My Boy Lollipop

My Boy Lollipop

"My Boy Lollipop" (originally written as "My Boy Lollypop") is a song written in the mid-1950s by Robert Spencer of the doo-wop group The Cadillacs, and usually credited to Spencer, Morris Levy, and Johnny Roberts. It was first recorded in New York in 1956 by Barbie Gaye. A cover version, recorded eight years later by Jamaican teenager Millie Small, with very similar rhythm, became one of the top selling ska songs of all time.


The Barbie Gaye version

"My Boy Lollypop"
Single by Barbie Gaye
B-side "Say You Understand"
Released 1956
Genre Rhythm & Blues, ska
Length 2:18
Label Darl
Writer(s) Robert Spencer, Morris Levy, Johnny Roberts
Producer Leroy Kirkland, Barbie Gaye

Record company executive Morris Levy agreed to purchase the song from Spencer. Although not involved in writing the song, Levy and alleged gangster, Johnny Roberts listed themselves as the song's authors. In an effort to avoid sharing any royalties with Spencer, Levy removed Spencer from the original writing credits, later claiming that Robert Spencer was his pseudonym.[1] The song caught the attention of one of Levy's partners, alleged mobster and music mogul, Gaetano Vastola, aka "Corky." Vastola had recently discovered 14-year-old singer Barbie Gaye after hearing her sing on a street corner in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Vastola was so impressed that he immediately took her to meet legendary DJ Alan Freed. Gaye sang a few songs for them and Freed was equally impressed. Vastola became Barbie Gaye's manager and within days, he acquired the sheet music and lyrics for "My Girl Lollypop" from Levy and gave them to Gaye, with no specific instructions except to be ready to perform it by the following week. Barbie Gaye brought the music to her singing coach who played the song for her on piano a couple of times. Gaye changed the title to "My Boy Lollypop." She added and deleted lyrics (like, "uh oh lollipop" instead of "my boy lollipop" on a few instances), shortened and lengthened notes, repeated certain lyrics ("I love ya, I love ya, I love ya so") and added all the non-lyrical sounds, (utterances) such as the "whoas" and "hibbity-ops".[citation needed]

When it came time to record, Gaye cut school and took the subway to a recording studio in Midtown Manhattan. Gaye met the three members of the session band, guitarist, Leroy Kirkland, saxophonist, Al Sears and drummer, Panama Francis. The band leader, Kirkland, asked Gaye to sing the song for them. After listening to her, they changed parts of the original score to better match her vocal style. The generic rhythm & blues beat was replaced with a relatively new style becoming popularized by Jamaican musicians. The style was a mix of American jazz and R&B, with calypso and mento. The four artists went into the studio and recorded the song in one take. The combination of Barbie Gaye's energy and youthful vocals, the band's legendary talent, Kirkland's willingness to take a chance with such a new style, and the creative freedom they enjoyed to make all the changes they did, resulted in a song that would have great significance and would help to define the music genre known as ska.[2]

The song was released as a single by Darl Records in late 1956. It was heavily played by New York radio DJ Alan Freed, and listener requests made the song #25 on Alan Freed's Top 25 on WINS, New York in November, 1956.[3] The record sold in sufficient quantities locally to gain her a place in Freed's annual Christmas show at the New York Paramount in December 1956, when she opened for Little Richard. The singer and songwriter, Ellie Greenwich, then a teenager living on Long Island, was so taken by the record that she named herself Ellie Gaye when she embarked on her recording career.[4][5]

The Millie Small version

"My Boy Lollipop"
Single by Millie Small
from the album My Boy Lollipop
B-side "Something's Gotta Be Done"
Released 1964
Genre Pop, Ska
Length 2:01
Label Fontana, Island, Smash
Writer(s) Morris Levy, Johnny Roberts
Producer Chris Blackwell
Millie Small singles chronology
"Don't You Know"
"My Boy Lollipop"
"Sweet William"

Eight years later the song was "discovered" by Island Records founder, Chris Blackwell, who was trying to find songs for his young artist, Millie Small, to record. Millie's version was recorded in a similar ska/bluebeat-style, and in 1964 it became her breakthrough blockbuster hit in the United Kingdom, reaching #2. However they changed the spelling to read "lollipop" instead of "lollypop". The song also went to #1 in Republic of Ireland and #2 in the United States (on the Smash Record label). Considered the first commercially successful international ska songs, Small's version of "My Boy Lollipop" sold over six million records worldwide and helped to launch Island Records into mainstream popular music. It remains one of the best-selling reggae/ska hits of all time.[6]

