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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From restaurants to malls to home stereos, familiar holiday tunes are playing on repeat, at least for a few more days.

NPR's Stephen Thompson has this personal take on one seasonal staple. It has entertained and aggravated listeners for more than 50 years.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Their voices are woven into the fabric of the holiday season.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONGS, "WHITE CHRISTMAS," "THE CHRISTMAS SONG," AND "ROCKING AROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE")

BING CROSBY: (Singing) I'm dreaming...

NAT KING COLE: (Singing) Chestnuts roasting on fire...

BRENDA LEE: (Singing) Rocking around the Christmas tree at the Christmas party hop...

THOMPSON: Even before Thanksgiving, Bing, Nat and Brenda were reborn like Frosty the Snowman himself. Like eggnog and advent calendars, their Christmas tunes pop up everywhere for a month and then disappear, only to be repackaged and resold 11 months later.

For millions of people, they signify the season, but for me - for my memories of childhood in the late 1970s - they can't touch one of the most persistently reissued holiday albums of all time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE CHIPMUNK SONG (CHRISTMAS DON'T BE LATE)")

THE CHIPMUNKS: (Singing) Christmas, Christmastime is near. Time for toys and time for cheer.

THOMPSON: "Christmas with the Chipmunks" has sold millions of copies in the last half century, and it gets reissued in some form or another every year, usually with bonus tracks and new songs to add to the din of the season for generations of beleaguered parents.

The Chipmunks were created by Ross Bagdasarian, Sr., who voiced all of the characters, speeding up the tape to embody the three chipmunks. He died in 1972, and now, his son, Ross Jr., presides over the Chipmunk empire.

ROSS BAGDASARIAN JR.: I remember as a kid, growing up, when my dad first played "The Chipmunk Song" for us in 1958. I was 9 years old, and he brought us in: Hey, guys, what do you think?

THOMPSON: He loved it then, but it takes more than high-pitched voices to make these characters endure for 54 years. It sounds silly to say it now, but when you're 7, 8, 9 years old, Alvin and the Chipmunks actually feel rebellious.

JR.: Because here was the little guy, driving the big adult nuts. And what kid didn't want to yell in support for that? So I was a huge fan of Alvin's, and I think kids continued to be over the years.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE CHIPMUNK SONG (CHRISTMAS DON'T BE LATE)")

CHIPMUNKS: (Singing) We can hardly stand the wait. Please, Christmas, don't be late.

THOMPSON: The Chipmunk universe extends well beyond that one endlessly-rehashed holiday favorite. They've starred in three top-grossing motion pictures, several TV series and specials, as well as other albums, like "Chipmunk Punk" in 1980 and a million-selling country album from 1992 called "Chipmunks in Low Places."

Ross Bagdasarian Jr. created those projects with his wife, Janice Karman, and they've been doing this for 40 years - to the point where you've got to wonder, does he get tired of all the squeaky voices the way my parents did?

JR.: There are definitely times - I'd be lying to you if I didn't say, no, every day of the year, for 40 years, I have jumped out of bed going, let me hear more from Alvin. You know, so there are obviously those days when it's like, oh, please, don't let him sing again for just five seconds.

THOMPSON: Now that the Chipmunks have fallen into the hands of my own children, I know what he means. My kids don't listen to those piercing voices nearly as often as I did, so it's actually a pleasure to have them back, just as it'll be a pleasure to pack them away for another 11 months. For NPR News, I'm Stephen Thompson.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE CHIPMUNK SONG (CHRISTMAS DON'T BE LATE)")

CHIPMUNKS: (Singing) Christmas, Christmastime is near. Time for toys and time for cheer. We've been good, but we can't last. Hurry Christmas, hurry fast.

SIEGEL: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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