Forty-eight years ago, songwriter Ross Bagdasarian was taking a drive through California’s Yosemite National Park when a chipmunk scampered out in front of his car and stared him down in the way a matador might challenge a charging bull.
“My dad just fell out of the car laughing,” Ross Bagdasarian Jr. recalled recently from his home in Santa Barbara.
It was the birth of a pop culture phenomenon known as Alvin and the Chipmunks. The three squeaky voiced cartoon rodents, and their father figure, “David Seville,” would release “The Chipmunks Song” later that year and it would become one of the most popular recordings of 1958. TV series, movies and more than a dozen albums followed.
Almost 50 years later, the Chipmunks — Alvin and his brothers Simon and Theodore — are still singing — voiced now by Bagdasarian’s son and his son’s wife, Janice Karman. They’re also still driving the hapless Seville crazy, prompting him to scream out “ALVIN!” every few minutes.
With the release this week of the DVD of 1987’s feature film, “The Chipmunk Adventure,” Bagdasarian and Karman are also at work on a script for a new movie they hope will be ready in time to mark the Chipmunks’ 50th birthday.
The couple, who continued the legacy after the elder Bagdasarian’s death in 1972, say they aren’t surprised there is still an audience for the Chipmunks. They strike a chord with siblings, children and parents who may fight “but at the end of the day” find they still love each other, said Karman.
There’s also something about those voices, created by recording Bagdasarian’s and Karman’s voices on analog tape, then speeding it up. They tried switching to digital recording in recent years, Bagdasarian said, but it just didn’t sound the same.
“I remember growing up watching those Charlie Brown specials over the years,” Bagdasarian said of the TV cartoons based on the “Peanuts” comic strip.
“Over the years, the characters’ voices changed, and I remember thinking, ‘That’s not right. That’s not Charlie Brown.’ It really bothered me. So we’ve tried over the years to keep the voices the same.”