Friday, June 26, 2009

ROCK Sex: "Mah Na Mah Na" - Piero Umiliani > The Muppets

ROCK Sex brings you another tryst in pop culture.

Did the famous Muppets song "Mah Na Mah Na" actually come from a porno movie? Let's find out...


In the pantheon of great Italian soundtrack composers of the '60s, Piero Umiliani was the hepcat who threw lots of Jazz and Soul and Electronics into his groovy scores.

In 1968 he did the music for SWEDEN, HEAVEN OR HELL ("Svezia, Inferno e Paradiso"). This was a tabloid-style documentary in the popular 'Mondo' genre, which titillated audiences with scandalous subjects using a journalistic lens and distinctly moralistic narration. The film toured the sexier sides of Sweden like wife-swapping, lesbian clubs, and adult films. These shockumentaries were built on 'sleaze and tease' while wearing the mantle of removed disapproval, a schizoid hypocrisy that sold tickets while evading legal censure. (Insert joke about the media or politics here.)

The memorable vocal for "Mah Na Mah Na" was sung by Alessandro Alessandroni and his wife Giulia. 'Sandro' is famous as the whistler and surf guitarist for Italian Westerns, like THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. He also led the choral group that sings all the manic chants in those films, and composed many great scores of his own.

When Sandro goes off on scat tangents, he's actually doing other melodic themes from the film score. He also "interpolates melodies from "Swedish Rhapsody"(Midsummer Vigil) by Hugo Alfvén, "Santa Lucia", "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", the jazz standard "Lullaby of Birdland" (Charlie Parker), and others." [quote: Wikipedia]

PIERO UMILIANI -"Mah Na Mah Na" (the original) (1968)

Piero also made less-famous variations of the theme...

PIERO UMILIANI -"Samba Mah Na" (1968)

PIERO UMILIANI -"Mah Na Cowboy" (1971)


Jim Henson must've discovered it pretty soon afterward because he did a Muppet skit on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1969 using the song. It popped up again on "Sesame Street" in 1969, and "The Muppet Show" in 1976. It became a Top 10 single in England in 1977 after they recorded it.

THE MUPPETS -"Mah Na Mah Na" (1976)

Here's a Disco cover, with a nice break beat at 1:33...

LIPSTIQUE -"Mah Na Mah Na" (1978)

Lately it has been covered by the group Cake for a cable kids show in this rollicking version:

CAKE -"Mah Na Mah Na"

So when you tell this story, and you will, be kind: "Mah Na Mah Na" doesn't come from a porno movie, just a shockumentary. Then point people to that ultrahip Piero Umiliani...

© Tym Stevens

See Also:
-The Real History of Rock and Soul!: A Music Player Checklist

-How SPAGHETTI WESTERNS Revolutionized Rock Music! , with 3 Music Players

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