Dedicated to classics and hits.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lo Fi Number One Hits: Witch Doctor by David Seville (4/28/58; 2 weeks.)

Witch Doctor by David Seville on Lawrence Welk

    Love that super racist clip: Am I only the one who thinks mass-media era specific racist characters "unmask" the mass media Foucault style?

  This past week as I was driving back and forth to Monterey, I heard David Seville's "Witch Doctor" on my Ipod a couple of times.  It's well known to me via the "cover version" done by Seville's own creation, Alvin and the Chipmunks, but it was a number one hit BEFORE the Chipmunks existed- in 1958.

   Here is what the Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Revised and Updated 4th Edition by Fred Bronson has to say about "The Witch Doctor" and how it came to be.

    He got the idea from a book title in his library, "Duel With the Witch Doctor," and with his trusty tape recorder, came up with the idea of playing back music and vocals at different speeds.  The voice of the witch doctor was recored at halfspeed and played back at normal speed, a device that would eventually lead Bagdrasarian to create a multi-million dollar empire centered around three friendly rodents.
     Ross Bagdasarian was born in Fresno, and moved in his teens to New York, hanging out with his cousin William Saroyan.  (Billboard Book of Number One Hits, p. 36)  1958 was a year that had number one's by Elvis (x2), Everly Brothers, Ricky Nelson AND another novelty hit- The Purple People Eater, so you know Witch Doctor must have taken the nation by storm.  In 1958, juke box play would still be a relevant measure of success, so you could well imagine the reaction that the record must have elicited in Los Angeles, the home market of Liberty Records (Hollywood Ca.)  Liberty Records also put out Eddie Cochran (Summertime Blues, specifically.)

   But the reason I'm writing this post is to point out how indie and lo fi the production of this record must have been in 1958.  One, you've got a guy from Fresno who has a connection to the NYC theater, and presumably music industry world.  Two, he comes up with a technical innovation involving the recording medium (tape.)  Recording Tape itself was not widely available in the United States until AFTER World War II, so it was like the Garage Band of it's day.

   So this guy is trying to "make it" and he combines this recording technique with a song that is high on the novelty meter and BOOM number one hit.  And then, in 1961: THE CHIPMUNKS.  Develop, retire.  The Chipmunks ARE STILL PUMPING OUT MOVIES.  That is a lo fi success story, REAL TALK.

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