Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Witch Doctor

April of 2009 is the 51st anniversary of a popular song by the Chipmunks, a fictitious singing group who were created for music listeners to laugh while they enjoyed the music. Let’s learn more about this novelty song, "The Witch Doctor," that hit #1 on the charts in April of 1958.

Inspiration comes from a variety of sources; some people are inspired by passionate pleas, political speeches or historic events. But how can a chipmunk help a person develop a worldwide music dynasty?

Just ask David Seville (Ross Bagdasarian), the brainchild behind the singing novelty group of chipmunks- Alvin, Simon and Theodore. While driving through Yosemite, California, Seville slowed down to allow a chipmunk that was in the road, to carry on his merry little way. But as the chipmunk took his time, ideas flooded Seville’s head, and the fictitious singing group the Chipmunks was born.

In early 1957, Seville cut a novelty ditty called “Witch Doctor,” a song about being unlucky at love. The witch doctor would explain to him specifically what to do to gain the attention of a girl. The silly refrain of “Oo-Ee, Oo-Ah-Ah, Ting-Tang, Walla-Walla, Bing Bang” was launched into the unsuspecting music world and a pop culture phenomenon was born (The "Walla Walla" part of the song was just thrown in as a reference to Ross Bagdasarian's uncle who lived in Walla Walla, Washington). This entire song was performed by Seville in his normal voice and then sped up for the infectious effect.

This fictional group consisted of three singing chipmunks, Alvin, a mischievous, troublemaker and the star of the group (named after Liberty Records president Alvin Bennett), Simon, a tall-intellectual fellow (who was named after Simon Waronker -founder and owner of Liberty Records) and Theodore, the chubby sweetheart of the trio (who was named after chief engineer Theodore Keep).

Recording techniques used to create their unique voices was not a new event. In fact, some of the high and low pitched characters in the legendary movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” were achieved the same way- by speeding up the vocal recordings. Seville actually recorded the vocals and music at different speeds, combining the two perfectly to obtain his trademark sound.

The process was simple- the Chipmunk ‘voices’ were recorded onto an audiotape by voice talent or Seville talking or singing at half the normal speed. This purposely done slowing down could then be played back at double speed making them sound a full octave higher in pitch at normal tempo. A new term also found its way into the American vernacular- the term ‘chipmunked-voiced,’ which means any artificially high-pitched voice. And, as silly as this sounds, the Chipmunks (Seville) actually earned two Grammy Awards for engineering.

These fictional stars soon scored another #1 hit with 1958’s “The Chipmunk Song” and went on to release a long line of children’s albums and singles. Even after Seville’s passing in 1972, his son, Ross Bagdasarian Jr. has kept the empire alive, entertaining new generations of children all over the world. Not a bad result considering that the music was actually inspired by one of our fury friends!

Fun Chipmunk Facts:

The "singing rodent" concept has been successfully imitated elsewhere, notably by the Finnish "singing squirrel" Pikku Orava.

The Chipmunks make a guest appearance on the Canned Heat song "The Chipmunk Song" (which is not the same song as the 1958 hit) that appeared on their Christmas single.

Prince has used the technique on several of his songs, as well as Frank Zappa on “We're Only In It For The Money” and on the instrumental album Hot Rats, among others.

In the early 90's rave scene, many breakbeat hardcore productions would utilize the same studio tricks, often taking a cappellas from old soul and house records and speeding them up to fit the faster tempo. Vocals in songs that used this method would typically be referred to as "chipmunk vocals".

Some people may think that Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers are a "cheap imitation" of the Chipmunks. But, this is incorrect, as Chip and Dale first appeared in the Disney cartoon "Private Pluto" in 1943, more than a decade before the creation of the Chipmunks—however, the cartoon series Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, the first appearance of them with different personalities and first appearance of them wearing clothes was created in 1989, well after the debut of Alvin and the Chipmunks in the fifties. Other than anthropomorphic chipmunks as main characters, the two franchises have little in common, other than the fact that Chip and Dale have squeaky voices created by the speeding up of records to 45.

In the 1980s there was a "group" called The Happy Hamsters, which was an obvious attempt to cash in on the Chipmunks' popularity; it has since lapsed into obscurity.

Still going strong, the Chipmunks' newest album, Undeniable, was released in November 2008.

The Chipmunk's legacy was not without serious issues, in fact, the group's name changed from "The Chipmunks" to "Alvin & The Chipmunks" just like "Diana Ross & The Supremes". Alvin, just like Diana Ross, was the lead singer. The Chipmunks name change sparked rumors of a possible solo career for Alvin. And by 1961, Alvin had his own show called appropriately called "The Alvin Show" and released his first solo album which was also the soundtrack album to the show called "The Alvin Show (album)".

