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 1968
Writer(s) Piero Umiliani

"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 the first episode of The Muppet Show, the 14th episode of Sesame Street[1] and also from its consistent use as the primary silent comedy sketch scene music for The Benny Hill Show.


Original version

"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.[2] 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 "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.

The song's lyrics contain no actual words, only nonsense (iambic) syllables resembling scat singing. The original version interpolates melodies from "Swedish Rhapsody" (Midsummer Vigil) by Hugo Alfvén, "Santa Lucia", "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", the jazz standard "Lullaby of Birdland", and others.

Other versions

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.

Giorgio Moroder released a version in 1968, as Giorgio.[3]

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.

Mah Nà Mah Nà (GRT 20003)

The song is the title track of a 1970 LP on GRT Records (GRT 20003), released after the initial success of Sesame Street; it is purportedly sung by a Muppet lookalike 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.

Disco group Lipstique released a disco version of the song in 1978. A thrash metal version was recorded by Skin in 1996.

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.[4]

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.

Surrounding Super Bowl XL in 2006, a version of the song was recorded for the Pittsburgh Steelers, replacing the title sylables with "Polamalu", the last name of the Steelers' star strong safety.

A version sung in Arabic was released by actor/singer Samir Ghanem using the words Anam, Anam (meaning Sleep, Sleep).[citation needed]

In 2011 alternative rock band The Fray released a cover of the song on the Muppets: The Green Album CD.

Versions by the Muppets

Aside from its notoriety from 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 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.[5][6] 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.

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[7] and the female alien creatures were referred to as The Snouths (as a portmanteau of "snout" and "mouth" since their mouth also served as their noses).[8] 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 late 1950s/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. 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.[9] 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, interestingly enough, 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.

In the Muppets version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" [10] at 00:02:25, Mahna Mahna and the Snowths make a cameo appearance, singing the titular lyric.

The song is performed in the 2011 Muppets film.[11]

Commercially licensed versions

It was regularly used as an alternative to "Yakety Sax" in the chase scenes in the Benny Hill shows of the 1970s and 1980s.

In the 1990s in the UK, a variation of "Mah Nà Mah Nà" was used as part of an advertising campaign for the BN Biscuit.[12]

In the early 2000s, Scottish based drink Irn Bru used the song with the words "phenomenal" to replace 'Mah Na Ma Nah'. As a result, the song became very popular in popular culture at that time.

Brazil's Pato Fu used the song's melody in the chorus of their 1999 hit "Made in Japan".

The sunscreen brand Banana Boat filmed a TV advertisement for the Australian market, using the song with new words. The words are sung by a boy toddler on the beach, dubbing "baby talk" on a mixture of animation and live action.[13]

In the first episode of the second series of the UK version of The Office, Gareth Keenan and David Brent sing the song at the beginning of the episode.

The song is played as background music in the German film Summer Storm (2004), and is listed in the ending credits.

The band That Handsome Devil samples the song heavily in their 2007 song "Hey White Boy".

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 performed by Bill Barretta, and the lyrics were changed to "Bandanana", supporting CanTeen's "Bandana Week".

A variation of the song was used in several of the Mama Luchetti's advertisements from Argentina.

Several ads for Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper appeared on television in 2005. In one, a young woman on a blind date at a restaurant who sips into the beverage, suddenly imagines her narcissistic date, restaurant patrons, and even a waitress all part of a fantasy musical sequence involving The Muppets version of the song "Mah Nà Mah Nà".[14]

In "The Firefly" episode 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.

In "This Is My House, This Is My Home," the season eight finale of One Tree Hill, Nathan Scott performs this song with his daughter, Lydia, as wife Haley James Scott watches.

In 2011, a group including the muppets performed the song for BBCs Children in Need.


External links

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