A Brief Exploration of the Origins of the Chipmunk Phenomenon 
via the Grasshoppers

Compiled and Edited by C.A. Chicoine



From the beginning

Children's records have been around almost as long as there have been records. From the beginning, commercial music for children has been notable for its integration with visual, narrative, and material media in toys, books, film, and later television shows and multimedia. [1] According to Diana Tillson, a noted children's music collector, in her article titled, "Children's Musical Play: the Role of the Phonograph," in The Ephemera Journal (Vol. 6, 1993): "The earliest children's recorded discs are five-inch celluloid composition discs with nursery rhyme lyrics glued to the back which were included with toy phonographs made in Germany in the early 1890's." [2]

Children's music has historically held both entertainment and educational functions. Children's music is often designed to provide an entertaining means of teaching children about their culture, other cultures, good behavior, facts and skills. Many are folk songs, but there is a whole genre of educational music that has become increasingly popular. 

Throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s record companies continued to produce albums for children. Such companies as RCA Victor, Decca Records, Capitol Records, and Columbia Records (among others) published albums based on popular cartoons or nursery rhymes. Recordings based on Disney films and cartoons were released at that time by RCA Victor and Capitol Records, and beginning in the late 1950s by Disneyland Records and Buena Vista Records. Often the albums were read-alongs that contained booklets that children could follow along with. Many of the biggest names in theater, radio, and motion pictures were featured on these albums, such as: Bing Crosby, Harold Peary ("The Great Gildersleeve"), Orson Welles, Jeanette MacDonald, Roy Rogers, Fanny Brice, WilliamBoyd ("Hopalong Cassidy"), Ingrid Bergman, Danny Kaye, and Fredric March

The role of Walt Disney in children's cinema from the 1930s meant that it gained a unique place in the production of children's music. The first popular Disney song was 'Minnie's Yoo Hoo' (1930); the theme song from a Mickey Mouse cartoon. After the production of their first feature-length animation Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, with its highly successful score by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey, which included the songs 'Whistle While You Work', 'Some Day My Prince Will Come', and 'Heigh-Ho', the mould for a combination of animation, fairy tale and distinctive songs was set that would carry through to the 1970s with songs from films such as Pinocchio (1940) and Song of the South (1946)

The mid-20th century arrival of the baby boomers provided a growing market for children's music as a separate genre. Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Ella Jenkins were among a cadre of politically progressive and socially conscious performers who aimed albums to this group. During this time, such novelty recordings as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (a Montgomery Ward jingle that became a book and later a classic children's movie) and the fictional music group "The Chipmunks" were among the most commercially successful music ventures of the time ("The Chipmunk Song" was a #1 hit single in 1958). TV personality Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo) recorded several children's albums, as did Shari Lewis

In the 1960s, as the baby boomers matured and became more politically aware, they embraced both the substance and politics of folk ("the people's") music. Peter, Paul, and Mary, The Limeliters, and Tom Paxton were acclaimed folk artists who wrote albums for children. In 1969, the Children'sTelevision Workshop in the USA launched Sesame Street. The quality of Sesame Street's children's music (much of it created by noted composers Joe Raposo and Jeff Moss) has dominated the children's music landscape to this day - the show has won 11 Grammy Awards. [3]

The focus of this article is to show the influence pitch shifting had on commercial music for childrenPitch shifting is a sound recording technique in which the original pitch of a sound is raised or lowered to produce, in this case, distinctive animal voices. Vocal tracks were recorded at slow speeds, then played back at normal speeds, giving us the voice of, say, a chipmunk.

The story of the Grasshoppers, it so happens, begins with some chipmunks. I am not referring to the ever-popular Alvinnn!!! and the Chipmunks that we know of today. But of two little chipmunks named Chip and Dale. Chip and Dale (also rendered as Chip 'n' Dale) are two chipmunk cartoon characters created in 1943, at Walt Disney Productions. The chipmunks' speech was created by speeding up sound clips of normal speech. This was the earliest occurrence of a singing animal, created using this technique, for children's music that I could find.




In 1950, Walt Disney produced the movie, Cinderella. In it, there is a musical number performed by the mice, titled "The Work Song", using this same recording technique.


 

In 1953, Peter Sellers made his recording debut under the production of George Martin, who went on to produce the Beatles. His first single, released by Parlophone, was a skit called "Jakka and the Flying Saucers" -- about a boy named Jakka, and his doughnut-shaped dog, Dunker, both from the planet Venus, embarking on a quest for the Golden Cheese. George Martin experimented with vari-speed with the voice of Jakka. 




  

Later, in the summer of 1957, Walt Disney would further explore this recording technique. He came up with an idea for a Christmas record. “You see,” Disney said, “there’s this bunch of mice who live in the basement of a recording studio. They sing, they play instruments, and when everybody goes home at night, they make records. We can use the speed-up voice technique we used for the mice in Cinderella. "Professor Ludwig Mousensky and his All-Mouse Orchestra and Chorus" The studio recorded Jingle Bells and three Christmas carols with the mouse chorus and orchestra, plus a flamboyant mouse instrumental version of Winter Wonderland. [4]



Meanwhile, back across the pond in the UK, they had Pinky and Perky -- an animated children's television series first broadcast by BBC TV in 1957. They were two little pigs. Pinky and Perky would often sing cover versions of popular songs, but also had their own theme song, "We Belong Together".



However, this technique wasn't always used in children's music. It was frequently used for comedic effect, e.g. in a sped-up scene, or during a telephone conversation in which the person on the phone is talking but not visible in the scene. As a result, it had helped to create a number of novelty songs. As heard in this next video, Janette Davis and Archie Bleyer's "Hold the Phone", released on the Columbia label in the Spring of 1952, Davis sings into the telephone about her romantic new boyfriend while her friend Helen (Davis' voice sped up) chatters in response on the other end of the line - - except that in fact it turns out that Helen is discussing another topic entirely. 



Stan Boreson and Doug Setterberg, with the Gene Boscacci Trio - "The Telephone" (A parody of "Honeycomb"), released on the Kapp label simultaneously on 78 and 45, in 1957, is another example. The background phone chatter here is used very sparingly. The recorded voice has been reversed as well as sped up.  



"Witch Doctor" is a song performed by Ross Bagdasarian, Sr., and released on April 14, 1958, by Liberty Records under the stage name David Seville. It proved to be his first big hit. The song was inspired by a book he had read titled, Duel with the Witch Doctor. He experimented with recording at half-speed and then playing his tapes back at full speed. The result was "Witch Doctor", and the public loved it. It shot up the charts and became a #1 hit for three weeks during its 18-week run. The voice of the "witch doctor" was, in fact, Bagdasarian's own voice sped up to double speed, a technique later exploited by Bagdasarian to create Alvin and the Chipmunks.


"The Purple People Eater" is a novelty song written and performed by Sheb Wooley, which reached #1 on the Billboard pop charts in 1958 from June 9 to July 14, and reached #12 overall. The voice of the purple people eater is a sped-up recording.



In August of 1958, Rusty Draper released "Hip Monkey". 



Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. (again as Seville) recorded a follow-up song, "The Bird on My Head", singing a duet with his own sped-up voice as the bird. It also reached the Top 40, peaking at No. 34.


November of 1958, David Seville and the Chipmunks released "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" --  a novelty Christmas song written by Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. (a.k.a. David Seville) in 1958. Although it was written and sung by Bagdasarian (in the form of a high-pitched chipmunk voice), the singing credits are given to the Chipmunks, a fictitious singing group consisting of three chipmunks by the names of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore. The song won three Grammy Awards in 1958: Best Comedy Performance, Best Children's Recording, and Best Engineered Record (non-classical)




The Chipmunk Song Sing-a-long

There is the one-off novelty song, as illustrated in some of the previous and with some of the forthcoming videos. And then there's the aha moment where you think you might just be onto something big. The latter happened when "David Seville and the Chipmunks" hit upon that Christmas phenomenon -- "The Chipmunk Song".   

The Chipmunks were so phenomenally popular, eventually spawning an animated television series and 22 hits, that they had inspired other species to join in on the 'sing-a-long'! The Grasshoppers -- Dennis, Archie, and Rickey -- were so inspired that they recorded their own versions of "The Chipmunk Song" and "Alvin's Harmonica". In fact, the Grasshoppers probably equaled or surpassed the Chipmunks in sales as their album, aimed at the budget conscious customer, was issued in dozens of versions over the years. [5] Originally released in 1959, "Sing Along With the Grasshoppers" was re-issued in over half a dozen versions over the years, under various Peter Pan Record Labels; Parade, Spin-O-Rama, Promenade, Merry Records, Twinkle, Pirouette, and Diplomat. But...the big difference is with the song arrangements, quality and overall sound the Grasshoppers voices had over the Chipmunks -- at the time. With the direction of Big Band leader Eddie Maynard, their debut album was a good contender for the Chipmunks. As a matter of fact, the Chipmunk's record label was granted a temporary injunction halting the distribution of the Grasshopper's Peter Pan album tagged "Sing Along With the Grasshoppers - Featuring the Chipmunk Song". [6]

Soon, other "creatures" jumped on the bandwagon too. Among them, Chippy the ChipmunkWoody the Woodchuck, and The Happy Crickets -- all featuring their own versions of "The Chipmunk Song". 

In January of 1959, "The Doctor and the Monks" - by the Tip Top Band was released. This blatant Chipmunks rip-off also references David Seville's "Witch Doctor". [7] Here, you can read an article stating that Bagdasarian filed a restraining order over the sale and performance of this recording.


Also in 1959, Alvin & the SquirrelsHere's one of the oddest attempts to cash in on the success of David Seville and the Chipmunks that I've seen. It's a release on the Modern Sound label. The A-side, "A Fella in a White Coat", is yet another riff on subjects that were all the rage in humor in the late '50's, psychiatry and insanity. [8]


Another "group", The Nutty Squirrels, in late 1959, featured their own Top 40 hit song, titled "Uh-Oh". 


1959 – The Happy Penguins, singing "The Happy Penguins".


1959 – Kookie Kat, singing, "I Wuv You".


1959 – Saukki & Oravat ("Saukki and The Squirrels") were a Finnish imitation of Alvin & The Chipmunks, created by songwriter Sauvo "Saukki" Puhtila.


In December 1959, Russ Regan produced the song "The Happy Reindeer," sung by the singing reindeer Dancer, Prancer, and Nervous for Capitol Records in response to "The Chipmunk Song."


1962 – Lou Monte - Pepino, the Italian Mouse 


In 1963, there were the Busy Beavers, with their album "Sing Along with the Busy Beavers".


1963 – And The Chippers, with their album "Christmas with Chippy the Chipmunk".  


1963 – Little Bones, with their single "What I Say".


1963 – The Little People – "The Little People Twist".


1964 – Chouchou, performing "Chouchou de la semaine". Famous mascot of the French magazine, Hi folks.


1975 – Three Little Squirrels, a Latin-American version of Ross Bagdasarian's Alvin and the Chipmunks.


1975 – A parody of "The Chipmunk Song", The Whales, featuring Rathbone and his Tuba.


1976 – Charlie the Hamster,  "Charlie the Hamster Teaches Bible Stories". Charlie the Hamster, along with his cousins Stanley and Huey, made a series of albums along with their human handler, Floyd Robinson, in the late 60s-early 70s, before Ross Bagdasarian Jr. - the son of Alvin's creator Ross Bagdasarian Sr. - sued Robinson in 1977 for plagiarism and copyright infringement. Robinson and his record companies quickly agreed to cease immediate production, distribution, and sale of all of Robinson’s Charlie the Hamster records. [9]


1976 – Shirley & Squirrely "Hey Shirley (This Is Squirrely)" 


And, in 1984, The Happy Hamsters


In 1980, on the album Disney's Merry Christmas Carols, Chip 'n' Dale sing "The Chipmunk Song" with Donald Duck in the background.




Come full circle

Chip 'n' Dale singing "The Chipmunk Song" brings us full circle. If it wasn't for Ross Bagdasarian Sr.'s David Seville and the Chipmunks, there certainly would have been no Grasshoppers. And I'd go even further to speculate that if the folks at Disney hadn't created voices for Chip and Dale, there may have been no David Seville and the Chipmunks

Aside from Chip 'n' Dale, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and the Grasshoppers, all the other acts have since lapsed into obscurity. Chip and Dale had evolved into Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers. And David Seville and the Chipmunks had evolved into Alvin and the Chipmunks.




Sing along with the Grasshoppers

The Grasshoppers ultimately released three albums and one EP -- all under different direction. The first album, released in 1959, "Sing Along With the Grasshoppers", was under the direction of Eddie Maynard. 

