Okay, here's your question of the day: What's the only Christmas song to hit #1 on the pop charts? Did you guess Bing Crosby's "White Christmas"? "Rudolph the Red-Nosed reindeer"? "Frosty the Snowman"? "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree"? Maybe Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmas Time" (God forbid)? All good guesses, but read on.
In 1958, Ross Bagdasarian (also known as David Seville) created a fictional recording group and dubbed them "The Chipmunks."
(Pause for trivia: four years earlier, Ross was a young actor trying to make it in Hollywood. You can glimpse him as a struggling composer in the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock classic film Rear Window with James Stewart and Kim Novak Grace Kelly.)
The Chipmunks consisted of three animated members. Ross himself took on the voices of two of the Chipmunks: Simon, the oldest Chipmunk, and Alvin, the youngest and most mischievous one. Ross' wife, Janile Klarman, took on the voice of the middle chipmunk, Theodore.
The Chipmunks' voices sounded like three little kids who had been inhaling helium. To get his voice high-pitched enough to play a chipmunk, Ross doubled the speed of the tape recorder he used. Ross had his first number one hit earlier in 1958 with "Witch Doctor," a catchy novelty tune using the same technique.
Now it was the holiday season, and Ross wanted something new for the Yuletide. He got an idea based on his youngest son, Adam, who was always asking, "Is it Christmas?" (in September). Ross figured that if his son was already asking about the holidays so early, other kids were probably doing the same thing.
The Christmas song by the Chipmunks went through three different versions before Ross settled on a final product. The initial version was instrumental. The second was called "In a Village Park." The third and final version was dubbed "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)." The novelty record clocked in at a brief two minutes and 17 seconds. Unlike "Witch Doctor," "The Chipmunk Song" was credited to The Chipmunks, not David Seville.
Released during the 1958 holiday season, it sold like the proverbial hot cakes. Within three weeks of its release, "The Chipmunk Song" had already sold 2.5 million copies. In seven weeks, its sales had grown to an astounding 4.5 million! It was to be the fastest-selling record of 1958. All this, ironically, in spite of the fact that "The Chipmunk Song" had previously been featured on American Bandstand's famous Rate-a-Record sequence and received an all-time absolute low rating of 35 across the boards.
To add to its amazing success. "The Chipmunk Song" won three Grammy Awards for 1958: Best Comedy Performance, Best Children's Recording, and Best Engineered Record (Non-Classical).
But "The Chipmunk Song" wasn't through yet. During the holiday season, it hit #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 Pop Singles chart. It is the one and only Christmas song to reach the number one spot on the charts. It remains the only #1 Christmas song on any U.S. singles record chart totaling performance of all records.
"The Chipmunk Song" was #1 on Christmas Day in 1958. It also kept cropping up on the charts for a few years more. In 1959, it re-entered the charts and peaked at #41, in 1960 it climbed to #45, and in 1962 it landed at #39. "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" was the second #1 song for David Seville, but the only #1 credited to The Chipmunks.