In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
See now: This is the type of shit that makes me wonder what I was thinking when I took this whole fucking column on in the first place. For one week in 1960, enough people decided that they wanted to own copies of this glaringly obnoxious fart of a song that it hit #1, and every one of those people is partly responsible for ruining my 2018 morning.
Like a lot of the songs that end up in this column, “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” is a novelty song. As such, it’s happy to be annoying; with novelty songs, the annoyance factor is, in a perverse sort of way, part of the appeal. It’s a song about the garment in question and about the girl wearing it, who’s embarrassed to be seen out in public. She hides in a locker room, she wraps herself up in her towel, and, finally, she won’t leave the water because she doesn’t want people to see her. She stays in the water so long, in fact that, “the poor little girl’s turning blue.” (So does she die? The song isn’t clear.)
Of course, the song isn’t really about its own story. It’s about that hook, one of the most euphorically, galactically repellant ever to reach #1. The “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” chorus isn’t a horny cat-call, exactly, but it’s not sympathetic to the girl in the song, either. It’s just a big neener-neener playground taunt, something that’s galling for the sake of being galling. It’s the kind of chorus that rattles around inside your skull all day, that makes you hate yourself for living. That chorus is final proof that this was a song for assholes.
Brian Hyland was a 16-year-old former choirboy from Queens, and amazingly enough, he didn’t torpedo his own career by unleashing this on the public. He never hit #1 again, but he did have success, getting to #3 with 1962’s “Sealed With A Kiss,” a genuinely very good song. There’s still a special place in hell reserved for him.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s Devo’s cover of “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” from the soundtrack of 1987’s Revenge Of The Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise: