Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Mahna Mahna

First performed in the movie Svezia, inferno e paradiso [Sweden: Heaven and Hell] (1968).
Popular version performed by The Muppets (US #55/MOR #12/CAN #22 1969).

“Most people know Mahna Mahna as a Muppets sketch, but the song — titled Mah Nà Mah Nà — is actually by Italian composer Piero Umiliani. The Tuscan musician composed scores for exploitation films in the ’60s and ’70s, including spaghetti westerns and softcore sex films, but Mah Nà Mah Nà would be his most famous work.

“The song originally appeared in a racy Italian film called Svezia, inferno e paradiso (Sweden: Heaven and Hell), in a scene where a bunch of Swedish models crowd into a sauna wearing little more than bath towels.

“It was performed by four session musicians from the RAI orchestra under the name Marc 4, was sung by Italian singer and composer Alessandro Alessandroni along with his wife Giulia. The song also appeared on the 1968 soundtrack album for the film.

“In the original version of the sketch, which first aired on Sesame Street on Nov. 27, 1969, the singers are what Jim Henson called ‘Anything Muppets’ — that is, random puppets that weren’t assigned specific characters. They were voiced by Henson (best known as Kermit), Frank Oz (Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy) and Loretta Long.

“… While the tune became a signature song on The Muppets, it also appeared in other TV programs, including The Benny Hill Show and during a recurring blackout sketch on The Red Skelton Show. But when the Muppets performed the song on The Ed Sullivan Show on Nov. 30, 1969, it became an instant classic.

“… The song is hugely popular on its own, but it also references other popular songs. The original song includes snippets from ‘Swedish Rhapsody’ by Hugo Alfvén, and the Italian song ‘Santa Lucia’.

“Meanwhile the ‘scat’ portion of the Muppets version includes a melody from George Shearing’s ‘Lullaby of Birdland’, made famous by jazz legends including Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.”

Mahna Mahna at 50: fascinating facts about the unforgettable Muppets song, CBC, Nov. 27, 2019

The Muppets, “Mahna Mahna” from The Ed Sullivan Show (1969):

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