33) Brian Hyland – “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”

Here’s a riddle: how did a song by an unknown teenage singer hit #1 on the Hot 100 when it has almost every element guaranteed to irritate listeners?  Insipid lyrics, shrill female co-singer, obnoxious backing vocals, corny rock-lite arrangement – all it’s missing are a children’s choir and a rapping opera singer.  My guess? The phrase “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” is really fun to sing.  The countdowns – “2, 3, 4 – tell the people what she wore!” – invite listeners to chant along and give them something to look forward to.  “Bikini” is also packed with so many hooks that it’s impossible to rend it from your mind, even when your mind is begging for blissful escape.  It’s one of the few songs where almost everyone, even small children and people who aren’t into pop music, knows the chorus, partly because the song itself is so memorable and partly because it’s been used in so many commercials, movies and sing-alongs.  (The first time I remember hearing it was at Vacation Bible School when I was about four years old, although it’s possible I knew it even before then.)

Even though it was singer Brian Hyland’s biggest hit and only Hot 100 #1, it’s suprisingly difficult to find a decent version of it on YouTube.  Even the video posted above is a later re-recording.  Hyland’s later (albeit smaller) hits, such as “Sealed with a Kiss” and “Ginny Come Lately,” are much easier to come by.  My theory is that most of the people still listening to “Bikini” don’t know or care that Brian Hyland was the singer, and that fans of Brian Hyland prefer to listen to listen to his legitimate singles over “that” novelty song.  (Stats on last.fm confirm that “Sealed With a Kiss” is listened to more than three times as much as “Bikini.”)  Nearly 50 years on, the joke behind “Bikini” has worn thin.  Still, despite its irritating elements, it’s hard to really hate the song – even if that’s just nostalgia talking. 3

Hit #1 on August 8, 1960; total of 1 week at #1
33 of 964 #1’s reviewed; 3.42% through the Hot 100

1 Comment

Filed under 03, 1960

One response to “33) Brian Hyland – “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”

  1. GeorgeL

    Uh, I have to say it is very easy to hate this song. Brian Hyland actually went on to do some better records like great sunshine pop masterpiece “Joker Went Wild”. Later with the help of his buddy, Del Shannon, he recorded some cool remakes of “Gypsy Woman” & “Lonely Teardrops” in the early 70s.

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