ALVIN!!!! The OTHER Music Of David Seville
I am a record collector, at least I used to be until moving hundreds of records to my last three addresses made me decide that maybe I have enough of them now. In my younger collecting days, I would run across copies of Chipmunks records. When they were cheap enough I would pick them up. I was aware of the Chipmunks from reruns of "The Alvin Show" and the perennial Christmas favorite "The Chipmunk Song." I would play them once or twice and they were sometimes pretty funny. What really started to interest me was that the flip side of each Chipmunk single had a song credited to "The Music Of David Seville."
I knew, of course, that David Seville was the pseudonym of Ross Bagdasarian and that he was the guy that would always yell "ALVIN!!!" in the Chipmunks records and TV show, but that was all I knew about him. Here I had music of him without the Chipmunks! I listened to the flip side of "The Chipmunk Song, a song called "Almost Good." It was catchy and deserved another listen. It was almost good! I started listening to every Chipmunk B-side I had. I started buying Chipmunk records for the David Seville sides. In those days before the internet, I imagined Dave Seville (Ross Bagdasarian) to be a frustrated musician that happened upon a hit record with The Chipmunks song and was bitter because the only way he could get his songs released was on the B-sides of Chipmunk's singles. I imagined his yell of "Alvin" to be an anguished cry of pure frustration to the cruel fate that the Chipmunks success had on his career.
The real Ross Bagdasarian was never bitter toward the Chipmunks. In direct contrast to the Dave Seville character of the cartoons, every source I find about him makes him out to be a wonderful, good natured man. I found out his life and career are quite interesting, and his music to be oddly exciting. Ross Bagdasarian was not only a musician, but was also an actor. You can see him as the songwriter in Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window." Musically, his first big hit was "Come on-a My House." It was a 1951 hit for Rosemary Clooney. It was written by Ross and his cousin, Pulitzer prize winning author William Saroyan. Although this one was not a "Dave Seville" song, it has a catchy melody and humorous lyrics that are similar to the Dave Seville recordings. Ross continued to record, both under his own name and under the Dave Seville name.
According to his son, Ross Bagdasarian Jr., Ross Sr. was down to his last $200 and spend his savings to buy a $190 recorder that allowed him to change the recording to multiple speeds. In 1958 Ross (as David Seville) hit the number one spot with "The Witch Doctor Song." Ross Jr. also said that song was inspired by Ross seeing the book "Duel With The Witch Doctor" on his desk. This song featured the speeded up voice technique that was used later for the Chipmunks' songs. Later that year David Seville's second and last number one song "The Chipmunk Song" featuring Ross Bagdasarian doing all the voices, was a runaway success. The Chipmunk Song won three Grammy Awards and spent 4 weeks at the numberer one spot on the charts.
I realize that people love The Chipmunks and there is a lot that can be written about their success, their multiple television and movie incarnations and their amazing 36 singles and 50 albums, but all this has been written about multiple times. What I fell in love with, and I hope you explore, are the non-Chipmunk songs of David Seville.
Many of David Seville's songs have an odd sense of humor about them. It's the kind of humor that you smile or laugh at, but it is really hard to explain to someone else what is funny about it. They have a unique novelty sound. It seems like many of the songs try to have a gimmick. The gimmick of sped up voices was what made Seville's career in songs, but he had a lot of other gimmicks up his sleeve. Ross Bagdasarian once said, "Every time I write a song I keep a mental picture of a housewife with her hands in soapy water, listening to the radio. I try to figure out how to get her hands out of the dishwater to turn up the volume, to hear my song."
Is his music amazing, innovative, incredible? Not really. It is fun. When you listen to David Seville you will not be discovering some great genius of music that was never appreciated, instead you will find a man who loved making music and made it. I guess what I really like most about Dave Seville is that he found a way to keep making the kind of music that he wanted to make. He didn't just rest on the success of The Chipmunks, he used this success to continue doing what he wanted to do.