Mah Nà Mah Nà
|"Mah Nà Mah Nà"|
|Single by Piero Umiliani|
|from the album Svezia, inferno e paradiso|
|B-side||"You Tried To Warn Me"|
|Label||Ariel AR-500 (US)
Columbia AR-500 (Canada)
"Mah Nà Mah Nà" is a popular song written by Piero Umiliani. It originally appeared in the Italian film Sweden: Heaven and Hell (Svezia, inferno e paradiso). It was a minor radio hit in the U.S. and in Britain, but became better known in English-speaking countries from its use in a recurring blackout sketch for the 1969-70 season of The Red Skelton Show, the 14th episode of Sesame Street, and the first episode of The Muppet Show.
"Mah Nà Mah Nà" debuted as part of Umiliani's soundtrack for the Italian mondo film Svezia, inferno e paradiso (Sweden: Heaven and Hell [lit. Hell and Heaven]) (1968), a pseudo-documentary about wild sexual activity and other behaviour in Sweden. The song accompanied a scene in the film set in a sauna which gave its original title "Viva la Sauna Svedese" (Hooray for the Swedish Sauna). It was performed by a band called Marc 4 (four session musicians from the RAI orchestra) and the lead part was sung by Italian singer/composer Alessandro Alessandroni and his wife Giulia. The song also appeared on the 1968 soundtrack album released for the film.
"Mah Nà Mah Nà" was a hit in many countries in 1968–1969. In the U.S., it peaked at #55 in the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and #44 on the Cash Box magazine chart in October 1969. The UK single release, on the Major Minor label, was credited to "The Great Unknowns", and featured Giorgio Moroder's "Doo-be-doo-be-do" on the B side (also sometimes featured in The Benny Hill Show). Umiliani's own version reached number 8 in the UK in 1977. During its 1–15 September 1969 run on the WLS 890 Hit Parade, the surveys erroneously credited the record to someone named Pete Howard. WPTR did much the same, except that the erroneous credit went to someone named J.W. Wagner.
The song's lyrics contain no actual words, only iambic nonsense syllables resembling scat singing, and uses the musical technique of interpolation where melodies are abruptly cut off and replaced with new ones.
In 1969, Henri Salvador recorded a variation titled "Mais non, mais non" ("But No, But No" or "Of Course Not, Of Course Not"), with lyrics he had written in French to Umiliani's tune.
In 1969, the Dave Pell Singers recorded a version for Liberty Records which got considerable radio exposure.
During its 1969-70 season, The Red Skelton Show used the Umiliani recording as background music for a recurring blackout sketch. The otherwise silent bits featured Red and another performer, dressed as moon creatures, playing with equipment left behind by the Project Apollo astronauts.
The song is the title track of a 1970 LP on GRT Records (Cat No.: GRT 20003), released after the initial success of Sesame Street; it is purportedly sung by a fuzzy Muppet lookalike, who is pictured on the sleeve. Other songs on the album, including "Peg O' My Heart", "Zip A Dee Doo Dah", "Mississippi Mud", and "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town", are sung with the syllables "mah na mah na" filling in for the actual words of the song. Many tracks also feature kazoo accompaniment.
In 1973, a rendition of "Mah Nà Mah Nà" on the Moog synthesizer was released on the album More Hot Butter (Musicor MS 3254) by Hot Butter, best known for the pop tune "Popcorn". It was re-released on CD in 2000.
The British pop group Vanilla also used the song as a basis for their first single "No Way, No Way" in 1997. It has been featured on several compilations including Now That's What I Call Music!'s thirty-ninth issue and Dancemania's eighth issue both released in 1998.
The musical group Cake recorded a horn-driven version of this song featuring many different sounds. This version was recorded as a children's song and appears on an album called For the Kids, released in 2002, and on their compilation album, B-Sides and Rarities, released in 2007.
In 2011, alternative rock band The Fray released a cover of the song on Muppets: The Green Album, though a remaster of the original version from the The Muppet Show performance appears on the soundtrack from the 2011 film The Muppets.
The Mexican department store chain Sanborns used a version of this song for their animated commercials featuring the "Tecolotes" (Owl) family mascots.
Versions by the Muppets
Aside from its notoriety as the primary silent comedy sketch scene music for The Benny Hill Show, "Mahna Mahna" became familiar to many from its renditions by the Muppets on television. In 1969, the first season of Sesame Street featured a sketch featuring two Muppet girls voiced by Frank Oz and Loretta Long who are unsure of what to do, until they decide to sing a song, enter an unusual-looking short, shaggy-haired male Muppet character who begins singing "Mahna Mahna", prompting the girls to join him. None of the characters had names at the time, but the male Muppet who led the "Mahna Mahna" call-and-response was eventually given the name Bip Bippadotta, so as to differentiate him from the official Mahna Mahna character that would be developed later on. The Muppet character called Mahna Mahna was originally performed by Muppets creator Jim Henson, and is now currently performed by Muppeteer veteran Bill Barretta.
