Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b Ross Bagdasarian, 27 January 1919, Fresno CA; d 16 January !972, Beverly Hills) Composer, author, actor. A cousin of playwright William Saroyan, he acted in Saroyan's The Time Of Your Life for two years; they co-wrote 'Come On-a My House' while driving across New Mexico in 1939, then used it in an off-Broadway play The Son '50; it was recorded by singer, actress and songwriter Kay Armen (b Armenuhi Manoogian, 2 November 1915, Chicago) and was then a huge hit by Rosemary Clooney, 8 weeks at no. 1 in Billboard '51. Clooney disliked the song, but made it sound sexy; it was a delightful record, one of the first to feature a Mitch Miller gimmick, an amplified harpsichord played by Stan Freeman.
Bagdasarian acted in films including Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window '54, then changed his name for work in recording studios: he composed and recorded minor hits, instrumental 'Armen's Theme' '56, novelties 'Gotta Get To Your House' and 'The Bird On My Head' '57-8. His no. 1 novelty hit 'Witch Doctor' '58 was suggested by the book Duel With The Witch Doctor, its funny voices created by recording at half speed and playing the tape back at full speed. (No one who worked in a record shop in that period can ever forget the refrain: "Ooo! Eee! Ooo ah ah! Ting! Tang! Walla walla bing bang!") This led to the Chipmunks, Alvin, Simon and Theodore, named after the chiefs at Liberty Records (label founder Simon Waronker d 7 June 2005 aged 90 in Beverly Hills). The Christmas novelty 'The Chipmunk Song' late '58 sold 3.5m copies in five weeks. There were more hits, mostly seasonal; total Chipmunk sales by 1970 were more than 30 million; there were four chart LPs '59-64 including The Chipmunks Sing The Beatles Hits; they had their own TV show in the early 1960s.
Bagdasarian had retired the act, but after he died suddenly, Ross Bagdasarian Jr. revived it after meeting his future wife Janice Karman in a health-food restaurant and convincing her to help. They produced a Chipmunk TV show in 1981, and a weekly show in 1983. More hit LPs '80-2 included Chipmunk Punk; Chipmunk albums in the '90s had guests from Waylon Jennings to Celine Dion and Kenny G. A film Alvin and the Chipmunks 2007 was followed by Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeekquel, and they were working on a third film in 2011.