"My Boy Lollipop" (originally "My Girl 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 later version, recorded in 1964 by Jamaican teenager Millie Small, with very similar rhythm, became one of the top selling ska songs of all time.
|"My Boy Lollypop"|
|Single by Barbie Gaye|
|"Say You Understand"|
|Genre||Rhythm and blues, ska|
|Robert Spencer, Barbie Gaye|
|Leroy Kirkland, Barbie Gaye|
The original song, "My Girl Lollypop", was written by Robert Spencer of the doo-wop group The Cadillacs. Notorious 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's name from the original writing credits. Levy even claimed that Robert Spencer was his pseudonym.
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 New York radio 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. He gave them to Gaye, with no specific instructions except to change the gender of the songs subject and be ready to perform it by the following week. Barbie Gaye changed the song's title to "My Boy Lollypop" and rewrote the song accordingly. She added non-lyrical sounds, (utterances), such as "whoa" and "uh oh," chose the notes for the lyrics, shortened and lengthened notes, decided which lyrics to repeat ("I love ya, I love ya, I love ya so") and added the word, "dandy" to describe the subject.
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 improvised music to match her vocals. They decided to record the song in a relatively new style of R&B called shuffle. The four musicians, including the white teenage girl, went into the studio and recorded the song in one take. Barbie Gaye was paid $200 for her writing contributions to "My Boy Lollypop" and her studio recording. The shuffle sound was developed in the early 1940s in America's black community and made popular by Professor Longhair, Rosco Gordon and Louis Jordan. Legendary Jamaican artists, Clement "Coxsone" Dodd and Arthur "Duke" Reid, introduced the R&B shuffle beat to Jamaica in the late 1950s. Over the next few years, the sound grew in popularity and evolved into "ska," Jamaica's first indigenous popular music style. Ska has developed subgenres such as 2 Tone and Third Wave and has influenced several new Jamaican music genres most notably, rocksteady and reggae.
Gaye's recording was released as a single by Darl Records in late 1956. It was heavily played by Alan Freed, and listener requests made the song No. 25 on Freed's Top 25 on WINS, New York in November 1956. 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 following year, Gaye toured with Little Richard and Fats Domino. The singer and songwriter Ellie Greenwich, (Be My Baby, Chapel of Love) 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. Gaye's recording of "My Boy Lollypop" was popular in New York City, and a few other Northeastern cities. Like many artists in her day, Gaye received no royalties from radio play. Because her manager, Corky Vastola, routinely counterfeited his artists music to keep all the profits, the record's sales data is difficult to determine.
|"My Boy Lollipop"|
|Single by Millie Small|
|from the album My Boy Lollipop|
|"Something's Gotta Be Done"|
|Label||Fontana, Island, Smash|
|Robert Spencer, Johnny Roberts|
|Millie Small singles chronology|
Eight years later the song was discovered by Island Records founder, Chris Blackwell, who, with his associate Chris Peers, was trying to find songs for his young artist Millie Small to record. Changing the spelling to read "lollipop" instead of "lollypop", Millie's version was recorded in a similar shuffle/ska/bluebeat-style, and in 1964 it became her breakthrough blockbuster hit in the United Kingdom, reaching No. 2. The song also went to No. 1 in Republic of Ireland and No. 2 in the United States (on the Smash Record label, behind "I Get Around by the Beach Boys). Considered the first commercially successful international ska song, 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.
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. It is unclear who played the harmonica - urban legend credited Rod Stewart for many years, but he has denied it. Instead, it was almost certainly either Pete Hogman or Jimmy Powell, both of The Five Dimensions. Pete Hogman and Five Dimensions guitarist Kenny White both maintain it was Pete Hogman, while Jimmy Powell asserts that it was he who played this solo. Millie Small in an interview with journalist Tom Graves in the August, 2016 issue of Goldmine magazine insists that it was Rod Stewart who played the harmonica solo. Mike Wells drummer with Cliff Adams & The Twilights was hired by Harry Robinson (Lord Rockingham) and paid £7 10 shillings for the session after recording Over the Weekend at IBC Portland Place
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. The song featured in the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in London. It has also featured several times in the British TV series, Heartbeat.