Ross Bagdasarian created an unlikely smash when he changed his name to David Seville, multitracked his own voice, and recorded the novelty single “The Chipmunk Song.” That led to 1961’s The Alvin Show, which gave chipmunks Alvin, Simon, and Theodore animated likenesses, along with their father figure, David Seville.
Bagdasarian passed away in 1972, but in 1979, NBC aired repeats of The Alvin Show on its Saturday morning schedule. Then in 1980, Ross Bagdasarian, Jr., recorded a successful comeback for the Chipmunks, titled Chipmunk Punk. Cashing in on the resurgent popularity of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, NBC brought the all-new animated Alvin and the Chipmunks to the air in 1983.
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The characters remained pretty much the same as in the original The Alvin Show. Alvin was the brash schemer, Simon was the sensible brain, and Theodore was the pudgy, giggly one. All wore floor-length sweaters. The boys were now a bona fide rock band under the direction of David Seville, covering top 40 hits with high-pitched harmonizing. The rock act brought them into contact with a variety of celebrities, including Dolly Parton and Mr. T (who used the opportunity to launch his own self-titled animated series).
Another new twist was the addition of the Chippettes – Brittany (the Alvin counterpart), Jeanette (a perfect match for Simon), and Eleanor (Theodore, eat your heart out). The girls had their own singing group, often competing with their male counterparts in talent contests.
The adventures were zanier than on The Alvin Show, often delving into pop culture parody. The new format worked, and the show ran for an impressive eight seasons on NBC’s Saturday morning schedule. During that time, the program underwent two title changes, becoming simply The Chipmunks in 1988, then changing to Chipmunks Go To the Movies in 1990. The latter version made pop culture parody the entire focus of the show, with Chipmunks and Chippettes performing such entertaining spoofs as “Batmunk.”
Silly voices and novelty albums rarely last longer than a few months, but Alvin and the Chipmunks added charm, wit, and unbridled fun to the mix, creating a phenomenon that has lasted more than three decades.
This post originally appeared on the long defunct Yesterdayland website. We archive it here to preserve it.