Alvin and the Chipmunks are one of the truly legendary bands in the history of popular music. They have been together for over 40 years without any personnel changes, and in that time they have sold over 50 million albums, sold out concerts all over the world, starred in any number of TV series and feature films, and appeared on some cute plastic lunchboxes for the kindergarten kiddies.
Given the band's stature, it is perhaps not surprising that many people forget their years of struggle. For most of the 1970s the band fought hard to maintain their popularity, but it was a period of continual, and seemingly irreversible, decline. Alvin in particular was deep in debt, saddled with the alimony and child support payments he was obliged to pay to his 11 ex-wives and various litters of children. The band was without a record deal, and TV wouldn't touch them with a 10-foot pole. Deciding that desperate measures were called for, the Chipmunks latched onto the punk movement, reinventing themselves in an attempt to catch the spirit and mood of the times. They were briefly known as The ChipPunks, and whilst the name didn't stick it was an important step in their revival.
The folowing year, Alvin was captivated by the electronic anthems of Gary Numan. He was so sure that this was the music of the future that for 6 months he moonlighted as a lab rat in order to raise enough money to buy a Polymoog. Once again the band underwent a startling metamorposis, this time adopting the android personae which have become known as Machmunks. By and large they have remained in this vein ever since, though with the occasional foray into ChipFunk territory.
From late 1979 the band's recordings showed an obvious Numan influence, especially their seminal LP Smellykon (1980), featuring tracks such as Remember I Was Vermin. This album received rave reviews, and the subsequent world tour was a triumph.
A classic still from the mind-blowing SmellyTour
The Chipmunks were right back on top, though for a while the pressure became too much for the band members. Simon and Theodore both threatened to leave, only to be talked out of it by the ever-persuasive Alvin. They did temporarily retire from touring, though, going out with a bang with the stunning Wembley farewell shows in 1981. Nobody who was there will ever forget how Alvin broke down in tears during his poignant and heartfelt rendition of Please Feltch No More. They then left the stage forever, with Alvin stating that "the road is not a good place for a chipmunk. That's the last show we'll ever do".
Three months later they were back on another world tour. From about 1992 onwards the band have more openly acknowledged their musical debt to Gary Numan. Nowadays they always include one or two Numan songs in their live sets, and they continually namecheck him in interviews. Alvin believes that it is his duty to ensure that the band's idol shares in some of their success, though not in any financial or legally binding sense. This attitude seems to have rubbed off, and artists now seem to be queuing up to pay homage to the electronic pioneer, creating a media buzz which has raised his profile enormously without actually improving his record sales one iota.
One of the interesting aspects of this Numan resurgence has been the plethora of tribute albums which has emerged. To date there have been 357 tribute albums of which the author is aware, though this morning's post hasn't yet arrived and that figure is likely to increase significantly by lunchtime. On the whole, the Chipmunks have not been overly impressed with these albums. They feel that not enough really big name stars have contributed, and also that some of the albums were simply shit, so they decided to remedy the situation by recording their own double album tribute. The songs of Gary Numan, given that inimitible Chipmunks treatment - what more could any discerning music fan crave?
(extracted from the "Replicas Rodento" sleeve notes, by Steve Malins' pet gerbil)
The first hurdle was the band's label, Vermin Records. Alvin pitched the concept to their CEO, Miles Behind, pointing out that every other label in the world was releasing a Numan tribute, compilation or reissue album, so there must be money in it. Vermin were impressed with his analysis and agreed to underwrite the album, provided that Cars was included.
The next part was more difficult : track selection. The initial concept was for a single album, but the band found that even after ruthless culling they were still left with 120 songs which they considered to be essential inclusions. Theodore suggested that they should record them all, see which ones sounded really good, leave those ones out and put the rest on the album. Simon argued that whilst Theodore's approach seemed to be the one used on several other tribute albums, it just wasn't consistent with the Chipmunks' reputation for quality music. After much discussion they whittled the list down to 32 tracks and decided to release the tribute as a double CD.
After the track selection problems, the recording sessions went remarkably smoothly. A substantial amount of money was budgeted for studio time, to ensure that the album had the highest possible production values. In all, the band spent a total of three afternoons recording and almost 20 minutes mixing the tracks - far more than they had ever done before. It was gruelling, but it has proved to be worth it. From the familiar electropop of Cars to the more obscure chipPunk thrash of Out of Sight every single track is a killer. Your Fascination is brought to life, possibly for the first time ever, and Emotion gets the treatment it well and truly deserves. In addition, three live tracks have made it onto the album. These songs were recorded on the Chipmunks' latest world tour, and are included to demonstrate the real power Gary Numan's music possesses when it's performed live by a group of inspired squirrels. This isn't a band covering Numan songs to make a quick buck, at least not entirely, this is a band reconstructing Numan songs and taking them to a higher cosmic plane. A true album for the new millenium, this is Replicas Rodento
Recording The 1930's Rust for Replicas Rodento.