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-Wylde, 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 150 five-minute Nutty Squirrel cartoons ready by September 1960 for syndication by Flamingo Telefilms. Entitled "The Nutty Squirrels Present", the cartoons featured the Nutty Squirrels in newly animated introductions to foreign cartoons dubbed in English. This time, the Squirrels were a year ahead of the Chipmunks. The Nutty Squirrel 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. 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 are enjoying a renewed interest of late, thanks to occasional airplay on the Dr. Demento syndicated radio show, and the inclusion of their Salt Peanuts song in the soundtrack of the animated feature, The Iron Giant, and Uh! Oh! Part 2 in the soundtrack of a 1998 John Waters movie.

Transfilm-Wylde Animation
Executive Producers: Robert Bean and Fred Levinson
Producer-Director: Joseph Bernstein
Associate Producer: Beverly O'Reilly
Director: William Hudson

Hear the Nutty Squirrels:

Click on this link to hear a sample of Salt Peanuts, in RealAudio

Click on this link to hear the complete Uh! Oh! Part 2, in RealAudio

Watch a full-length "Nutty Squirrels Presents" that I posted on YouTube

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Updated February 20, 2007

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Originated April 4, 2000