Wednesday, December 30, 2015
The holidays are holidays-ing me, and we have a foster baby here this week, so today's TMFW is a bit of a "check the box" to keep my promise of weekly entries alive at 121. It's a "did you ever notice" story of the original "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."
That song is now a holiday radio staple; Frank Sinatra's is probably the most famous version but it has been covered over 500 times and ASCAP counts it as the fifth most-performed holiday song ever. But if you are familiar with the original - sung by Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis - it's interesting that it has become so ubiquitous. Because the original is a true bummer.
This short entry from The Atlantic tells the story nicely: the song was written in 1943, in the middle of World War II. And it was written for a part of the movie where the characters are feeling despair over a planned move from St. Louis to New York City (imagine that as a plot device these days!). So Judy Garland does her best to make the song a happy one. But she is necessarily hesitant: she offers that "someday soon, we all will be together, if the fates allow," but follows up realistically "until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow." And there are little touches of uncertainty throughout: "next year" their troubles will be gone, faithful friends who "were" dear to them, "will be" near to them, etc. The whole song comes across as a sad person's best attempt at optimism and hope in the face of less-than-optimistic circumstances.
When Frank Sinatra took on the song in 1957, he went back to the original songwriter Hugh Martin and asked him to change the words to make it happier. And Martin did that throughout. Most noticeably, "someday soon we all will be together...until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow" became "through the years, we all will be together...hang a shining star upon the highest bough." And all of the future uncertainly was wiped clean in favor of happy times for everyone: "next year" became "from now on," faithful friends dear to the singer went from "were" to "are," and their presence went from the less certain "will be near" to the recurring "gather near." They are all small touches, but they change the song fundamentally.
I love that transition because it seems like such a perfect encapsulation of our desire to make Christmas this unattainably beautiful and perfect season, when in fact it is often simultaneously a time of stress and peace and sorrow and joy and familial bonding and battle. Judy Garland's version recognizes the latter, while Frank Sinatra's waves it all away in favor of the simpler story. It's no surprise that his lyrics are the ones that most people sing.
So there's your TMFW for today: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was originally a bummer of a song, but Frank Sinatra gave it a dose of Prozac and thereby made it famous.
BONUS FACT: I am a sucker for those "famous person sings [song]" videos that meticulously assemble soundbytes into a "cover" of a song. (Jimmy Fallon's people do it beautifully with Brian Williams, for example.) From just this week, here's New England Patriots coach and famous curmudgeon Bill Belichick covering "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," just as you might expect he would.
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
In August, all the way back in TMFW 100, I wrote about "answer songs" and teased in Bonus Fact 1.5 that "[t]here is more to come on answer songs - including the song that inspired some of the most famous ones - in a future TMFW." That future is now.
This past weekend, my family took a road trip to Graceland, and to Sun Studios, in Memphis. There are perhaps unlimited candidates for TMFW entries coming out of Memphis, but today's is one that nicely overlays Elvis and Sun. It's the story of "Hound Dog" and one of its answer songs "Bear Cat," and how the latter almost undid Sun Studios before it ever took off.
For most of my life - defined in this case as birth up to a few months ago - I assumed that Elvis Presley's breakout hit "Hound Dog" was "his" song (that is, that he popularized the tune.) But in fact, in four short years from its first recording in 1952 to Elvis' version in 1956, "Hound Dog" made a long and interesting story for itself.
The story of "Hound Dog" starts with the odd combination of then-still-teenaged songwriters Leiber and Stoller and the 300+ pound blues singer Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton. Leiber and Stoller had written only two recorded songs together at that point, but they were known to the R&B bandleader/Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Johnny Otis. Otis was working for Peacock Records, who had signed Big Mama but thus far found no success with her.
Otis thought that maybe Leiber and Stoller could write something that suited Big Mama's style, and brought them to his house to watch her rehearse some songs. They were struck by the power of her voice and her intimidating presence, and wrote "Hound Dog" for her that same night. They went to the studio the next day, taught the song to Thornton, and recorded it (in only two takes) before the day was through. The song went from concept to tape in one day.