(Parade SP-372; Spin-O-Rama MK-3074 & RMK-3074; Promenade 2215 (12 Songs / 12” 33 1/3 RPM / Mono) Spin-O-Rama S-91 (Stereo); Merry Records (Golden) MR-6022 (10 Songs / 12” 33 1/3 RPM / Stereo) Twinkle TW 12, Diplomat 2215. -- First issued in 1959)

Listening to this scratchy kids' LP is a total trip down memory lane for me. I remember my mom brought it home for me in 1963, after having picked it up while shopping at the local Mayfair grocery store. Little did I know that this cheap-o Spin-o-Rama LP was a "rip-off" of the incredibly successful Chipmunks records. The record leads off with the "The Chipmunk Song" (Christmas, Don't Be Late)" . Wait a minute....GRASSHOPPERS singing "The Chipmunk Song"?? Yep. They even do "Alvin's Harmonica" - confusing the issue even more. And instead of the now-familiar Alvin, Theodore and Simon, we get Archie, Rickey and Dennis. The guy taking the David Seville role is "Eddie". The singing and instrumental back is actually pretty darn good, compared to some other "rip-off" Chipmunks products I have. Sounds like they hired some studio musicians, with muted trumpets, drums, piano, bass and guitar. Most other records of the Chipmunk Rip-Off genre that I've heard have just one cheesy organ or something as back-up. I actually used to play this record at 16 rpm to hear how it was recorded by the studio singer(s), and credit this LP with my first education in harmony singing. I was in a bunch of bands years later, and was always ready to break into the familiar 3-part arrangement of "Take Me out to the Ballgame" ala Grasshoppers, but dag nab it, never got the chance. This record is actually in stereo, with neat separation of voices and instruments, but back in those childhood days, I'd never heard stereo and was perfectly happy with my mono kiddie record player. My other big memory of this record is my ultra-conservative Preacher's Wife mom, making sure I couldn't play the one rocked-up gospel version of "When the Saints Go Marching In", as she dutifully and skillfully X'd out the grooves to that one track. Of course, when she wasn't around, I just had to play this forbidden fruit, scratches, needle-jumps and all! God knows what it must have done to that needle, but hey, I was 7 years old. My original copy of this record was lost long ago, but like all good record-collectin' baby boomers, I've since picked up a replacement copy, and although I rarely play it, when I do it instantly transports me back to those simpler, pre-Beatles days. SweeTarts, anyone? 
Dana Countryman [10]

More songs from their debut album can be found on the Home page.


Their second album, released circa 1960/1961 "More Sing-A-Long With the Grasshoppers Vol. 2", was not under the direction of Maynard -- although the three grasshoppers still refer to their human companion as Eddie

(Spin-O-Rama MK 3100, Diplomat 2216, Promenade 2216, and Hallmark)


Used record archeology is an inexact science. But it would seem, from the sheer volume of Grasshoppers material unearthed, that they were the main knock-off group of The Chipmunks. But unlike the Chips, who had a big record company behind them and chart positions, merchandising and crossover (to adults) appeal on their minds, these are kiddie records on cheapo labels directed at parents who’d rather spend the minimum for kids who can’t tell the difference. I’m not sure exactly how it worked, but the recordings that the Grasshoppers did were leased, sold, rented to (or stolen by) dozens of labels over the years. On many of these the same drawing, or a variation thereof, of the Grasshoppers appears. OK, as best I can tell these are the basic tracks on their "debut" album: "Alvin’s Harmonica," "Big Rock Candy Mountain," "The Chipmunk Song," "Counting Song," "Glow Worm," "I’m A Yankee Doodle Dandy," "I’ve Been Working on the Railroad," "Little Tin Soldier and a Little Toy Drum," "On Top of Old Smokey," "Row Row Row Your Boat" "Take Me out to the Ballgame," "When the Saints Go Marching In." Volume 2 introduces these songs: "A Boy in Buckskin," "A Hunting We Will Go," "Aloha," "Anchors Aweigh," "Brush up Your Shakespeare," "Dixie," "Doggie in the Window," "Happy Birthday," "On a Bicycle Built for Two," "Red River Valley," "76 Trombones," and "Swanee River." So you basically have 24 tracks that subsequently get shuffled around on countless LPs with slight difference in art and title for decades. But to dismiss these bugs because of their budgetness would be a mistake. These are pretty great records. The music is fun and well arranged, and all the singing and speaking is intelligible (not so with many knock-offs, or even some latter day Chipmunk records). Most importantly, mischievous Dennis, Archie and Rickey and their human friend/manager/dad Eddie Maynard can be really funny. In "A-Hunting We Will Go" Eddie asks what animals they want to hunt. They respond "E-le-phants!" "Hip-po-pot-o-mi!" "Cows?" On their version cover of "Alvin’s Harmonica", Dennis explains that he likes his harmonica because he dropped it in his mom’s cake batter and it tastes good.** They play baseball in the studio while recording "Take Me out to the Ball Game".** One thing that really differentiates the Hoppers from the Chips is that, instead of 50s pop/novelty, their act is more rooted in vaudeville/minstrel traditions, with old-timey songs, riverboat references, and pictures of them dressed as a Dixieland/barbershop quartet type outfits, with straw hats and bowties. Sometimes they hover around a microphone (or a daisy). And on one record, they even gather around an upright piano crooning. Musically, these records are really a pleasure. Their harmonies are always tight and funny. "A Boy in Buckskin" is a wonderful fun recording, and "Brush up Your Shakespeare" (a rare example of a hip choice) is a blast. One notable thing is that though Eddie never really loses his temper like Seville, he can at times be far crueler than David would ever be, threatening the boys with death more than once. At one point when they don’t sing he tells them a story about a man who was going to step on some grasshoppers because he couldn’t hear them singing, with "... the bottom of a big, heavy shoe. Coming nearer…and…nearer ..." until they fearfully break into song.** When Dennis decides to test the waters of transgenderism by wearing a grass skirt to sing "Aloha," Eddie tells him "Boys don’t wear grass skirts." When Dennis insists, Eddie comes after him with a lawnmower! Perhaps his brutal discipline can be attributed to his background; when the Hoppers improvise lyrics that don’t rhyme he laments, "Why did I ever leave the navy?"** Of course, these bugs may deserve tough love, they can be worse behaved than Alvin and the gang ever were, lighting dynamite instead of birthday candles, shooting arrows, threatening Eddie with bayonets when singing "Dixie," and knocking ladies over with their "On a Bicycle Built for Two." Their biggest Chip rip-off, by the way, isn’t their honest covers but their "I’ve Been Working on the Railroad," in which they use Choo Choo Choo to copy the upbeat groove of the Chips’ "Old MacDonald's" Cha Cha Cha.** Perhaps the low self-esteem that has them rip off the chipmunks stems from the fact that they usually only appear in the corners of their own album art, with centerstage held by naked chipmunks playing instruments, a farm animal/forest animal band or bear cubs that an artist thought were chipmunks. 
 Jake Austen [10]
**Editor's note: These noted examples are taken from their debut album. 







Their third album, released in 1964, "The Grasshoppers Sing the (picture of a Beatles' wig) Hits", following the lead of the Chipmunks; as they released "The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles Hits". The grasshopper's names on this album are Henry, Leroy, and Herman. Their human companion is named Jerry. 

(Diplomat D 2337, 
Diplomat DS 2337 -- 
 1
964)

When I said the Grasshoppers only had 24 songs I wasn’t counting this record for good reason. I guess Eddie retired because the patriarch is now referred to as Jerry. And I guess Grasshoppers have a short lifecycle, because three new ones appear here, Henry, Leroy and Herman. Most significantly this differs from the other recordings because instead of a slick studio band this music seems to have been recorded by possibly real kids, certainly not pros. This is a raw rock and roll record with amateurishly stiff drumming. And forget early Grasshoppers comparisons, more importantly this sounds like a garage band compared to the slick Chipmunks Beatles LP. These bugs do skits, giggle and interject mid song, instead of the way the Chips played their LP too straight with minimal Seville. I think it’s pretty clear that Seville (and Eddie Maynard of the Grasshoppers) likely didn’t get 60s rock and thus couldn’t really put a genuine rock record out by their pets/kids. This, then, is the first, and possibly the best ever Chipmunk-style rock and roll record. There’s a budget thing going on here (they don’t have the Beatles name anywhere, using a wig as a rebus-style symbol for the band’s name), but despite only having three Beatles songs, they accurately Merseybeat up the other public domain stuff ("In the Good Old Summertime"), hiply including material the Beatles covered as a 'beat' band in German clubs. On wax we learn, after we hear some garage-style tuning up, that, "We just came back from Liverpool." Jerry sings an extremely square version of "My Bonnie", mocking stiff whiteness like a Def Comedy Jam comic, and then the Hoppers update the song. But Jerry keeps begging the younger generation for validation, "That wasn’t square, was it? Was it!?" The best song on the record (if it’s not the raw as salmonella chicken version of "Shortenin’ Bread") is a song called "Wearyin’ Worryin’ Blues." It opens with Jerry playing acoustic guitar, making the Grasshoppers interrupt: "Jerry…Jerry!" "What?" "DON’T PLAY!" As he mumbles dissent, they skiffle on! The cover art is awesome. Only the bowties are left over from their last incarnation. Other than that it’s Beatles wigs, left handed electric sitar, minimal drum kit and a Beatles bass. And a frog (maybe Jerry is a frog?) is conducting with a baton while playing guitar. By the way, this is definitely the same Grasshoppers "franchise" as before, not just a coincidental thing that may have sprung from the Beatles-bug connection, because this is on a label that also licensed old Grasshoppers stuff. 
 ~ Jake Austen and James Porter  [10]

