THE NUTTY SQUIRRELS

The success of the musical Alvin and the Chipmunks in the late 1950's spawned numerous imitation recording groups, including the Grasshoppers and the Nutty Squirrels. While the Grasshoppers never made it to animated form, the cartoon version of the Nutty Squirrels actually wound up beating the Chipmunks to TV by a year. 

The story of the Nutty Squirrels began when jazzman Don Elliott and TV composer Alexander "Sascha" Burland (who wrote the original theme for TV's What's My Line?), amused by the Chipmunks concept, joined together to record an album in the guise of a hip group of Chipmunk sound-alike rodents. Like Ross Bagdasarian (aka David Seville), they recorded their normal singing voices at 16 RPM, then played them back at 33-1/3 RPM--giving that unique Chipmunk-sound to the hip scat-singing style that Elliott had perfected during his solo work in the early 1950's. Backing Elliott and Burland's altered vocals were some of the best New York session men of the late 1950s, including Cannonball Adderley on sax, Bobby Jaspar on flute, and Sam Most on clarinet. The Nutty Squirrels were quickly signed by the new Hanover-Signature label, owned in part by comedian Steve Allen and producer Bob Thiele. Unfortunately the masters to the album were lost in transit when Allen moved to Los Angeles in the 1960's. A cut from that first album, "Uh-Oh Part 2," made it to number 14 in the Hit Parade for the week of December 28, 1959, almost exactly one year after "The Chipmunk Song" made the same list.


Meanwhile, plans were being made to bring Alvin and the Chipmunks to television. Format Films, producer of the Chipmunk cartoons, hit a snag during the development stage of the series. After numerous delays and unsuccessful attempts to create visual counterparts of the Chipmunks, Format eventually came up with suitable renditions of the characters and farmed out some of the animation work to Jack Kinney Productions. This delay enabled Transfilm-Wilde, a New York-based company specializing in animated commercials, to secure the television rights to the Nutty Squirrels characters and get the jump on the Chipmunks . They had 100 five-minute Nutty Squirrel cartoons ready for syndication by September 1960.


This time, the Squirrels were a year ahead of the Chipmunks. The cartoons had a streamlined UPA-like style and jazzy backgrounds, but they were a flop commercially. While they were immediately picked up in major markets, like Chicago's WGN-TV where they ran six days a week, some smaller market stations were hesitant to sign on, afraid of their "radical" jazz content. The stations that did pick them up just scattered the cartoons amongst their packages of Terrytoons, Walter Lantz and other old theatrical cartoons.

Click below to see The Nutty Squirrels Presents "Tiger Trouble".


The cartoon soon faded from view, and by 1964 the Nutty Squirrels duo of Elliott and Burland disbanded. Sascha Burland later went on to write the 1966 instrumental hit "No Matter What Shape Your Stomach's In," the famous Alka-Seltzer TV commercial jingle.


The Nutty Squirrels enjoyed a renewed interest in the late 1990's, thanks to occasional airplay on the Dr. Demento syndicated radio show. In addition, their Salt Peanuts song was included in the soundtrack of the 1999 animated feature, The Iron Giant from director Brad Bird and Warner Bros. Feature Animation, and Uh! Oh! Part 2 was featured in the soundtrack of a 1998 John Waters movie.

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Updated December 10, 2017

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