Thornton's recording of the song is a blues lament; in her version, the "hound dog" is a man who hangs around the singer hoping to get [insert here - love, money, sex] without giving much in return. Thornton tells the hound dog that "you can wag your tail, but I ain't gonna feed you no more." Interspersed with "blues talk" over the instrumental breaks - Thornton commands "now wag your tail" and "awww, get it" - the song has a naturally subversive sound. Big Mama's recording on "Hound Dog" was released in March, 1953, and was an instant hit. It reached #1 on the R&B Charts and stayed there for 7 weeks.
As was the tradition of the time, "Hound Dog" inspired a number of covers. Within just a couple of months, there were covers by Little Esther (on Federal), Jack Turner and his Granger County Gang (on RCA Victor), Billy Starr (on Imperial), Eddie Hazelwood, child actress Betsy Gay, and Tommy Duncan and the Miller Brothers (all on Intro, which released the three different versions as consecutive singles), and Cleve Jackson & his Hound Dogs (on Herald). And the next year, Frank Motley and his Motley Crew released "New Hound Dog" (on Big Town), an uptempo jive cover.
In addition to the straight covers, "Hound Dog" inspired several "answer songs," too. Roy Brown did "Mr. Hound Dog's in Town" (on King), which tells the story from the hound dog's perspective. Chuck Higgins and his Mellotones did "Real Gone Hound Dog" (on Combo), which did the same thing. Charlie Gore and Louis Innis did "(You Ain't Nothin' But a Female) Hound Dog" (on King), which flips genders and portrays the hound dog as someone who wants to put a collar on the singer. Jimmie Wilson did "Call Me a Hound Dog" (on Big Town), which boasted that the hound dog had "found himself a home" and "got all the meat [he] want[s], [so he] don't have to gnaw your bone." John Brim and blues harmonica player Little Walter did "Rattlesnake" (on Checker), which...well, I listened a few times and I'm still not sure what that one is about.
So within a year of "Hound Dog"'s release, and still two years from Elvis recording it, it was a #1 hit and had inspired at least 8 covers and 5 answer songs, spread across 9 different labels. That's amazing, and we aren't even to the TMFW yet.
Here it is: one of the very first "Hound Dog" answer songs was "Bear Cat," recorded by a Memphis DJ named Rufus Thomas for Sun Records, with lyrics written by Sun founder Sam Phillips. Recorded and released within two weeks of Big Mama Thornton's original, the song opens "you know what you said about me, don't you woman? Well...," and then it launches into a rejoinder of the "Hound Dog" singer that turns the insults right back at her. "Bear Cat" was only Sun's eighth single, and it was its first big chart hit, reaching #3 on the R&B charts.
Unfortunately for Sam Phillips and Sun, Big Mama Thornton's label Peacock was run by Don Robey, who was infamously aggressive about protecting his business interests. Though it was common at the time for answer songs to flood the market in the wake of a big hit, it was also standard procedure for the label of those songs to pay some modest royalty or license to the original publisher in recognition of the source material. Phillips and Sun chose not to do so; in fact, Phillips claimed sole songwriting credit on "Bear Cat." Robey didn't like that and threatened to sue if Sun didn't license "Hound Dog" from Peacock and its publisher. When Sun refused, he carried through on his promise and sued Sun/Phillips for copyright infringement. It was a sort of "test case" for the legality of answer songs.
Within a month of filing suit, the court sided with Robey and his publisher. Sun was found liable for plagiarism, and was ordered to pay a percentage of profits and court costs. This amounted to around $35,000 (at Sun's studio it says $25,000, but who's counting), and it put a huge financial strain on Phillips and his label. It also established the legal framework for answer songs: the April 24, 1954 issue of Billboard noted "[t]he year 1953 saw an important precedent set in regard to answer tunes … since the 'Hound Dog' decision, few record firms have attempted to 'answer' smash hits by other companies by using the same tune with different lyrics."
Less than a month after the "Bear Cat" legal decision, in August 1953 an unknown truck driver named Elvis Presley cut his first demo at Sun Studios. A year later, in July 1954 his song "That's All Right" launched his career. Elvis was still signed to Sun in November, 1955, when RCA records made an offer to buy out his contract. Still heavily in debt (due in part to the "Bear Cat" disaster), Phillips let him go for $35,000.
The rest is of course history, including the delicious irony that one of Elvis' first singles with RCA - and still his biggest selling ever - was a 1956 cover of what was by then a well-traveled song: "Hound Dog."
