Although I was born in 1972, and this song came out in 1960, I remember the AM station (CKOC 1150 in Hamilton, ON) that was usually on from a stereo that now seems the size of a small coffin in our household seemed to play this song a lot during the summer, or maybe it was just a clip of a bumper to set up a regular contest, I don’t completely remember. I do recall, that even at my young age that I was aware that:
A: The song seemed very old.
B: That it must have been a very big hit at one point.
Both assumptions were correct and we have yet another novelty song that would hit number one, and like so many of them, it was based on cashing in on a trend, but for years I had another assumption, that turned out to be completely wrong in that whoever sang it couldn’t have done much else, but doesn’t “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” would be a “one and done”?
The man whose voice is behind the song, Brian Hyland, was only sixteen when it was released and had already been on the label, Kapp records for nearly a year and was paired with the Brill Building songwriting duo of Lee Pockrick and Paul Vance who already helped Hyland score a minor hit, “Four Little Heels” (which went to 73). With Hyland’s voice brimming with innocence, he could sing a song that implied significant flesh without it being even remotely vulgar, though the fact the girl in question did not really want anyone to see her in it (“She was afraid to come out of the water” after all) certainly helped to eliminate any sense that the girl was promiscuous.
Here is what you have to remember about the bikini before 1960; most girls were not wearing them at the beach yet and most opted for modesty because that is how most girls were taught to be. The song helped generate a sales boom in the two piece swimsuit, and if more teenage girls were wearing bikinis that would lead to television shows and movies set on the beach to show said skin…hence the Beach Party film series that gave Frankie Avalon a second career.
So could it be argued that Hyland’s singing of bikinis and the inadvertent flesh peddling helped lead to sexual freedom that began in the mid-60’s? That’s probably stretching it a little too far, but it did help rile up a lot of libidos.
“Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” was undoubtedly a cheesy song, and one that a lot of people mock today (and probably back then too) but songs found in the dairy aisle can make it to the top, though Hyland never would again, though certainly was not the one hit wonder that most people thought he was.
Hyland would continue to have hits throughout the 1960’s, the first half of which were in the bubblegum vein peaking in ’62 with the number three hit, “Sealed With A Kiss” and developed a style that would find appeal with tweens. The second half of the 60’s, he shifted away from the saccharin and towards a more country style but still managed a few more minor hits in the decade, the largest of which was “The Joker Went Wild” (#20 in 1966) and had a surprise #3 in 1970 with Gypsy Woman, a song written by the great Curtis Mayfield, though realistically all of his other twenty-one songs that reached the Hot 100 combined did not approach the notoriety from “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”.
Other Notable Songs that charted but did not go to number one in this time period: August 8, 1960 – August 14, 1960.
 I am realizing that CKOC will be the silent bystander to a lot of these stories.