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 internationally for its use by The Muppets and on The Benny Hill Show.
Sesame Street producer Joan Ganz Cooney heard the track on the radio and decided both it and a shaggy puppeteer named Jim Henson would be perfect additions to the show. First performed by Jim Henson (Kermit et al.), Frank Oz (Fozzie Bear et al.) and Loretta Long (Susan) on the fourteenth episode of the long running children's show broadcast on November 27, 1969, the song entered the public consciousness of the latter half of Baby Boomer children. The following Sunday when Henson and His Muppets performed the song on the Ed Sullivan Show it became an instant classic. Seven years later the song would also be part of the premiere episode of The Muppet Show in 1976.
Starting in 1971, The Benny Hill Show -- in its second incarnation now at Thames Television where it launched in 1969 in color -- implemented "Mah Nà Mah Nà" as part of a comic background music medley that would run during their often filmed slapstick sketches. The medley became a Benny Hill Show tradition for the rest of its run.
"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. It also reached #12 on the U.S. Adult Contemporary chart. In Canada the song reached #22 in the RPM Magazine charts. 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. It was orginally taken from the French musical, "Me Noi Me Noi" (not me not me).
|Canada RPM Top Singles||22|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100 ||55|
|U.S. Billboard Adult Contemporary||12|
|U.S. Cash Box Top 100||44|
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.
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 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 Ed Sullivan Show by three new and more fully detailed Muppet characters. The male Muppet character was 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 called 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 move 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 with the signature Yakety Sax instrumental on the end of each show, the implementation of "Mah Na Mah Na" on Benny Hill was used to great effect to reflect the comedy action of particular sketches -- notably the ones providing the backdrop of the story of the moment, most often sped up and (mostly) with no audible dialogue.
On the new Thames incarnation of The Benny Hill Show, "Mah Na Mah Na" was part of an organized, horn-driven, four-song instrumental comic medley, starting off with a percussion tapping beat of the track leading into a rendition of "Doo-Bee-Doo-Bee-Doo", a very early track written by famed record producer Giorgio Moroder, which in itself was loosely based on and, as a result, bears a tightly similar rhythm and style to "Mah Na Mah Na". The four-song medley then continues with a rendition of "Fur Elise" (which is always heard with the accompaniment of a flute and a muted trumpet), then "Mah Na Mah Na", finally finishing with "Gimme Dat Ding", then looping back to the start of the progression.
This medley was first used on Thames Episode 10, which was first screened on British television on November the 24th, 1971. The original recordings of the instrumental medley often featured vocals by Benny Hill's backing chorus, The Ladybirds. However, as there were numerous recordings and renditions of the "Benny Hill Medley" throughout the entire Thames run, some versions featured other female vocalists (after The Ladybirds departed the show) while the rest of them were otherwise completely instrumental.
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.
In 2007, it was used for a Saturn Aura commercial.
In 2017, it served as the soundtrack for a Ford Explorer commercial, "For What Matters Most," in which a father and daughter make repeated trips to a hardware store while building a "Pinewood derby" car.
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