In the 1960s, Brian Hyland became a big sensation at the tender age of 16 with a novelty hit that most people have heard even if they were born in much later decades. It is now 50 years since “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” hit the charts and became a number one hit in the summer of 1960.
According to Brian: “Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss had shown this song to a lot of singers but no one wanted to do it. Kapp (his 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.” That’s a pretty modest statement when you consider that at 16, Brian’s record was beating out Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now or Never,” Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely,” and even another very popular novelty song “Alley Oop” by the Hollywood Argyles.
If there is a problem with starting out your career with a No. 1 record, there’s nowhere to really go except down, especially when the record is a novelty song. Brian did get pegged as a novelty song singer for a little while. Contrary to what many sites say, Brian wasn’t a part of the “bubblegum” music sound. That didn’t come until much later in the 60s, but the songwriting team of Gary Geld and Peter Udell took Brian in the teen idol direction. One love song, “Ginny Come Lately” went to No. 21 in the USA and No. 5 in the UK, but 1962’s “Sealed with a Kiss” (1962) really cemented Brian’s teen idol success as the romantic voice of summer.
Billboard wrote” “Brian Hyland is as hot as an artist can be right now,” as the song raced up the charts to No. 3 and girls rushed out to buy 45’s and swoon over Brian’s photos in teen fan mags.
Brian toured the country with Dick Clark’s “Caravan of Stars,” forming friendships with many stars, such as Bobby Vee, which have lasted to this day. He appeared on and hosted “American Bandstand” and many other popular TV shows, like “Hullabaloo” and “Shindig.” On a 1963 tour of England with Little Eva (“The Locomotion”), Brian got a preview of the Beatlemania that would soon hit the States and became an early Beatles fan.
Still on the road in 1963, on November 22, 1963, Brian was in Dallas, TX for a performance (which ended up being canceled) when he saw President Kennedy’s motorcade drive by moments before the President was shot. Brian tells Gary James on Classic Bands.com: “I was on the sidewalk on the side Mrs. Kennedy was on, a few blocks from the Sheraton Hotel. We … saw Mrs. Kennedy in pink. I just caught a glimpse of President Kennedy’s hair real fast as they went by. We heard about the shots a few minutes later on a TV in a men’s store….”
When the Fab Four from Liverpool and a steady stream of British groups took over the charts, hearts and pocketbooks of thousands of screaming teen-aged girls, unlike many of his 60s counterparts, Brian Hyland did not quit the music scene.
He rode the wave of change, incorporating elements of country and other styles into his repertoire. His early country rock singles included “Warmed Over Kisses (Left Over Love)” and “I May Not Live To See Tomorrow” in 1962, and “I’m Afraid To Go Home,” a song about a soldier returning home from the Civil War, in 1963. John Fogerty told Brian the songs were “ahead of their time.”
Even in the midst of the British Invasion, Brian’s song “The Joker Went Wild” (1966) performed most respectably.
In 1970, Brian collaborated with rock legend, Del Shannon (“Runaway”), with Del producing Brian’s cover of “Gypsy Woman,” which went to number 3, giving Brian his third gold record. A beautiful and sensual song, “Gypsy Woman” was written by prolific singer/songwriter, Curtis Mayfield, and was a hit for his group, The Impressions in 1962, the same year Brian hit it big with “Sealed With a Kiss.” In 1973, “Sealed With a Kiss” was re-released in Great Britain and went straight to the top ten.
Throughout the following decades, Brian sang all over the world. Brian and his wife, Rosmari (his longtime songwriting partner) worked with legendary musicians like Allen Toussaint in New Orleans, and members of The Band in Malibu, recording and releasing original material. In the 1980s, “Ginny Come Lately” became part of the soundtrack album, “Lemon Popsicle 5,” from the British movie “Baby Love.” Many of Brian’s hits were released in collections on CD, as well an an LP of his German language recordings on Bear Family Records in Germany. An 18 track CD called “Brian Hyland, Greatest Hits” was released in 1994, which including his hits from all five labels. Brian performed on TV shows around the world, and toured in revues with his son, Bodi, on drums.
Today, Brian Hyland is still on the road, reunited with good friends, Bobby Vee, Fabian. Chris Montez and The Chiffons in the “Original Stars of Bandstand” revue, performing throughout Canada and the United States. The Original Stars of Bandstand perform 50 top 40 hits, which includes 21 Gold Records, to the delight of audiences of all ages.
Official Brian Hyland Website
Classic Bands.com: Brian Hyland interview
Utopia Artists: Original Stars of Bandstand
Songfacts: Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini