The ‘50s and early ‘60s were an era of novelty records. There were songs about itsy-bitsy bikinis, purple people eaters, witch doctors and dragon-nets. And there was one about Yogi Bear. Well, kind of.
From out of nowhere in 1960, three frat brothers at Adelphi University on Long Island formed a group called the Ivy Three and banged on the door of Shell Records, a little company owned by a New Jersey dentist. Shell seems to have existed to sell its masters to more well-off record companies. Ivy member Charles Koppelman (aka Charlie Cane) co-wrote a song called “Yogi.” It was recorded by Georgie Young and the Rockin’ Bocs on the Swan label, but the Ivy Three’s version hopped on the charts at Number 80 on August 8th and peaked at Number 8 eight weeks later before the inevitable burnout (the Polka Dot Bikini, “Brontosaurus Stomp” and “Alvin For President” were on the charts at the same time). London Records bought the song and released it overseas.
The Ivy Three cut one more 45 before calling it a career; Shell seems to have died in 1961, too. But before then, the Alpha Kappa frat boys took their “Yogi” song to the Dick Clark show where the three singers gave a cheesy miming demonstration while a guy in a bear suit cavorted around them.
And that brings us to the “kind of” part. Other than the quasi-Daws Butler impersonation (which sounds more like Art Carney’s Ed Norton) in the chorus and the arbitrary shout of “Hey, Boo Boo!” the song has absolutely nothing to do with Yogi Bear or any cartoon characters. The lyrics involve a yogi, as in the transcendental meditation kind. You can read the lyrics here. And below, you can watch that 53-year-old performance on Dick Clark’s show. No doubt tossing in the impression was a great way to trade on the popularity of Jellystone Park’s best-known denizen. And the charts show that people liked it for a few weeks.
Koppelman went on to an interesting career in the music industry. You can read about it in the May 18, 1992 edition of The New Yorker.
Click on the arrow to play a clip of the Georgie Young version. Actually, you get about half of the song. Billboard of August 1, 1960 reveals the vocalist is Bobby McGraw, though the label artist is Georgie Young.
If you prefer the original Yogi Bear song we all know and love, here’s Hoyt Curtin’s jolly closing theme from the half-hour cartoon show, which didn’t exist at the time the Ivy Three had their less-than-monster hit, with the Randy Van Horne Singers and Greg Watson’s (?) sound effects. Note how Curtin works in a snippet of the Kellogg’s jingle in the first two bars.