The History of 'Mahna Mahna': From a Swedish Sex Film Soundtrack to the Muppets and Beyond!
You couldn't help yourself, could you? It's alright. It's almost impossible to hear someone say (or in this case, read) the words "mahna mahna" and not follow it up with a "doo doo doo-doo-doo."
This childhood classic was recently re-imagined for the upcoming album Muppets: The Green Album (out August 24th), but the song existed long before the Muppets got get their tiny felt hands on it.
After the jump, learn more about the history of "Mahna Mahna"... doo doo doo-doo-doo.
While many of us are probably most familiar with the "Mahna Mahna" that debuted on the premiere episode of The Muppet Show in 1976, that version was actually just a cover of a tune that had been recorded eight years prior by Italian film score composer Piero Umiliani.
Originally titled "Mah Nà Mah Nà," the song appeared on the soundtrack of the Italian film Sweden: Heaven and Hell (Svezia, Inferno E Paradiso). The film is a pseudo-documentary (now known as "reality television") about the wild sex lives of folks living in Sweden; the track was used in a scene that takes place in a sauna.
That's right, "Mahna Mahna" has its roots in the same place we all have our roots: deep in naked debauchery. Awww, yeah.
The lead vocals were sung by Italian singer/composer Alessandro Alessandroni. Here's the original Umiliani version:
One year later, in the 1969 debut year of Sesame Street, Jim Henson tried the song out for the first time with a trio of Anything Muppet kids on the show's fourteenth episode. Jim sang lead vocals for the (bearded) male child character.
On November 30th of that same year, Henson tried the bit out again on The Ed Sullivan Show. Unlike the Sesame Street version with the kid Anything Muppets, the characters we all now associate with the song make their debut: Mahna Mahna (the beardy lead singer) and pink alien-like creatures known as the Snouths (a blend of "snout" and "mouth"), though they are sometimes mistakenly referred to as Snowths.
The Ed Sullivan Show
version sat for seven years before Henson decided to include an updated version in the premiere episode ofThe Muppet Show
in 1976. Henson continues to perform the lead character, Mahna Mahna.
Ironically, this version of the song became so popular that the original Umiliani recording rode on the popularity of the cover it inspired all the way to the No. 8 slot (UK charts) in May 1977.
Throughout the seventies and eighties, the song appeared on the British television comedy The Benny Hill Show; the show used the song as a backdrop for many of its silent sketch scenes, mostly as an alternative to James Q. "Spider" Rich's song "Yakety Sax." (Of course, if you're like me you assumed that song was titled, "The Benny Hill Theme Song.")
In May 1990, Jim Henson died. Boo! Hiss!
Luckily, by then, the song had taken on a life of its own. Bands would continue to pay homage to the song, either as full covers (like this 2002 version from Cake)...
...or as sample-heavy nods (like That Handsome Devil's song "Hey White Boy" from 2007).
And now we have another version! The Fray recently recorded a cover for the upcoming collection Muppets: The Green Album. The album features a dozen contemporary artists as they tackle versions of classic Muppet songs. (Also worth noting are Andrew Bird's cover of "It's Not Easy Bein' Green" and Sondre Lerche's "Mr. Bassman.")
YouTube doesn't have a video yet for The Fray's cover of "Mahna Mahna," but you can stream the song (thanks to the kind folks at NPR) here.
Who will cover it next? Lovefoxxx and CSS? Architecture in Helsinki? Or maybe Gwar!
Somehow, they all seem entirely appropriate.
Mahna mahna... got you again.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.