649. ‘Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’, by Bombalurina

As with our last chart-topper, ‘Turtle Power’, I am fully convinced that I will hate this next #1 single…

Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, by Bombalurina (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 19th August – 9th September 1990

But wait. As with the Turtles, I might have misjudged… This starts off like a proper, early-nineties dance track. There’s a looped female vocal – Go on girl-go-go-go on girl – and a fairly shameless cribbing of ‘Theme From S-Express’ in the Spanish countdown. This is not the song I vaguely remember from school discos of yore…

Oh wait. No. It is. In comes Timmy Mallett, with a cover of Brian Hyland’s #8 hit from 1960, all about a racy swimwear item, and suddenly it is novelty trash of the calibre of ‘Agadoo’ and ‘The Chicken Song’. As with the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, Mallett was another part of my childhood, although less so, because he was on ITV and my mum kept things strictly BBC whenever she could. (Years later, a former backing singer claimed that the vocals on the record were in fact his, and that Mallett couldn’t hit a single good note…)

Except, even at its cheesiest, it still sounds like someone with a working knowledge of dance music was present in the studio as this was being recorded. It never tips over into truly unlistenable territory, with lots of knowing touches and pastiches. (Imagine my surprise to find that one of said people in the studio was Andrew Lloyd-Webber (!), who produced the record in a bet with his wife. Bombalurina is a character from ‘Cats’…) The video too does a decent, if knowing, impression of a real dance track, with buff dancers cutting shapes on a fake beach. It’s nowhere near as creepy as a video featuring Timmy Mallett and a woman in a bikini could have been…

This is the second cover of a Brian Hyland original to make #1 in just over a year. He’s a fairly unlikely figure to have had a rediscovery, but there you go. And I’m not going to go as far as to claim that this is better than Jason Donovan’s ‘Sealed With a Kiss’, but I have enjoyed it more. Which is ultimately all that matters, I suppose.

This record is more than just a summer novelty, for me at least, as I believe it to have been at number one when I started school. I can’t be sure, and it would be much more fitting for it to have been ‘Turtle Power’, but dates-wise I assume it’s this. The big question is, though: do I hate it as much as I was expecting to…? Well, the last few paragraphs have probably given it away, but no. I don’t. It’s cheese, to be filed alongside the likes of ‘Long Haired Lover from Liverpool’, and Renee and Renato’s ‘Save Your Love’. Pure drivel; but far too silly, and catchy, and most importantly tongue-in-cheek, to deny.


629. ‘Sealed With a Kiss’, by Jason Donovan

From an extremely harrowing chart-topper, to one as lightweight, as ephemeral, as they come…

Sealed With a Kiss, by Jason Donovan (his 3rd of four #1s)

2 weeks, from 4th – 18th June 1989

I am glad that I don’t have to ponder life, death and injustice as I listen to Jason Donovan’s take on ‘Sealed With a Kiss’. I don’t have to think much at all, for this is basically karaoke. Perfectly good karaoke, I mean that as no slight on the singing abilities of Mr Donovan, but it’s karaoke nonetheless. The production (Stock Aitken Waterman yet again, as was almost mandatory in 1989) is exactly what you would hear in a Japanese karaoke booth: a cheap replication of the early-sixties original.

It is an odd choice of cover for the hottest young pop star in the country. The melancholy chords, the tempo, and the tone of the song feel very out of step for the Hi-NRG late eighties. I suppose, though, it’s a current teen idol singing a former teen idol’s hit from nearly thirty years before (the song tells the story of two lovebirds separated for an agonisingly long summer) thereby appealing to both kids and their parents. Yet part of me wishes SAW had tarted the song up in their usual tinny Eurodisco dressing – that might have been quite fun. As it is, the song washes past almost unnoticed.

‘Sealed With a Kiss’ had been a #3 hit in 1962 for Brian Hyland, his biggest British record, as well as making #7 on re-release in the seventies. (Hyland’s breakthrough hit, ‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’ will also soon be reappearing at the top of the charts, in truly traumatic fashion… I can’t wait!) This cover gave Donovan his 3rd #1 in under six months, which is some going. For me, though, it’s a step down from the classic (yes, classic) ‘Especially for You’ and the perfectly fine ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’.

It was also the 3rd SAW #1 in a row, and I’m not sure how many (if any) other producers have done that. Plus, it’s the second consecutive cover of a golden-oldie to make #1. And, even more interestingly for chart nerds like myself, it was the second chart-topper in a row to enter in top spot. That had only happened once before, in 1973. Pre-1990, entering at the top pretty much announced you as the biggest act in the country (or a charity single). As we move into the 1990s, songs are going to enter at the top of the charts more often, and the turnover of #1s is going to increase. The ‘90s are going to take a while to get through, that’s for sure…