The strange history of "Mahna Mahna"

Image credit: 

Who doesn't love that great song "Mahna Mahna" from Sesame Street? As funny as it is earwormy, as adorable as it is cool, the song appeals to each generation anew and never gets tiring.
But guess what? Neither Sesame Street nor The Muppet Show can take credit for discovering the song. Penned by the Italian film composer Piero Umiliani (if you haven't heard of him, it's okay, "Mahna Mahna" is all he's really known for), "Mah Nà Mah Nà" as it was originally called in Italian, was first used in the 1968 pseudo-documentary Svezia, Inferno e Paradiso—a film composed of a series of short, soft-focus type segments about—strapped into your parachutes?—sexuality in Sweden! (Hence the paradise and hell, I guess.) Check out the (pg-13) clip below for the original scene underscored with the original Umiliani arrangement.

Sesame Street used it a year later in an episode that was premiered in 1969, then on the Ed Sullivan show later the same year, and again on The Muppet Show in 1977.

The original arrangement ("Mah Nà Mah Nà") was a huge hit in '68 and '69 and made it all the way to #55 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. It also hit the charts again across the pond in '77, making it all the way to #8 in the UK. In the original Italian version, the song makes about as much sense, lyrically, as it does in English, which is to say, nonsense. If you want to compare the above version to the Muppet version, or just want to feel nostalgic, here's the latter:

Check out past On Music posts here >>

More from mental_floss...

April 9, 2009 - 2:43am
submit to reddit