Diplomat Records joined in on the Beatlemania phenomenon with their Beatle cover albums, taking the Grasshoppers along with them. In 1964, just prior to the Grasshopper's release, the label released The Beatle Buddies -- a female version of the Beatles, which shares five of the same songs. And then there was The Manchesters ‎– Beatlerama -- a Beatle sound-alike group, which features six of the same songs as the Grasshopper's Beatle album. Interestingly enough, there are two non-Beatle songs they all share in common that are unknown songs -- that is, I've not been able to track down the writer(s) or original artists who performed the songs. The songs in question are, "Wearyin’ Worryin’ Blues," and "I Waited" -- delightfully catchy tunes. 







Their last LP and EP was a Christmas release featuring a new version of "The Chipmunk Song", released in 1978. And the Grasshopper's original names (Dennis, Archie, and Rickey) have been retained. However, the human companion here is nameless. 

(LP-Peter Pan Records 8210 
/ EP-Peter Pan Records  2609 --1978
)
Their last album is simply not up to par with their previous releases -- embarrassingly so. Mixed in with the new material, they included "Alvin's Harmonica", from the original Grasshopper's debut album -- minus the dialogue between the Grasshoppers and Eddie. There's quite a contrast between not only the vocals but also with the style of music. And they do a "medley" of slightly edited "When the Saint Go Marching In," "Row, Row, Row Your Boat", "I've Been Working on the Railroad", "Glow Worm", and "I'm A Yankee Doodle Dandy" -- again, all from their debut album. The Peter Pan 7" 2609 release contains only four of the newer songs, "The Chipmunk Song", "Santa Claus, Rudolph and Us", "That's How It All Began", and "Sitting on Top of Christmas".    

Side One


Side Two




The Grasshopper's Hop

Have the Grasshoppers been an influence to others? There are some questionable albums that appear to use the same song tracks as the Grasshopper's debut album, only under different names. The Pixies, "The Chipmunk Song" (Diplomat SX 1723, 1970), is just the Grasshopper's "Sing Along With The Grasshoppers" LP with "Alvin’s Harmonica" and "I’ve Been Working on the Railroad" subtracted. [10] The Happy Crickets ‎– "Featuring the Chipmunk Song" (Happy Time Records ‎– HT-1006 Date: Unknown), also appear to do the same thing, only minus "Alvin’s Harmonica", "Glow Worm", and "Little Tin Soldier". And they added a song titled, "The Puppet Song".

It seemed like the Grasshoppers and the Chipmunks had a song swap happening at one point. David Seville and the Chipmunks released "Sing Again with the Chipmunks" in 1960, which features "I've Been Working on the Railroad" and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" -- songs that were on the Grasshopper's debut from 1959. And they'd later do their version of "On Top of Old Smokey", "Bicycle Built for Two", and "Swanee River" in their 1962 release, "The Chipmunk Songbook" album -- the first song featured on the Grasshopper's debut album, the latter two previously released on the "More Sing-A-Long With The Grasshoppers Vol. 2" album. 

