Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Mahna Mahna

First appeared in the movie Svezia, inferno e paradiso [Sweden: Heaven and Hell] (1968).
Hit version (as “Mah Nà Mah Nà”) credited to “‘Sweden Heaven and Hell’ Soundtrack” (US #55/MOR #12/CAN #22 1969 |UK #8 1977).
Most popular version version performed by The Muppets (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 for the movie by four session musicians from the RAI (Radiotelevisione italiana) 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 and was released as a promotional single in 1969, credited to “‘Sweden Heaven and Hell’ Soundtrack”.

“In the U.S. “Mah Nà Mah Nà” first gained popularity from its use in the recurring cold open blackout sketch for the 1969–1970 season of The Red Skelton Show first airing in October 1969. A month later, Jim Henson’s ‘Muppet’s performed the song in the sketch first aired on Sesame Street on Nov. 27, 1969 – the ‘singers’ being 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. But when the Muppets performed the song on The Ed Sullivan Show on Nov. 30, 1969, it became an instant classic.

“… Hugely popular on its own, the song 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.

Alessandro Alessandroni and Marc 4, “Mah Nà Mah Nà” promotional single release (1968):

The Muppets, “Mahna Mahna” first performance on Sesame Street (1969):

The Mupplets, “Mahna Mahna” as performed on The Ed Sullivan Show (1969):

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