The Chipmunks are a fictional musical group, created by Ross Bagdasarian in 1958. The group consists of three singing chipmunks: Alvin, the mischievous troublemaker, who quickly became the star of the group, Simon, the tall bespectacled intellectual, and Theodore, the chubby, impressionable sweetheart. The trio is "managed" by their human "father" and confidant, David "Dave" Seville. In reality, David Seville was Ross Bagdasarian's stage name, and the Chipmunks themselves are named after the executives of their original record label, Liberty Records: Alvin Bennett (the president), Simon Waronker (the founder and owner), and Theodore Keep (the chief engineer).
After first being brought to life in Bagdasarian's 1950s novelty recordings under the name David Seville and the Chipmunks, the characters were an unprecedented success, and the singing Chipmunks and their manager were given life in several animated cartoon series and motion pictures. At the present time, the characters are perceived as cartoon characters that also released some accompanying music, which is the inverse of their early existence.
The voices of the group were all performed by Bagdasarian, who sped up the playback to create the higher pitched squeaky voices. This process was not entirely new; Bagdasarian had also used it for a previous novelty song project "The Witch Doctor", but it was so unusual and well executed it earned the "trio" two Grammy Awards for engineering. Although the characters were fictional, they did release a long line of "real" albums and singles, with "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" becoming a number-one hit single in the United States. After his death in 1972, the voices of the Chipmunks were subsequently recorded by his son, Ross Bagdasarian, Jr., and his wife, Janice Karman, in all subsequent incarnations to date.
The Chipmunks' voices were recorded onto audiotape by voice talent talking or singing at half the normal speed. When the tape was played back at double speed, they would sound a full octave higher in pitch, at normal tempo. 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. Now the same effect can be created digitally and in real time. The term "chipmunk-voiced" has entered the American vernacular to describe any artificially high-pitched voice.
The technique was frequently imitated in comedy records, notably "The Ying Tong Song" by The Goons, "Transistor Radio" by Benny Hill, "Bridget the Midget" by Ray Stevens, "The Laughing Gnome" by David Bowie, and on several tracks on Joe Meek and the Blue Men's album I hear a new world. The technique also appears in the instrumental break in Bobby Lewis' 1961 US #1 hit "Tossin' and Turnin'". It was also used extensively in the British puppet show Pinky and Perky.
Prince has also used the technique on several of his songs - "Erotic City" for example - as well as for his "Camille" alter ego.
Kanye West's technique of speeding up soul samples has led to his productions being compared to the Chipmunks.
However, the vocal technique is not always generated by a recording technique. Some fans of the band Gamma Ray have described the singer Kai Hansen's falsetto as "chipmunk-like" on the album No World Order.