Interestingly, the Chipmunks spoofed John Lennon's 1966 infamous comment that the Beatles had become "more popular than Jesus", by recalling how the Chipmunks had fallen in popularity after Alvin boasted they were "bigger than Mickey Mouse!"

There is also a price difference regarding whether the Chipmunks on the cover of an album are drawn as animals or as the fictional characters.

Classic Rock Videos

Have a Cigar- Pink Floyd

Mr. Music

I am continuing our new feature: Ask "Mr. Music." Now in its 23rd year of syndication (1986-2008), Jerry Osborne's weekly Q&A feature will be a regular post every Wednesday from now on. Be sure to stop by Jerry's site ( for more Mr. Music archives, record price guides, anything Elvis, buy & sell collectibles, record appraisals and much more. I thank Jerry for allowing the reprints.


DEAR JERRY: I am trying to confirm something I heard decades ago, either on American Top 40 or a similar syndicated music show.

I remember this piece of trivia referring to the Beatles as the only group having each of their principal albums reach No. 1, during their years together.

I know this doesn't apply to miscellaneous (not Capitol-Apple) releases from companies who merely jumped on the Beatle mania bandwagon.

Is this claim true? If not, which LPs are the exceptions?
—Richard McGraw, Owensboro, Ky.

DEAR RICHARD: Album sales are one area where it's hard to overstate the Beatles' supremacy, though this statement, if as you recall, is a wee bit exaggerated.

Of the 17 Capitol-Apple albums, from early 1964 through early '70, only three failed to reach No. 1: “Something New” (1964); “Yellow Submarine” (1969); and “Hey Jude” (1970).

Then again, each of these peaked at No. 2, as close to the crest as possible.

Though I don't agree, someone may have disqualified “Yellow Submarine” for being a soundtrack, and “Hey Jude,” a compilation of 1960s singles. Still the claim is untrue because of “Something New.”

Regardless, among all artists with at least 10 hit albums, no one matches the Beatles' mind-boggling portion of LPs that reached No. 1: from 83% to 94%, depending on how you score it.

Most significant among non-Capitol product is Vee-Jay's “Introducing the Beatles,” their first U.S. LP.

Issued January 10, 1964, about 10 days ahead of “Meet the Beatles,” the Vee-Jay collection zoomed up to No. 2. That would be its peak thanks to the stranglehold on No. 1 by “Meet the Beatles.”

“Introducing the Beatles” is far and away the most successful non-Capitol or Apple LP.

With 19 No. 1 albums overall (1964-2000), the Beatles have about twice as many as the rest of the Top 10 in that department. The only other artist with double-digit No. 1s is Elvis, with 10.

DEAR JERRY: One of my 45s is “Fortuneteller” by Bobby Curtola, a fellow I didn't even know until I got a computer.

Now wired and connected to the world, I see Curtola is one of the most popular singers in Canadian history.

He sounds really great so I am surprised he didn't become bigger in the U.S. If he did I just missed it. Mostly, I would like to know the name of the very familiar sounding female group singing with him on “Fortunteller.”

I can't think of their name but I do recognize their distinctive sound.
—Myra in Detroit

DEAR MYRA: You should, especially if you are familiar with Roy Orbison's “Blue Bayou,” or the angelic voices behind Bobby Helms on “My Special Angel.”
These gals and guys are the Nashville-based Anita Kerr Singers, who appear on more hit records than anyone not named the Jordanaires.

Besides Bobby Curtola — who I think is teriffic, by the way — Roy Orbison, and Bobby Helms, here are just a FEW more folks whose recordings benefit from backing by the Anita Kerr Singers: Bill Anderson; Ann-Margret; Bobby Bare; Pat Boone; Patsy Cline; Perry Como; Red Foley; Al Hirt; Homer & Jethro; Burl Ives; Brenda Lee; Willie Nelson; Elvis Presley; Jim Reeves; Charlie Rich; Hank Snow; Wynn Stewart; Mitchell Torok; Jimmy Velvet; Bobby Vinton; Faron Young; and dozens more.

IZ ZAT SO? With vocal harmonies as beautiful as the Anita Kerr Singers, one would expect them to have a few hit records of their own. Well, they do.

In 1960, billed as the Little Dippers, Anita, along with Floyd Cramer and a few Nashville friends, hit the Top 10 with “Forever” (University 210).

Two years later, now as Anita and Th' So-and-So's, they scored again with “Joey Baby” (RCA Victor 7974) and a nice follow-up, “To Each His Own” (RCA Victor 8050).

