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"|
|Released||4 September 1968|
|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 fourteenth episode of Sesame Street, the first episode of The Muppet Show, and part of the background music in many Benny Hill Show skits.
"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), an exploitation documentary film 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. One of the scatting melodies quoted is the first few bars of the "Swedish Rhapsody" by Hugo Alfvén. The Italian tune "Santa Lucia" is also quoted. In the movie soundtrack version, from which the record was edited, there is a quote of Army bugle call "Assembly", but this verse was omitted from the record which instead repeated the first three verses. The Muppets' version includes part of "Lullaby of Birdland" by George Shearing.
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.
In 1969, "Mah-Nà-Mah-Nà" was recorded in French by Midas (Roger Giguère).
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.
In 1984, Odessa comic and pantomime group Maski debuted on television with their short theatrical performance "Vocal duet" (Russian: Вокальный дуэт) for Vokrug smekha comedy TV program. A Pierrot characters (Aleksandr Postolenko) spelling "mana mana", while his Harlequin partner (Georgiy Deliev) singing motive of the rest of the song.
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.
A Canadian Dunkin' Donuts commercial used the song to promote its "Mini Donuts" line in the early 1990s.
In 1999, the Brazilian band Pato Fu used samples of "Mah Nà Mah Nà" in the song "Made In Japan" on the album "Isopor".
A sketch in the final episode of Jam in 2000 features a scene where two strangely dressed characters, one carrying a clarinet, sing the song where and when police are trying to find a dead body. When the police find the corpse and are still examining it, the two characters continue to sing the song at the corpse, whilst the clarinet carrier puts the clarinet into the corpse's mouth, who "plays" it out of key.
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.
A cover version of the song was made for the popular music/rhythm game Just Dance 2015.
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 distinguish 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 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 Statler and Waldorf'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. The single from the album 'Halfway down the stairs" reached the top Ten in the UK charts – and its B side was Mah Na Mah Na – making the song appear three times in the charts at the same time,albeit as a B side,the Piero Umiliani version and also a track on the album.
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.
The Benny Hill Show version
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In 1969, British comedian Benny Hill switched from BBC Television, to Thames Television. This also marked the major start of color television in the United Kingdom. As part of the new format by Benny Hill, many risque jokes and sketches were featured. As well as the signature Yakety Sax instrumental on the end of each show, the Mah Na Muh Na theme was used to great effect, during many of the sketches. In the Benny Hill version, the instrumental generally starts off with a percussion tapping beat of the track, leading into an instrumental version of Mah Na Mah Na. This is applied to great effect, reflecting the comedy action. The version on Benny Hill is actually a four-song medley. It begins actually with the track, Doo Bee Doo Bee Doo, which is a very early track written by famed record producer, Giorgo Moroder. The four song medley then continues with Fur Elise, then Mah Na Mah Na, then finishing with Gimme Dat Ding.
On the Benny Hill Show, this medley was first used from Episode 10, which was first screened on British television on November the 24th, 1971. Musical director for the Thames Benny Hill Show, was Ronnie Aldrich. This instrumental medley also features vocals by Benny Hills backing chorus, The Ladybirds. The Thames Television series of The Benny Hill show, originally ran from 1969 to 1989. It also began screening in the USA from very early 1979, using using specially edited half hour episodes. This was instead of the British 50 minute episodes.
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.
The Australian sunscreen company Banana Boat used a version of the song with lyrics as a jingle.
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- Giorgio: Mah-Ná-Mah-Ná at Discogs (list of releases)
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- "Kermit the Frog: Photos". TV Guide. Retrieved December 18, 2014.
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- "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.
- "Banana Boat Advert - Australian". YouTube. 2007-12-26. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
- Mah Nà Mah Nà at Discogs (list of releases)
- Piero Umiliani on Internet Movie Database
- Svezia, inferno e paradiso on 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