Thursday, December 22, 2011

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Christmas with the Chipmunks

Review # 57
Artist: Alvin and the Chipmunks
Title: Christmas with the Chipmunks
Format: LP
Label: Liberty Records
Year: 1962
Songs: 12

Long before computer animated chipmunks were singing Lady Gaga songs in endless, terrible film sequels, Alvin, Simon, Theodore, and Dave Seville were already holiday favorites in America. The Chipmunks first Christmas LP was a tremendously successful record, for a novelty act. Its best known track "The Chipmunk Song" (better known in some circles as "Christmas Don't Be Late" or simply "that songs where Alvin wants a hula hoop") was the Chipmunks' only #1 single, and won three Grammy awards (best comedy record, best children's record, and best engineering on a non-classical record) in 1958. The record has sold hundreds of thousands of copies and has been reissued and repackaged numerous times in multiple formats. Beloved by many as a piece of classic kitsch and maligned by others as a shrill, corny irritation, Christmas with the Chipmunks may be the best known novelty record of all time.

Readers who have been with this blog since the beginning may have by now noted that I have an awful lot of Chipmunks LPs, so it should come as no surprise that I like this record. I love kitcshy, silly, novelty music, and if you are like me in that respect, Christmas with the Chipmunks is just ridiculous upbeat fun all the way through. As was the case in Urban Chipmunk, this record sees Dave Seville trying to make the rambunctious chipmunks toe the line as a respectable singing group, while our rodent friends (and especially Alvin) have other ideas. Alvin's penchant for turning the songs' lyrics into dramatic monologues repeatedly gets him in trouble for "over-acting," with Dave frequently admonishing Alvin and co. to "just sing!" This conflict arises right away on the song's opening number "Here Comes Santa Claus," and continues to be an issue on "Over the River and Through the Woods" and "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas." Why Dave puts up with the chipmunks is unclear. After so many conflicts like this, and given the debatable merits of the chipmunks' vocal abilities, one is left wondering why Dave carries on trying to make them a proper musical act.

Unlike other Chipmunk records, this album sees Dave playing a more active role in singing the songs himself. He takes the lead on "Silver Bells" and sings "White Christmas" entirely on his own, aside from a conversation with Alvin in which he bemoans the lack of snow this year. Rest assured, Dave's sorrow is short lived, as Alvin chimes in at the end of the song to alert him to some festive precipitation. This record also features a cameo from none other than Rudolph (the red-nosed reindeer) who sings the song about himself in the first person. The voice is a clear imitation of the Rankin & Bass Christmas special, and sounds in particular like the part of the story in which Rudolph is trying to cover his embarrassing nose with a piece of clay and constantly sounds like he has a cold.

Probably the best known track on this record is the aforementioned "Chipmunk Song." This is both the only original song on the record, and the one in which Dave (aka Ross Bagdasarian) makes the greatest effort to actually differentiate his voice as he performs each of the three chipmunk voices. My record player has a 16 rpm setting (although I've never seen a record that plays at this speed), and it's fun to play this song at that speed, because you can hear three tracks of Dave, talking and singing very slowly and trying to make his voice sound like three different voices, in combination with the "real" Dave voice, which slowed to half speed sounds like some terrible beast. My friend referred to this as the "Three Dave Seville's and a Bear" version of the song. While this song is one I like to hear at normal speed at least once every December, having the vinyl gives me the added benefit hearing what the Chipmunks' voices sounded like when Dave/Ross actually recorded them.

If by some unlikely chance you haven't heard "The Chipmunk Song" before, you can listen to it here, complete with old, cheap children's animation that shows you what shenanigans our rodent friends got up to while recording this unlikely number one hit.

Total songs listened: 719

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