Bird & Animal Names In Rock 'n' Roll History - Part 1
The Animals, Teddy Bears, The Chipmunks
Author: Robert Benson
Robert writes about rock & pop music, and vinyl record collecting.
Throughout music history there have been many bands that have adopted an "animal" or "bird" monikers to represent their band and their sound. Some artists even have a last name that fits into this category and in this continuing article series we will explore some of the unique "animal" and "bird" names and the diverse music that has been created by these groups or individuals.
As I prepared for this project, I did not realize the amount of bands and artists who fall into the category. There are so many new bands like Fleet Foxes, Minus The Bear, Weird Owl and Andrew Bird, Animal Collective, just to name a few, to add to the growing list (which is no particular order). If you have a particular band or artist that fits into this article series, please email me and I can add them to the growing and seemingly endless list. This should be a fun series!
First and foremost and fittingly leading the pack is of course the 1960's group led by Eric Burdon, appropriately called "The Animals". The group was one of the first R&B - based bands from the first wave of the British Invasion. With their breakthrough hit "House Of The Rising Sun," which hit number one on the Billboard charts in 1964, the Animals went on to record several Top 40 hits including: "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place," the rebellious "It's My Life" and "Dont Bring Me Down," among many others. After many personnel changes, the band was renamed Eric Burdon and the Animals and secured Top 40 fame with hits like "See See Rider," a Top Ten hit, "San Franciscan Nights," and the spacey psychedelia of "Sky Pilot."
The popular myth is that their audience called the group "Animals," thus their name, but actually Burdon and band member John Steel knew of a gang led by a crazy Army vet who called himself "Animal Hog." He was a symbol of rebellion to the band members and inspired them to name their band the Animals. Eric Burdon recorded two albums with the soul/pop-rock group War and scored a Top Ten hit with the narrative ditty called "Spill The Wine."
The Teddy Bears
Do you remember a group called the "Teddy Bears"? The group managed to secure a number one hit with a song called "To Know Him Is To Love Him," which was written by band member Phil Spector.
In the late 50's, Spector wanted to break into the music business so he booked a session at the Gold Star Studios. Studio time cost $15 an hour plus an additional $6.00 for a reel of blank tape. But Spector's first obstacle to becoming a recording star and record producer was raising the $40. The first ten came from his mother. He then enlisted the help of some of his friends to contribute the rest. One, a sixteen year old student at Fairfax High School named Annette Kleinbard, contributed the final ten dollars if she could be included in the group. The group picked their name from a very popular tune at the time "Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear," which was a US number one hit for Elvis Presley during the summer of 1957.
In the summer of 1958, Spector and his friends recorded a cut called
"You Don't Know My Little Pet." In September of 1958, a deejay in Fargo, North Dakota, flipped the single over and played the B-side which was "To Know Him Is To Love Him." Soon orders were flying in for the new song and the Teddy Bears were a national hit, even appearing on American Bandstand with Dick Clark. "To Know Him Is To Love Him" became a number one record, selling more than a million copies before Christmas. So at 17, Phil Spector had written, arranged, played, sung, and produced the best-selling record in the country. Although subsequent releases by the Teddy Bears were well-recorded pop, they did not sell, and within a year of the debut, Spector disbanded the group.
Now a famous "one hit wonder," the Teddy Bears disbanded, in part, because of Spector's reluctance to be a performer. The rest is rock and roll history, as he became a world famous record producer, incorporating his "wall of sound" recording production method for such artists as The Crystals, The Ronettes, Darlene Love, The Righteous Brothers and of course the Beatles ("Let It Be") among many others.
Ross Bagdasarian created the fictional character band and a multi-million empire centered around three friendly rodents with his novelty act the "Chipmunks". Bagdasarian adopted the name David Seville after executives at Liberty Records told him his name was too difficult to pronounce. Seville named the three chipmunks after executives at Liberty Records. Alvin was named after Al Bennett, the president of the company; Simon was named after Bennett's partner Si Waronker and Theodore was named after Ted Keep, a recording engineer. Seville's own mischievous son inspired the role of Alvin and Seville was inspired to name the sped up voices of his fictional group, The Chipmunks, after having to stop in Yosemite, California when a chipmunk in the road refused to budge and he had to stop his car.