The record's arrangement is credited to Ernest Ranglin, who also plays guitar on the recording. The saxophone solo from the original version was replaced by a harmonica solo that until recently was believed by many to be performed by the not-yet-famous Rod Stewart. That claim now [6] appears to be unfounded. Jimmy Powell (of Jimmy Powell and the Five Dimensions, and previously a member of The Rockin' Berries) asserts that it was he who played this solo. [7]

British reggae DJ David Rodigan has stated that watching Millie Small perform the song at the Ready Steady Go! TV show as a school boy initiated his lifelong passion for Jamaican music.[8]

Cover versions and other uses

  • Schlager singer Heidi Bachert recorded a cover version, under the same title but with German lyrics, which entered the West German Top 20 on August 15, 1964[9], remaining there for 17 weeks, with #5 as top position[10] The song was remade in 1974 by Maggie Mae reaching #17 on the German chart.
  • A French rendering entitled "C'est Toi Mon Idole" was recorded in 1964 by both French singer Agnès Loti and Québécois singer Renée Martel: the disc was Martel's first recording.
  • In 1964 a Finnish rendering of "My Boy Lollipop" was recorded by Marion Rung; Lea Laven would record this version in 1976.
  • Yugoslav new wave band VIA Talas released a cover version of the song in 1981, with lyrics in Serbian language entitled "Lilihip", on the Artistička radna akcija various artists compilation.
  • A cover version by Bad Manners, re-titled "My Girl Lollipop (My Boy Lollipop)", was a UK Top 10 hit in 1982.
  • Glam rock band Mud released their own cover in the 1980s[11]
  • An excerpt of the song was used as background music in a 50's style restaurant during the Miami Vice season one finale episode "Lombard".
  • UK singer Lulu released a version of the song on the Jive label in 1986 and reached #86 in the UK singles chart; not high enough to be considered a hit in the official top 75.[12]
  • Argentinean all-girls band Viuda e Hijas de Roque Enroll had a huge hit in 1986 with their Spanish version called simply "Lolipop".
  • Swedish dansband Lotta & Anders Engbergs Orkester covered the song with lyrics Swedish by Christer Lundh, as "På min sommaräng" ("On my summer meadow") with Lotta Engberg on lead vocals, on the 1989 album Genom vatten och eld.[13] This version also appears on the 2006 Lotta Engberg compilation Världens bästa Lotta.
  • In 1997, the song was featured in the Spice Girls' film Spice World, showing the girls and two young competition winners singing along with the Millie record version in a speeding boat on the River Thames.[14]
  • Steven Seagal covered the song on his 2005 Songs from the Crystal Cave album. The word "boy" has been exchanged for "girl" in the lyrics, and the song retitled to simply Lollipop.
  • A cover was done by Shivaree.
  • The King Blues covered the song and included it on the 2008 album Under the Fog as a hidden track.
  • The German band die Lollipops has produced a song entitled Hallo Lollipop, set to the same melody as the original, but with lyrics in German.
  • Rush Limbaugh used the song, with added sound effects, as the "Barney Frank Update Theme" since the early 1990s.
  • In May 2009, it was reported that Amy Winehouse had covered the song for Island Records' 50th Anniversary album.
  • Ska band The Selecter covered the song with different lyrics as "My Collie (Not A Dog)" on their 1980 album Too Much Pressure
  • Dionne Bromfield covered this song on her debut album Introducing Dionne Bromfield in 2009.


  1. ^ Rob Finnis and Tony Rounce, Booklet with CD "You Heard It Here First", Ace Records CDCHD1204, 2008
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Rob Finnis 1997 - Ace's "Early Girls - Volume 2" CD (CDCHD 657) liner notes
  5. ^ "My Boy Lollypop"
  6. ^ a b Millie Small biography at AMG
  7. ^ Jimmy Powell and The 5 Dimensions
  8. ^ David Rodigan Biography at the Radio Academy web site
  9. ^ German Top 20 dated - 15.08.64
  10. ^ .German Top 20 - Top 300 Of The Years 1960 - 1964
  11. ^ Secondhand songs: Mud
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Svensk mediedatabas". Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  14. ^ Clip from "Spice World" that features the song

External links

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