1959 The Chipmunks – Ragtime Cowboy Joe
Rostom Sipan Bagdasarian was born and raised in California and was acting and singing from a young age. While in the military in World War II, the army stationed him in Seville, Spain. When he began performing professionally, he started using the stage name, David Seville.
David was a singer and songwriter whose first success was writing the song Come On-A My House, which became a chart-topping record for Rosemary Clooney in 1951. He wrote several more records for various artists while he began seeking acting roles.
One of his early minor roles was playing the piano player in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rear Window.
In 1955 Alfred Hitchcock directed something very unexpected: a comedy. Oh, sure, there was a dead body that kept showing up, but The Trouble With Harry was not about figuring out how he died..it was about several townspeople trying to figure out what to do with his body.
In 1956, David Seville released a slightly comedic record entitled The Trouble With Harry. The record lists the artist as Alfi and Harry and also claimed the Hitchcock film inspired the record. A quick listen will help you discover the roots of David yelling at Alvin when he later began making the Chipmunk records: in the song, David yells at Harry to stop playing a song on the piano. It’s a short jump from that to Alvin and his harmonica.
A few more singles credited to David Seville followed, but nothing much happened until David bought a tape recorder and started experimenting with changing the playback speeds. That led to the voice of the Witch Doctor on his number one hit. Three progressively less successful singles followed before he hit upon the idea of having Chipmunks sing harmony on a record. After The Chipmunk Song (aka Christmas Don’t Be Late) hit number one in 1958, David recorded an entire album of Chipmunk tunes. Alvin’s Harmonica reached number 3, proving that the Christmas song wasn’t a one-shot novelty hit.
The third single from the first album was Ragtime Cowboy Joe, a song written by the same duo that gave us Second Hand Rose. Bob Roberts recorded the first version of the song in 1912 and topped whatever charts were around back then. A big band version by Eddy Howard reached #16 in 1947 and Jo Stafford took her version into the top ten in 1949. The version by the Chipmunks reached #16 in 1959.
You would be hard-pressed to find a song that had more wildly different charting versions.
The record was the first by the Chipmunks to reach the UK charts. The record got as high as #11 before fading away. In 1992, the Chipmunks reached the UK charts for a second time with some spoken help from Billy Rae Cyrus; that song was their version of Achy Breaky Heart.
David’s son has taken over the dubbing duties and continuously creates songs and films featuring the furries. And every Christmas they’re back on the radio.