The Nutty Squirrels were a scat singing virtual band formed in imitation of The Chipmunks that had a Top 40 hit song “ Uh-Oh ” in late 1959.With the success of musical group 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" Burlandnote , 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 Bagdasariannote , they recorded their normal singing voices at 16 RPM, then played them back at 33-1/3 rate per minute, giving that unique Chipmunk-sound to the hip scat-singing style 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 Julian Edwin “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, which is 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.Animator and historian Mark Kausler reported the following:
“Fima Noveck, the president of Flamingo Telefilm Sales, imported a lot of Eastern European, Zagreb, Russian, British, Japanese and Chinese cartoons to the U.S. He recut most of them to five minutes in length and syndicated them under the Flamingo Films logo to TV stations in the late fifties and early sixties. The package was available in both color and black and white. I saw many of these cartoons in St. Louis, Missouri as part of the ‘Wrangler's Cartoon Club’ and ‘Nutty Squirrels Presents” programs. Noveck dubbed very ‘kid friendly’ tracks onto most of the cartoons, always using the same voices for the cute little rabbits, squirrels and foxes in the Soyuzmultifilm cartoons he imported, and adding voice over ‘Herb Vigran’ type Brooklyn narrators to the cartoons that were mostly pantomime.”The Nutty Squirrels Presents featured the Nutty Squirrels in newly animated introductions to the foreign cartoons dubbed in English. Unlike their musical recordings, the animated Nutty Squirrels were a year ahead than the Chipmunks. The Nutty Squirrel cartoons had a streamlined UPA-like style and jazzy backgrounds, but they were a commercial flop. 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," which is 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 animated feature The Iron Giant and “Uh! Oh! Part 2” in a 1998 John Waters movie soundtrack.
- Barefoot Cartoon Animal: The Squirrels are depicted this way.
- Follow the Leader: To Alvin and the Chipmunks.