Thursday, February 3, 2011

Brian Hyland

Brian Hyland This isn’t about Brian Hyland.

The first time I heard Brian Hyland, it was The Joker Went Wild in the summer of 1966, and it was on a white vacuum tube radio that was sitting on the kitchen counter in the beach cottage that my parents rented for us for the month of July. The radio had been transplanted, along with much else, from our home in the city. It was AM only in those days, and there was always a contest between adults and kids over radio station choice.

When I say adults, I mean mother. My father only came out on weekends, and my grandmother was there but oblivious to radio matters. We had no TV out there, so there was that much more at stake, and Mom would have it on the Adult Contemporary / Talk show station, and we would flip it to CKRC, the great top 40 station. For reason that I can only guess, Mom would usually let us have our way, and so we were serenaded by the marvelous music that the world gave us over that fresh-air summer of beach and water pumps on the corner and toys machines on the boardwalk: Pied Piper, Summer In The City, Sunshine Superman, Along Comes Mary, and The Joker Went Wild.

I think that the radio ended up in my room eventually, and the kitchen got a more modern one with FM, though stereo wouldn’t come for a while. And for a while I hid a black transistor radio under my pillow, but that story is for another post.

Ok, now this is about Brian Hyland…

He was one of those recording artists, like Lou Christie, who’d come around, have a hit or two, disappear, come back after a few years, repeat. He kept changing labels, and that didn’t help any record company put together a decent greatest hits package for a long time, though there is one now, and I got one earlier which isn’t exactly the one you get now. Allin all I have 16 of the 24 top 100 singles that Brian had between 1960 and 1971.

Brian Hyland:

Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini – There’s nothing so shocking about bikinis, is there? The heroine of this story was said to be about 3 years old, but there’s nothing in the story suggesting age, and it makes no more sense for a child to be afraid to come out of the towel / water / locker than it does for an adolescent or adult. But Brian got himself a niche here almost to himself; how many songs are there about swimwear in general, or bikinis in particular? Chick-a-boom comes to mind, but that was something altogether different. Another certified novelty, it was Hyland’s first hit and his biggest, reaching number 1 in the summer of 1960.
Let Me Belong To You – You Belong To Me, sang Patsy Cline (and The Duprees, and a few others) in a beautiful song, and Carly Simon did one also, but this is the mirror image, sort of. All that belonging … makes me wonder. “Make me behave,” he sings. Hmmm… From the fall of 1961. He had switched from Leader Records to ABC Paramount.
Ginny Come Lately – Another ballad, this one about a new love. From the spring of 1962.
Walk A Lonely Mile – This song shows up on the CHUM charts though not on Billboard. I guess there’s some satisfaction in the revenge thing; think Cry Me A River. The flip of Warmed Over Kisses (Left Over Love). From the fall of 1962.
Sealed With A Kiss – A classic summer separation song. It was a hit again in the late 60s for Gary Lewis & The Playboys and again in the early 70s for Bobby Vinton. Stands in good company: See You In September by The Tempos (and later The Happenings), Save Your Heart For Me by the aforesaid Lewis. The idea is pleasantly anachronistic; in today’s world there is no real separation. From the summer of ’62.
Warmed Over Kisses (Left Over Love) – Love on the rebound, from the other side. Not so great. Brian goes country. From the fall of 1962.
I’m Afraid To Go Home – Serious subject matter here – Brian sings the part of a civil war soldier coming home and imagining the worst. A noble effort, but I’d can the fake Confederate accent. From the summer of 1963, and I can’t imagine how cheerful this sounded on a hot summer day at the beach. Maybe that’s why it didn’t get higher than 63 on Billboard.
I May Not Live To See Tomorrow – Self pity songs have to be done really well or they suck. This is more of the “it sucks” variety but I’ll forgive him. From the winter of 1962 / 1963.
The Joker Went Wild – Brian popped back to life in the summer of 1966 (on Phillips now) with this tale of humour gone awry. Another popular topic in pop – Tears Of A Clown, Two Faces Have I, The Great Pretender, and Everybody Loves A Clown, to which our subject song was very close in style, a fact not lost on my older sibling who was a great fan of Gary Lewis, the purveyor of Clown, who would not remember this piece of arcane family trivia, but I do. Ha.
Run, Run Look And See – The follow-up to Joker, similar in style. It didn’t do nearly as well though, and frankly I don’t remember hearing it. From the winter of 1966 / 1967.
Hung Up In Your Eyes – The title does not mean “you think I’m hung up;” it should really be hung up on your eyes, but the “in” just makes it a bit more poetic. The song is too thin, though, to carry all that poetry. From the winter of ’67.
Holiday For Clowns – Smokey & The Miracles sang Tears Of A Clown, and Johnny Burnette sang Clown Shoes, and we already discussed Gary Lewis. From the summer of ’67. None of these songs after Run Run Look And See were huge hits.
Get The Message – From the later summer of 1967.
Tragedy – A cover of the Thomas Wayne ballad, perfectly suited to Brian’s style. From the winter of 1969. Released on Dot Records.
Stay And Love Me All Summer – The anti-Sealed With A Kiss. From the summer of ’69, and you’d think it’d be the perfect summer song, but it wasn’t – not nearly enough charm.
Gypsy Woman – Brian’s big comeback, again. This was a remake of The Impressions’ classic from 1962. Suitably updated with a pop arrangement that could only have been done in 1970. For the record, he was now on Uni Records.

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