Song Spotlight: “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”

  • Mood: Silly
  • Themes: Swimming, Summer, Trips to the Beach, Wardrobe Selection
  • Tempo: Walking speed
  • Genre/style: 1960s Novelty song

Ahhh, summertime. For many people, the hot days of July go hand in hand with trips to the beach (or, here in Kansas City, the swimming pool). This is certainly true for many of my younger music therapy clients. Perhaps many of my senior clients don’t go swimming anymore, but most of them remember doing so in years past, and they can remember the relief of dipping in the water on a hot summer day. For this beloved summer pastime, my favorite accompanying song is a goofy one: “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini.”

This song was written by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss, and was a #1 hit for Brian Hyland in 1960. It tells the story of a girl who is shy about wearing her new bikini for the first time and follows her trip from the locker to the ocean. This song actually debuted at a time when bikinis were still seen as too risque for public view, and the song is credited with a steep rise in popularity (and sales!) of bikinis in the early 1960s.

There are so many great musical ways to play with this song. It is certainly singable – even if people don’t know all the words, they can pick up on the chorus or the tag line, “1-2-3-4, tell the people what she wore.” I also like to have a group play instruments along with the original recording: there are predictable pauses in each verse where the accompaniment drops out briefly, so it is easy to cue group members to start and stop their instrument playing as well. Also, although I have never tried it, I think this song would be great fun to act out with simple props to represent the locker, the blanket, and the water.

What about topics for discussion? Well, I think we can all recognize that wardrobe choice – especially how much to cover up – is an enduring topic for (ahem) conversation between members of various generations. Swimwear has also changed a lot over the years, and it can be fun to talk about what people used to wear when they went swimming. (Have you ever worn a bikini? Would you ever wear one again?) Of course, discussion on the more general topics of swimming, beach visits, and other summertime activities can follow this song as well.

What do you think? Do you like this song, or do you have another summertime favorite? Please let us know in the comments section!

This post is part of an occasional series on special songs to share with your loved ones. For more song spotlights, click here.

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