In 1958, Bagdasarian began experimenting with a novel technique, recording normal
vocals, but then speeding up the playback on a tape machine. When the tape was played back at double speed, they would sound a full octave higher in pitch, at normal tempo. The voices of the group were all performed by Bagdasarian and the process yielded the number one hit "Witch Doctor" in early 1958, and the phenomenon snowballed later that year when his Christmas gimmick single "The Chipmunk Song" spent four weeks at the top of the charts.
Although Bagdasarian died in 1972, his son Ross Jr. revived Alvin, Simon, and Theodore in 1979 on Saturday mornings and on the 1980 album Chipmunk Punk. The series became more popular than it was in the '60s, and albums of the Chipmunks singing country, Christmas, rock, and Hollywood favorites were big sellers, though they didn't enjoy chart success.
In the next article we will continue exploring more "animal" groups, including the Turtles and the Monkees.
The original line-up comprised Eric Burdon (vocals), Alan Price (organ and keyboards), Hilton Valentine (guitar), John Steel (drums), and Bryan "Chas" Chandler (bass) and has gone through various incarnations since.
The original Animals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. Their influence can be heard in artists as diverse as The Doors, Joe Cocker, The Cult, Frijid Pink, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Janis Joplin and Fine Young Cannibals and many more.
In 2003, the band's version of "House of the Rising Sun" ranked #122 on Rolling Stone magazine's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. Their 1965 hit single "We Gotta Get out of This Place" was ranked #233 on Rolling Stone's The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list that was put together in 2004. Both songs are included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
The original Animals line-up of Burdon, Price, Valentine, Chandler, and Steel reunited for a benefit concert in Newcastle in 1968.
Chandler died in 1996, putting an end to the full original line-up.
1964 - The Animals
1965 - Animal Tracks
1966 - The Best of The Animals
1967 - The Best of Eric Burdon and The Animals Vol. II
1968 - Love Is
1969 - The Greatest Hits of Eric Burdon and The Animals
Teddy Bears Tidbits:
Spector's inspiration to write the song actually came from a photograph of his father's tombstone which read "to know him is to love him."
Kleinbard was involved in an auto accident in September 1959, but recovered and attempted a solo singing career. She had a number of recording contracts, but enjoyed success as a songwriter. She was a co-writer of "The Nights the Lights Went Out In Georgia" a gold record by Vicki Lawrence in 1973 and a country hit for Reba McEntire in 1992. She also co-wrote "Hey Little Cobra" for the Ripchords and "Gonna Fly Now" the theme from the first Rocky movie.
Spector was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a "non-performer" in 1989. He is truly one of the legends of modern pop music.
After the Teddy Bears broke up, Phil Spector moved back to New York, where he worked with Leiber and Stoller in 1960. With Leiber, he co-wrote "Spanish Harlem," a massive hit for ex-Drifter Ben E. King. Spector also played guitar on the Drifters' "On Broadway."
1958 - To Know Him Is To Love Him
1959 - Don't Go Away/Seven Lonely Days
The Chipmunks & Dave Seville Tidbits:
In 1959, the Chipmunks (Seville) won three Grammy Awards for Best Recording for Children, Best Comedy Performance, and Best Engineered Record - Non-Classical for the song "The Chipmunk Song." (Was also nominated for Record of the Year, but did not win.)
In 1961, Seville won a Grammy Award for Best Album for Children for the album "Let's All Sing with The Chipmunks."
As their popularity grew, the Chipmunks' voices were recorded onto audiotape by voice talent talking or singing at half the normal speed. The technique was by no means new to the Chipmunks. For example, the high and low pitched characters in The Wizard of Oz were achieved by speeding up and slowing down vocal recordings.
The Chipmunk's recorded numerous novelty songs, prime time animated specials, record albums and were featured in a Saturday morning cartoon series.
The words of the song "Witch Doctor" are nonsense: "Oo-ee, oo-ah-ah, ting-tang, walla-walla, bing-bang." The "Walla Walla" part of the song was just thrown in as a reference to Ross Bagdasarian's uncle who lived in Walla Walla, Washington.
The Witch Doctor - The Chipmunk Song - Alvins Harmonica
Let's All Sing with The Chipmunks
Around the World with The Chipmunks
Christmas with The Chipmunks
The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles Hits
The Very Best of The Chipmunks
Greatest Hits Still Squeaky After All These Years
Alvin and the Chipmunks Soundtrack