BONUS FACT/OBSERVATION: Today's story makes it much easier to understand the "concern" in the 1950s that Elvis was bringing "black music" to mainstream pop audiences. In the case of "Hound Dog," that was quite literally true.
BONUS FACT 2: If you listened to the early recordings of "Hound Dog," you no doubt noticed that Elvis' lyrics are much different and more tame than Big Mama's. That's because Elvis covered an adaptation of Big Mama's song that was done by Freddie Bell and Bellboys in 1955. Bell and his group changed the lyrics of the record to make it more appealing to the mainstream; by the time they were done it was no longer a lament full of thinly-veiled double entendre. Instead, it was mostly a song about a dog. Elvis discovered that version when he was playing a series of shows in Las Vegas at the same time as Freddie Bell and his group. He loved their rendition and (with their permission) added it to his act.
For their part, Leiber and Stoller weren't fans of the watered-down lyrics. Leiber went so far as to say that the change was "inane," that "it doesn't mean anything to me," and that "it ruined the song." Stoller agreed, but noted that "after Elvis's record sold about 7 or 8 million [in] the first release, I began to see some merit in it."
BONUS FACT 3.5: The Colonel is probably worthy of a TMFW all by himself, but just in case we never get there you should know that he was not a colonel in the U.S. Army. Though he was in the Army, during his time there he went AWOL and was charged with desertion. His sentence included time in a military prison, from which he emerged with a psychological condition that temporarily put him in a mental hospital and prevented him from further service. He was discharged from the army shortly thereafter.
Parker was given the honorary title of colonel in the Louisiana State Militia as a political favor from Louisiana governor/country music star Jimmie Davis, as a thank you for work Parker did on his political campaign.
BONUS FACT 4: The Lovin' Spoonful had a top-10 hit in 1966 with their song "Nashville Cats." The song, which is a tribute to the musical talent coming out of that city, features a verse that says "[a]nd the record man said every one is a yellow sun record from Nashville." But of course, Sun is not from Nashville. If you have paid any attention to today's entry at all, you know that it is 200 miles southwest, at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis. (Thanks to TMFW reader/neighbor Clifton for this one.)
BONUS FACT 5: Later in his life, Sam Phillips sometimes struggled with excess. One notable public display of that tendency was his bizarre/drunken appearance in 1986 on Late Night with David Letterman. Like he did with other famous interviews gone bad, Letterman salvages the appearance beautifully.
FURTHER RESOURCES: The Biography channel did a show called "Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock n' Roll." You can watch it in two parts here: one, two. And just last month a book of the same name was released. It has been well-reviewed so far.
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
In my car, I have an XM subscription. It's typically pretty great, but sometimes in a tunnel or a parking garage the signal will disappear. When that happens, my instinct is to get angry and curse the radio, and I have to stop and remind myself that they are beaming music to my car from space. There's a satellite up there shooting down over 150 channels, and it finds my car whether I am in the middle of Chicago or on a 2-lane highway in North Dakota. That's way cool.
In the vein of XM, today's TMFW is about the first ever song that was beamed down from space. It was 50 years ago today.
As told in this Smithsonian magazine piece, the occasion was the joint NASA mission of Gemini 6A and Gemini 7, which marked the first time that two orbiting objects successfully rendezvoused with one another in space. That feat was accomplished on December 15, 1965, when command pilot Wally Schirra (and onboard computers) brought the Gemini 6 capsule within 1 foot of Gemini 7 and the two spaceships stayed in close orbit for four-and-a-half hours.
Following separation of the two spacecraft, the astronauts were feeling rightfully celebratory. So the Gemini 6 crew decided to have a bit of fun. Just before the astronauts went to sleep on the morning of December 16, Schirra and his partner Tom Stafford "spotted" an unidentified object and reported it to their orbiting colleagues. The transmission went like this:
"Gemini 7, this is Gemini 6. We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, probably a polar orbit.... He's in a very low trajectory traveling from north to south and has a very high climbing ratio...Looks like he might be going to re-enter soon.... You just might let me pick up that thing...."
From there, the Gemini 6 astronauts launched into a performance of "Jingle Bells," played on a tiny Hohner "Little Lady" harmonica by Schirra and accompanied by a set of jingle bells by Stafford. Gemini 7's pilot Jim Lovell (later the commander of the Apollo 13 mission, and famously played by Tom Hanks in the excellent movie of the same name) responded "we got him too, 6!" and laughed. Schirra then boasted "that was live, 7. Not taped," and Mission Control in Houston chimed in "you're too much, 6."