In 1970, Carousel Records released "Doctor Dolittle Presents the Grasshoppers". It was from the animated series produced for the NBC network. One of the series' notable characters is George and the Grasshoppers (a rock group of grasshoppers that lives inside Doctor Dolittle's medicine case). It is completely unrelated to this franchise. And they don't even use pitch shifting for their vocals

The Grasshopper's albums had been released over and over again on various labels over the years; sometimes combining and mixing material from their first two albums. All their albums are easy enough to find at used record stores and online. Their second album, "More Sing-A-Long With the Grasshoppers Vol. 2", is currently available as a digital download at Amazon.com, under the Hallmark label -- a Pickwick Group Limited label




Growing up with the Grasshoppers

I was introduced to the Grasshoppers by my older brother and sister. Although the first album was released eight years before I was born, it was still in pretty good condition. And this was one of those albums I'd listen to over and over again. Its sound didn't conflict with what I heard in the house either. My father would play Big Band and Swing, so this fit right in! (And he'd also have some of those tribute albums by Eddie Maynard and his Orchestra.)  

I remember sitting in the parlor -- at my spot at the end of the couch -- sitting on the arm rest and playing the Grasshoppers album on my Arvin phonograph. And I remember when the album cover split into two. I still kept it, with the record album safely in between them. But then, one day, my mother threw it out. Boy, was I upset!  

My sister also had some 45's of David Seville and the Chipmunks; "Alvin's Harmonica"/"Mediocre", "The Chipmunk Song"/"Almost Good", and "Witch Doctor"/"Don't Whistle at Me Baby". 

Looking back now to when I was a child listening to these records, it didn't seem like anything out of the ordinary having two separate groups -- that had similar voices -- perform some of the same songs, namely "Alvin's Harmonica" and "The Chipmunk Song". After all, many groups do cover songs.  

Then I got to thinking, which came first, the Grasshoppers or the Chipmunks? Or had they come at the same time? I got that answer in 1997 when I met Dr. Demento. It was the Chipmunks, of course. the Chipmunks first officially appeared on the scene in a novelty record released in late fall 1958 by Ross Bagdasarian, Sr., (as David Seville). The song, originally listed on the record label (Liberty F-55168) as "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)", featured the singing skills of the chipmunk trio. The Grasshoppers released their album in 1959, clearly inspired by this novelty. 

I'd also look around in used record stores, and later on eBay, for the Grasshoppers. But, for the life of me, I could not remember which album cover we had growing up. Looking at the different cover versions I saw on the internet did not stir my memory either. What I did remember was the grasshoppers' Dixieland straw hats, vests, and bow ties. So I asked my sister. And she said it was the one with the bunnies. 

I'd like to point out that I do believe that Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. came up with a very clever idea creating the Chipmunks. And those early songs he wrote were ingenious. I don't like the direction they went after his death. But, that's neither here nor there. If it wasn't for that spark of creativity in 1958, there would have been no Grasshoppers

Growing up with the Grasshoppers is indeed one of those memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life. 


~ C.A. Chicoine





Sources:
[1] Children’s music (encyclopedia article). A revised version of this piece will appear in The Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd ed., edited by Charles Hiroshi Garrett (New York: Oxford University Press)
[3] Children's Music -- Wikipedia
 By Jimmy Johnson
[6] Billboard magazine, December 7, 1959
[8] WFMU's Beware of the Blog -- Alvin and the... Squirrels
[9] The World's Worst Records -- an arcade of audio atrocities: Hamsters for Jesus
[10] MONDO CHIPMUNK-O! (From Roctober #31, 2001)

The pitch-shifting technique goes back to at least 1939 when it was used in the motion picture industry. In the movie, "You Can't Cheat an Honest Man", (released February 18, 1939) it was used in a scene for the voices of Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, when they were fighting. And for the voices of the Munchkins in the movie, The Wizard of Oz, (released August 25, 1939) [Source: "The Audio Expert: Everything You Need to Know About Audio," By Ethan Winer].


Many more 'creatures' have been created over the years. From Jesse Lee Turner's 1959 hit,  "Little Space Girl" to David Bowie's "The Laughing Gnome", from 1967. And there have been countless others. Most are listed on the MONDO CHIPMUNK-O! website.  

This article was presented on January 18, 2016.
*Added the "You Can't Cheat an Honest Man" reference January 2018. 





C.A. Chicoine resides in Massachusetts where he writes stories, poetry, lyrics, and music. Other online articles edited and compiled by this writer include the following:





https://sites.google.com/site/singalongwiththegrasshoppers/bio/Sing%20Along%20With%20The%20Grasshoppers_sketch.jpg?attredirects=0Sing Along With The Grasshoppers doodle by                                                                                                    "Ernie (Not Bert)".































About: This website was created in 2012. Last updated February 6, 2016


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