By Ken Zurski
In 1968, the LA based boogie/blues band Canned Heat released a Christmas single, The Chipmunk Song, which paired the band with their Liberty Records label mates, the animated – literally – and very fictional group of singing rodents called the Chipmunks.
Canned Heat’s version of “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” wasn’t exactly the same as the Chipmunks’ similarly titled chart-topper in 1958. It was a bluesy number containing humorous dialogue between Canned Heat singer Bob Hite and the voices of the Chipmunks: Simon, Theodore and Alvin, who were named after executives at Liberty.
The song was released the year before Canned Heat was asked to appear at a massive music festival in southeastern New York where the band covered Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and performed their harmonica infused hit “On The Road Again” as an encore. “On the Road Again” became the unofficial theme of the 1970 documentary movie “Woodstock.”
In 2000, the band’s producer and drummer Fito de la Parra wrote a revealing tell-all book titled Living the Blues: Canned Heat’s Story of Music, Drugs, Death, Sex and Survival. In it, Parra covers a lot of heavy themes, including the death of several band members, but nothing about the Chipmunks.
The Chipmunk Song’s only appearance on a Canned Heat album was in 2005. It was added as a bonus track to the reissue of the band’s second album “Boogie with Canned Heat.” By that time the Chipmunks had received iconic pop culture status and their version of The Christmas Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) was already a holiday season staple:
Christmas, Christmas time is near
Time for toys and time for cheer
We’ve been good, but we can’t last
Hurry Christmas, hurry fast
Typical of the boozy, drug-filled lifestyle of the 60’s & 70’s, Canned Heat would go through various lineup changes and tragic circumstances throughout the years. In 1981 after a show at the Palomino Club in Hollywood, lead singer Bob Hite died from an apparent heroin overdose.
Canned Heat are still touring today, but without any original band members. Despite the The Chipmunk Song, their legacy is solid.
A biographer on Canned Heat’s official website calls the recording of “The Chipmunk Song” an “incongruous move” in the band’s history.