The whole exchange lasted less than two minutes, but you can hear in it the joy and pride and spontaneity and almost giddiness of the astronauts. I love it. You can hear the transmission (just the song) on Soundcloud, and the longer exchange on Youtube here.
Schirra's harmonica and Stafford's bells now sit in the National Air and Space Museum, as part of the Apollo to the Moon exhibition. Notice in the harmonica picture that Schirra rigged up his instrument with dental floss and velcro so that it wouldn't float away on him when he was doing real work.
So there's your TMFW for today: on this date 50 years ago, two orbiting astronauts spied Santa's sleigh and made "Jingle Bells" the first song ever transmitted from space. Ho ho ho.
BONUS FACT: My word-count-padding rumination on XM up there is a good excuse to link to this classic Louis C.K. "everything is amazing right now and nobody's happy" interview (most relevant part starts at 1:24.) It's so true.
BONUS FACT 1.5: As fate would have it, this week's entry comes as I am traveling home from Paris, France. I wrote today's TMFW on the plane and then posted it over the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of Newfoundland. I almost literally can't understand how that is possible.
BONUS FACT 2: The idea of two spacecraft rendezvousing in orbit was a milestone that both the US and Soviet Union were chasing. After the Americans had pulled it off in 1965, the Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev wanted to do it for the 50th Anniversary of the 1917 Communist revolution in Russia. And Brezhnev wanted to one-up the Americans by having the two spacecraft dock with one another and then have a cosmonaut transfer from one ship to the other.
Instead, the mission became famous for a more sober reason: the first human death from a space mission. This gripping NPR story of the launch (which was later amended to qualify nearly all of the fantastical details) tells the sad story of cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov, who died on reentry of Soyuz 1 when his parachute failed to deploy and he crashed into the ground.
According to the story, Komarov and others in the Soviet space program knew that the mission was doomed to fail, but nobody dared raise the issue to Brezhnev. And Komarov would not back out of the launch because his friend - the national hero Yuri Gagarin - was the backup pilot and would be killed in his place. So Komarov took the mission knowing it would probably be his last.
BONUS FACT 2.5: Yuri Gagarin unwittingly started a cosmonaut tradition when, on his first launch in 1961, he asked the bus taking him to the launchpad to stop so that he could relieve himself. Gagarin stepped out of the bus, walked around to the back, unzipped from his launch suit, and peed on the rear right tire of the vehicle.
Since then, departing cosmonauts have maintained the ritual, which requires them to undo all of the zippers and fasteners on their spacesuits that had just minutes before been carefully put together and checked. (Female cosmonauts are invited to bring along a vial of urine to splash onto the tire.) Truth is stranger than fiction.
BONUS FACT 2.75: If you want to know more about Space rendezvous, Wikipedia's got you covered with this comprehensive timeline.
BONUS FACT 3: Leonid Brezhnev is one of the three "L.B."-initialed people namechecked in R.E.M.'s classic song "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)." The others are Lenny Bruce, Lester Bangs, and (of course) Leonard Bernstein.
BONUS FACT 3.5: Michael Stipe explained in an interview that the L.B. references came from a dream he had where he was at a birthday party and was the only guy there who didn't have those initials.
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Today's TMFW is short, and to the point, and wonderful: in 2006 and 2007, two different frozen pizza jingles reached the top of the charts in Norway.
The pizza in question is called Grandiosa. It is the most popular brand of frozen pizza in Norway and a sort of national dish; 24 million of the pizzas are sold each year, even as Norway has less than 5 million people. That's almost 5 pizzas per person! By comparison, the most popular brand in the US makes around 90 million pizzas for a population of 318 million - less than 1/3 per person.
Facing increasing competition in the early 2000s, Grandiosa invested heavily in marketing to maintain their brand dominance. As part of that campaign, they worked with the Norwegian musician Lars Kilevold on a new theme song for their pizza. Kilevold had reached #1 in 1980 with his song "Liver er for Kjipt" ("life is too short") and #2 in 1987 with "Ute til Lunch" ("Out to Lunch"), so he knew his way around a catchy tune.