On 30 November 1969, "Mahna Mahna" was performed on the The Ed Sullivan Show by three new and more fully detailed Muppet characters. The male Muppet character was now purple with wild, orange hair and a furry, green tunic, while the female Muppet characters were two identical pink alien creatures with horns and cone-like mouths (with yellow lips) that always remained open. At this point the male Muppet was given the name Mahna Mahna and the female alien creatures were referred to as The Snowths (as a portmanteau of "snout" and "mouth" since their mouth also served as their noses), both performed by Muppeteer veteran Frank Oz. The song "Mahna Mahna" was played at a slower tempo and given a more playful, quintessential "children's"-style arrangement as opposed to the previous arrangement which was slightly reminiscent of the early 1960s Calypso.
In 1976, on the first episode of The Muppet Show to be recorded (featuring Juliet Prowse), the 1969 "Mahna Mahna" routine from The Ed Sullivan Show was reworked and used as the first sketch with the same characters and a new recording of the last musical arrangement. The Muppet Show became an immediate hit and "Mahna Mahna" was the highlight of that episode. During the sketch, Mahna Mahna managed to dance his way backstage and out of the Muppet Theater, phoning the Snowths after exiting. At the end of the episode, he managed to enter Waldorf and Statler's box.
As a result, the original Piero Umiliani recording finally became a hit in the UK (#8 in the UK charts in May 1977), where the Muppet Show soundtrack album featuring the Muppets' version went to number one. It was at that point that the name "Mahna Mahna and The Snouths" was given the incorrect credit of "Mahna Mahna and The Snowths," which has served as the definitive spelling ever since then.
Meanwhile, later on in that same episode, a snippet of the song "Lullaby of Birdland" is 'hummed' during one of the improvisational passages, as part of a running gag involving "Mahna Mahna".
The later Muppet TV series Muppets Tonight (1996–1998) revisited it in a sketch with Sandra Bullock where Kermit the Frog visits a doctor to complain about weird things that happen to him whenever he says the word phenomena, namely the Snouths suddenly appear with musical accompaniment to sing their part of the song.
Commercially licensed versions
The Muppets filmed a new version of the song in 2005, for a New Zealand charity called CanTeen. In the ad, an updated version of the Mahna Mahna puppet was puppeteered and voiced by Bill Barretta, and the lyrics were changed to "Bandanana", supporting CanTeen's "Bandana Week".
It was featured in the 2005 pilot of the sitcom Committed where Marni attempted to get her date to sing a duet with her in a restaurant, and continued to appear in the background in later episodes as her ringtone.
In the 2011 episode "The Firefly" of Fringe, the song was playing on a record player in Walter Bishop's home while he was creating a formula to restore the missing pieces of his brain —– pieces which were surgically removed years before in an agreement with William Bell.
At the BBC's Children in Need 2011 telethon, Kermit and Miss Piggy introduced a performance of the song, which featured many stars of British television, including Harry Hill, Noel Edmonds and Gary Lineker.
- McLennan, Peter. "Who Is Piero Umiliani?". Archived from the original on 2009-07-28. Retrieved 2008-10-16.
- "Major Minor Label Discography". Retrieved 2012-08-24.
- "WLS 890 Hit Parade". 15 September 1969. Retrieved 2011-12-24.
- "WPTR The Super Sound Survey Top Forty". 28 September 1969. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
- Giorgio: Mah-Ná-Mah-Ná at Discogs (list of releases)
- Discogs, Vanilla (2)
- Ed Sullivan: Muppets Magic From the Ed Sullivan. "Ed Sullivan: Muppets Magic From the Ed Sullivan: Ed Sullivan: Muppets Magic: Movies & TV". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2012-07-17.
- "Number 1 albums of the 1970s". everyHit.com. Retrieved 2008-10-16.
- "The Muppets: Bohemian Rhapsody". YouTube. 2009-11-23. Retrieved 2012-07-17.
- Mcintyre, Gina (16 January 2011). "2011 Movie Preview: The Muppets". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
- Mah Nà Mah Nà at Discogs (list of releases)
- Piero Umiliani at the Internet Movie Database
- Svezia, inferno e paradiso at the Internet Movie Database
- Mah nà Mah nà (song) on Piero Umiliani Official Website
- "Mahna Mahna": How a ditty from a soft-core Italian movie became the Muppets' catchiest tune. by Sam Adams, Slate Magazine, Nov. 23, 2011