing the wry, sometimes sardonic wit of the records in a style somewhere between Jay Ward and UPA. Making an animated series with such care in its writing and execution takes time and money. It doesn’t come cheap compared to other forms of programming and requires super ratings to justify its existence to sponsors. This was the case with almost all the prime-time series that hit the networks in 1961 in response to the smash success of The Flintstones on ABC.
Like Top Cat, The Jetsons, and Jonny Quest, the emerging markets (or platforms?) of Saturday Morning and then syndication allowed The Alvin Show to reappear for decades, delighting its fans and gaining new followers. The record albums stayed in print for almost as long.
The late-seventies vinyl return of David Seville and the Chipmunks warrants its own Animation Spin. Suddenly they were marketable again (duh!), with new albums produced by Ross Bagdasarian and his creative partner and spouse, Janice Karman (who created The Chipettes). A well-received 1981 holiday special (with Chuck Jones as Creative Consultant) inspired its own record album (see this Animation Spin), involving Chuck Jones.
The 1983 NBC incarnation of Alvin and the Chipmunks was more like the Christmas special than The Alvin Show. Short, single-premise cartoons, music “videos,” and Clyde Crashcup inventions gave way to a kid-friendly situation comedy format with songs written for the show and sometimes from various rock and pop eras. Alvin, Simon, and Theodore were designated as Dave’s adopted ‘tweens with storylines that varied from domestic and school hijinks to spoofs and show biz sagas There were episodes that veered into satire, but overall It was less quirky. It did not have the “boutique” production feel of The Alvin Show, but it was very popular with its target audience and put the Chipmunks back into contention as a top franchise. With occasional changes and the involvement of several animation studios, Alvin and the Chipmunks had a solid eight-season run with 100 episodes.
IJE Productions, also known as Kid Stuff Records, released a song album blending new tunes from the series with several well-known hits. Some of these are ideal as Chipmunk and Chipette covers, like “Uptown Girl” and “It’s My Party.” These songs connect the album to the Chipmunk legacy, as they are a twist on 1965’s Chipmunks ‘a Go-Go. Both albums featured the singing voice of Ron Hicklin, the only vocalist who sang as Alvin for both generations of Bagdasarians (he can be seen in a back cover photo on The Chipmunks Sing with Children).
Kid Stuff, which had become a strong competitor in the children’s record field by this time, also released six Chipmunk full-color read-along book and record sets (their earlier read-alongs consisted of line drawings “for coloring”). The first four used dialogue tracks from the series recorded in Hollywood (California) with one of Kid Stuff’s uncredited narrators and keyboard music produced in Hollywood (Florida).
All the stories were adapted from TV episodes. The Chipmunks Story (from the teleplay by Janice Karman, Ross Bagdasarian, Gordon Kent, and Jack Enyart) suggests a mythology that the three “boys” were abandoned and adopted by Dave, who couldn’t sell a song until they suggested “The Chipmunk Song.”
The TV Chipmunks (based on “The Television Stars” by Ross Bagdasarian, Janice Karman, Tom Swale, and Duane Poole) is one of many “Alvin as Lucy Ricardo” tales, in which he schemes to get booked on a TV show, by sending multiple contrived fan letters to the producer.
A Brady Bunch/Partridge Family-type plot graces May The Best Chipmunk Win (by Janice Karman, Ross Bagdasarian, Cliff Ruby, and Elana Lesser), in which Alvin and Brittany court Jeannette’s favor because she has the deciding vote in a school election.
One of the recurring characters in the NBC series is con-munk Uncle Harry, who connives his way into making money at Christmas as Santa Harry (by Ross Bagdasarian, Janice Karman, Cliff Ruby, and Elana Lesser).
The final two read-along sets are different from the first four. These feature the TV theme song played in full and narration by none other than Frank Welker, who recorded precious little on children’s vinyl (one of his other albums is discussed in this Animation Spin. In The Chipmunks’ Cruise (by Karman and Bagdasaria, Alvin spots a male jewel thief dressed as a woman aboard ship. It’s a little dated now because Alvin’s first clue is the thief’s tattoo.
In a cross between The Prince and the Pauper and The City Mouse and the Country Mouse, Alvin switches places with a jungle version of himself so he can get away from show business pressures and take it easy—he thinks. Alvin Goes Wild is based on “Alvin… and the Chipmunk” by Ross Bagdasarian, Janice Karman, Gordon Kent & Jack Enyart.
An additional read-along based on the NBC series was released by Disneyland/Vista Records and is part of a look at the 1987 feature film, The Chipmunk Adventure, in this Animation Spin.