The result of Kilevold's work was a song called "Respekt for Grandiosa." Credited officially to "Grandiosa," it became a ringtone sensation (remember when ringtones were a Big Deal?) and as a result reached number one on the VG-lista (the Norwegian version of the Billboard Top 40) for eight weeks in 2006. The album cover for the CD single looked like a Grandiosa box, and the CD looked like a pizza. Pretty clever stuff.
Grandiosa followed up "Respekt for Grandiosa" with "Full Pakke," a song that celebrated the "full package" of toppings available on their pizza. That song - complete with choreography - reached number one (for only two weeks this time) in 2007. If you want to learn the "full pakke dance," TMFW's got you covered.
BONUS FACT: The 1993 satire/sci-fi/action movie Demolition Man sort of predicted today's TMFW. When Sylvester Stallone arrives in the future, his handlers try to make him feel more at home by playing an "oldies" station on the radio. It is made up entirely of "mini tunes" (aka commercials), and it is the most popular station in town.
BONUS FACT 1.5: Here's the real live 1960s Armour hot dog ad - complete with reference to "tough kids" and "sissy kids" - that Sandra Bullock and Benjamin Bratt are singing along to in the Demolition Man clip above. And for good measure, here's Bart and Lisa Simpson doing it, too.
BONUS FACT 1.75: A famous joke in Demolition Man is that all restaurants in the future are Taco Bell, as they are "the only restaurant to survive the franchise wars." That's a pretty good gag.
BONUS FACT 1.875: Apparently, the studio felt that Taco Bell was not famous enough around the world for people in other countries to get the joke. So in international versions of the movie, the lone survivor is changed to Pizza Hut.
BONUS FACT 1.9375: Keeping with the "mini tunes" theme, when Mr. Stallone and Ms. Bullock go into the Taco Bell/Pizza Hut in the clip above, the piano player is doing a rendition of the 1960s "Valley of the Jolly Green Giant" advertisement.
BONUS FACT 1.96875: The combination of Pizza Hut and Taco Bell above gives me a good excuse to post the love-it-or-hate-it song "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" by Das Racist. (I, for one, love it. It is beautifully stupid.)
BONUS FACT 2: Grandiosa pizza has a "Hot Nacho" variety, with little baby tortilla chips on top. Between that and the world dominance of Angry Birds, Scandinavians are clearly geniuses.
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
In TMFW 110, I told the story of The Knack's great song "My Sharona," and marveled at how on-the nose its lyrics are. While writing that post, I was (naturally) listening to Get The Knack, which also includes the excellent song "Good Girls Don't" (that's the "clean" version for radio; the unsanitized album version is here).
"Good Girls Don't" is even more direct in its adolescent rock-and-roll fantasies than "My Sharona." Lyrics include "she makes you wanna scream, wishing you could get inside her pants" and "you've heard she's pretty fast, and you're hoping that she'll give you some tonight..." The chorus is pure teenage boy wish-fulfillment: "Good girls don't, good girls don't, but she'll be telling you 'Good girls don't, but I do.'"
So imagine my surprise when, during my research on "My Sharona," I came across the claim that both "My Sharona" and "Good Girls Don't" were covered by The Chipmunks on their album Chipmunk Punk. Surely this was fake, right? Some merry pranksters creating a good example of inappropriate kids songs, maybe? Nope, it's real. And the story of the record is a pretty good one.
First, here's a short history of The Chipmunks. The group was the brainchild of a guy named Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. He was a musician who recorded under the name "David Seville," and first rose to fame with the novelty song "Witch Doctor." That song - later credited to the Chipmunks (and re-recorded with them too) - hit #1 in April and May 1958. Bagdasarian performed both parts of the song, and achieved the "witch doctor" vocals by singing at a low pitch and then speeding up the tape.
The success of "Witch Doctor" lead Bagdasarian to continue experimenting with tape recording tricks, and his next big hit was "The Chipmunk Song (Chistmas Don't Be Late)" in December 1958. As before, Bagdasarian performed all of the vocals (this time, David Seville and each of the three Chipmunks). "The Chipmunk Song" reached number one and sold over 4 million records, and the Chipmunks were born.
Over the next decade, Bagdasarian turned out a steady stream of Chipmunks records, releasing 12 albums between 1959 and 1969. But in 1972, Bagdasarian suffered a heart attack and died at age 52. The Chipmunks seemed to die with him.