Probably Kerr's sweetest single is the late '63 coupling of “Guitar Country” and “Waitin' for the Evening Train” (RCA Victor 8246). On both sides the Anita Kerr Quartet sings as Chet Atkins plays guitar.

Super Furry Animals Album Cover Art

As you all know, I am a sucker for great album cover art. Japanese pop icon Keiichi Tanaami and UK artist Pete Fowler have teamed up to create the latest artwork for the cover art of Super Furry Animals’ latest album Dark Days/Light Years.

The album was officially released on April 21st. Dark Days/Light Years marks the first time both artists have worked on an album cover for the pyschedelic Welsh rockers although Tanaami has done work for the band’s past two albums while Pete Fowler has contributed artwork for six of their past LP’s.

Top 10 most expensive turntables

In the vinyl world, there’s an elite group of individuals who think the best way to listen to music is on a high-quality old-fashioned analog turntable. But, when you are going to pay an exorbitant amount of money for a piece of antiquated technology like a turntable, you unquestionably want it to be one and only. Here is a list of the top 10 most expensive turntable, we will start with number 10 today and do the bottom five- look for the top 5 tomorrow.

10. TEAC’s VPI HR-X1 turntable

Price: $19,000

If you have a taste for high-end audio and don’t mind spending richly for a hi-end craftsmanship than the run-of-the-mill speakers and audio systems, then this $19,000 TEAC’s VPI HR-X1 turntable is meant to satiate your affluent tastes. The VPI HR-X from TEAC features a belt driven, 50-mm thick acrylic plate which floats on an air suspension system at 33.3 or 45rpm. The turntable features 24 extremely, 300rpm AC synchronous motors and it weighs approximately 52.5kg.

9. ClearAudio Master Reference

Price: US $19,000

The ClearAudio Master Reference turntable is the just right pick if you are serious about aesthetics and audio. The turntable is hand-made in Germany and boasts a range of innovative features including APG (Accurate Power Generator) motor control system, master reference chassis, a master TQ-I tonearm and unique ‘Side-Force-Free’ triple motor and belt drive system. The master reference turntable is also available in various other models and is considered by many leading audio magazines, including ‘The Absolute Sound’, ‘Stereoplay’ and ‘Hifi +’ as the best turntable on the marker. Superb mechanical design and precise production provide the foundation for a cohesive, dynamic sound throughout the complete musical spectrum.

8. Proscenium Black Diamond Turntable

Price: US $40,000

The Proscenium Black Diamond Turntable is the result of over 30 years of research to build the best sounding turntable. Every component is selected precisely for its sonic performance. Even the finish on the platter has been selected for its sonic merit. Although the complete system is quite complex, it is extremely reliable and very easy to set up and play. The system comes complete with arm, requiring only your favorite cartridge. Salient features include a huge Air-bearing Platter that is 10 inches in diameter with 3 air jets, Platter and Record Clamp, remote Drive motor, and an Ultimate Motor Controller that comes mounted on an eight-piece Valid Points resonance control kit.

7. SME 30 Turntable

Price: US $40,000

The SME 30 Turntable is compact and incredibly dense, weighing in at 90 lbs. It employs a nifty suspension system using a combination of elastomers and silicone to achieve an almost zero Q suspension. The SME platter mat boasts a unique combination of high shear stiffness and effective vertical damping to purge the energy feedback from the platter back into the record. The amalgamation of compact high mass, non-resonant materials, and speed stability delivers a playback system that will flabbergast you with excellent dynamics, clarity, and noise free background.

6. DaVinciAudio Labs AAS Gabriel

Price: US $41,250

The unique design of the DaVinciAudio Labs AAS Gabriel turntable is inspired from the same process that is used to cut grooves into masters for vinyl discs. The turntable looks deadly cool when we take a look at its form factor and compare the make to the Transrotor Artus, Sondek LP12 SE turntable, TEAC’s VPI HR-X1 turntable, Goldmund’s The Reference II, and the Basis Audio turntable. All of these carry a hefty price tag but when we talk about looks, the AAS Gabriel turntable certainly sits at the top. Frankly speaking, it looks to be something that should be placed in an art museum. It comes equipped with highly stable drive chassis, acoustically sound turntable, silent bearings, and stable power supply. It has been designed in a way to produce absolutely zero noise or vibration. The inimitable design is inspired from the same process that is employed to cut grooves into masters for vinyl discs. Meant for the fat wallets, the 24-karat gold and white Luxury Edition sells for $41,250 while the silver and black version will set you back only $35,400.