Actually that’s the original spelling.
The currently-accepted spelling is (of course) Mahna Mahna.
The Muppets’ version had just been on the radio, and there was talk around the original version – which I remember because Dad liked it.
All of which prompted what turned out to be a very absorbing hour spent on google, youtube, and wikipedia, researching the song’s origins. Special praise – as usual – goes to wikipedia, which – yet again – demonstrated its astonishing range of content.
The song was written by Piero Umiliani in 1968.
The original was sung by Alessandro Alessandroni.
Alessandro Alessandroni is an accomplished whistler. It is he who whistles on Ennio Morricone spaghetti western soundtracks, and who twangs his guitar on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
The song was written for the 1968 Italian film ‘Svezia, inferno e paradiso’ (Sweden: Heaven and Hell). There’s much that could be said about the film’s merits and demerits, but wikipedia describes it as (new word here) a Mondo film.
A Mondo film is an exploitation documentary, or pseudo-documentary, that depicts sensational topics and situations, with an emphasis on taboo subjects such as death and sex, portrayals of foreign cultures , and staged sequences.
An early cover version was released by Giorgio Moroder in 1968.
In 1969 the first season of ‘Sesame Street’ included the song, performed by (as yet un-named) Muppets. So the Muppet link goes back much further than I’d thought. And it was reworked into the first ‘Muppet Show’ in 1976, leading to the original version becoming a UK hit in 1977.
The song has been used in a variety of ways over the years, but notably in an an episode of ‘The Office’ in 2002.
- Audio of the original song – to a still picture of Piero Umiliani.
- One-minute clip from the ‘inferno e paradiso‘ film.
- Wikipedia article about the song.
- Related wikipedia piece on alternative spellings !
- November 2011 article about the song’s origins (with embedded youtube links).
- Piece about the song on Umiliani’s website (with embedded youtube links).
The coolest point to emerge for me is the fact that the singer on the original, and the spaghetti western whistler, are one and the same.