So here's where today's TMFW comes in. In 1979, seven years after Bagdasarian died and with no Chipmunks activity since then, the band Blondie recorded the song "Call Me." The record was a giant hit in 1980 and was at #1 for six weeks that year. During that run, Los Angeles DJ played the song at twice the speed and announced that it was the Chipmunks' new record. To the DJ's surprise, inquiries came flooding in about where the record could be purchased. Word got to Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. (Bagdasarian Sr.'s son, if you couldn't figure that out for yourself), and he decided to give the people what they wanted.
The resulting album was Chipmunk Punk, released in the summer of 1980. Among others, the album included the Chipmunks version of "Call Me," along with Tom Petty's "Refugee," The Cars' "Let's Go," and three songs from The Knack: in addition to "Good Girls Don't" and "My Sharona," it included the also-inspired-by-Sharona song "Frustrated." (Ironically, Chipmunk Punk did not include any songs that are considered even remotely "punk.")
Apparently nobody thought that it was weird for young cartoon chipmunks to sing teenage sex anthems: within four months of its release, Chipmunk Punk went gold. And the Chipmunks were reborn.
Since the release of Chipmunk Punk, Bagdasarian, Jr. has expanded the Chipmunks into a Saturday morning cartoon show that ran for eight seasons, 25 more records, several video games, and more recently a collection of four feature films. Not bad for a group that started with some sped-up cassette tape.
BONUS FACT 1: Following the "My Sharona" entry, TMFW reader and music scholar Les sent along the 2004 documentary Getting the Knack, which is available in its entirety on YouTube. It's a good look at how The Knack rose to fame and made their first record.
From that, I learned that the band did only one take of "Good Girls Don't" for their record. As Doug Fieger explained in the film, "we recorded it for the first time in 1972 [Get the Knack was recorded 7 years later in 1979] and had made at least 4 demos of it. [We'd] been turned down by everybody. I was sick of the song I didn't really want to record it. And [Get The Knack producer] Mike [Chapman] was very high on the song. He said "look at, Doug, we'll go out there, you'll play it one time, you'll sing live. If we don't get it in one take, we won't put it on the album. And of course we got it in one take and that's the take that's on the album." That's a good story.
BONUS FACT 1.5: Also from the documentary, Fieger explained (and then briefly demonstrated) that he'd written "Good Girls Don't" with Johnny Cash's voice in mind. He does a pretty decent impression.
BONUS FACT 2: Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. got his start in the entertainment business from his cousin, the playwright William Saroyan. Bagdasarian acted in a Broadway production of Saroyan's Pulitzer-winning play The Time of Your Life. That he would start his career working on a Pulitzer and New York Drama Critics Circle winning play and end with fame from voicing three high-singing Chipmunks is amusing to me.
BONUS FACT 3: Just as the Chipmunks made their records by speeding up playback, several people have made "un-Chipmunk" versions of songs by slowing down Chipmunks recordings. This "real-time" version of "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" is an excellent demonstration of how Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. recorded the song. This one of "Call Me" shows his son pulling it off in the same way. And for good measure, here's the slowed down version of "Good Girls Don't."
BONUS FACT 4: I remember being amazed when a sequel (sorry, I mean "squeakuel") to the first Alvin & The Chipmunks movie came out, and wondering how they could possibly justify making another one. But it turns out that the movies are big business. The first three movies have made over $550 million domestically at the box office, and over $1.1 billion worldwide, against a combined production budget of $210 million. Unbelievable.
BONUS FACT 5: Similarly, Chipmunk records are shockingly popular. I thought it was just a good gag, but they have won five Grammys (FIVE) and an American Music Award, have had seven top-40 hits (including two number 1s in "Witch Doctor" and "The Chipmunk Song"), and have scored three platinum and four gold records. Not counting greatest hits compilations (and there are at least 8 of those!), they have released more than 35 albums over 54 years. Respect to Mssrs. Bagdasarian for the mileage they have gotten out of what could have been a one-and-done gimmick.
BONUS FACT 6: Just today, the Chipmunks were featured in this depressingly misanthropic news story of a town in England that plays annoying music on repeat at their train stations overnight, in order to keep homeless people from sleeping there. A Chipmunks record of Christmas songs is apparently the flavor of the day; I would bet that's pretty effective.