The 1960 two-minute and 19-second song novelty song, Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini is the ultimate in bubblegum pop. It was first performed by then 16-year-old high school sophomore, Brian Hyland. Released in June 1960, the song was written by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss. Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini went to Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 on August 8, and sold two million copies in the USA, and it was a worldwide hit. The song was adapted into French as Itsy Bitsy Petit Bikini and into German as Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Honolulu-Strand-Bikini, reaching Number One on the European charts in both languages.
Bikinis were still too risqué to be mainstream in 1960, wearing one was considered by many to be obscene. The song prompted a sudden explosion in bikini sales, making it one of the earliest contributors to the acceptance of the bikini in society. The early 1960s brought a slew of surf movies and other film and television productions that built on the song’s momentum.
Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini is about a bashful girl who is wearing a bikini at the beach for the very first tme. The story is told in three verses of the song:
1. The young lady is too afraid to leave the locker where she has changed into her bikini
2. She has made it to the beach but sits on the sand wrapped in a blanket
3. She has finally gone into the ocean, but is too afraid to come out, and stays immersed in the water to hide herself from view despite the fact that she’s “turning blue”.
“Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss had shown this song to a lot of singers but no one wanted to do it. My record label thought it was right for me and got really excited about it. It was a number one in America which meant that I could stop riding on the subway and buy some Martin guitars.”
The song was featured in the Billy Wilder film One, Two, Three (1961) in a key scene; the character Otto (Horst Buchholz), suspected of being a spy, is tortured by the East German police playing the song to him repetitively. The original recording was re-released in 1962 to capitalize on the film’s success, but it did not chart this time.
Hyland continued recording into the 1970s. His puppy-love pop virtually defined the sound and sensibility of bubblegum during the pre-Beatles era. Hyland’s other big hit during this period was Sealed With A Kiss, which reached Number Three in 1962 on both the American and UK Singles Charts. He went on to chart just two more Top 40 hits, both cover versions: Gypsy Woman, a 1961 hit for The Impressions written by Curtis Mayfield, and Lonely Teardrops, which was a hit for Jackie Wilson in 1959. Hyland recorded both in 1970.
Although his status as a teen idol faded away, he went on to release several country-influenced albums and had additional chart hits later in his career.
Watch Brian Hyland perform Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini: