Who sings the song Beat Boy

Millie Smalls song MY BOY LOLLIPOP was released in 1964 and became the first major international sales success of Jamaican pop music.

I. History of origin

MY BOY LOLLIPOP is a cover version of the song “My Boy Lollypop” released in 1956 by R&B singer Barbie Gaye on Darl Records. The song was written by Robert Spencer, who was a member of the doo-wop group The Cadillacs at the time. The title was originally supposed to be “My Girl Lollypop”, which is why the song was probably initially intended for the vocal group itself or at least for a male singer. Finally, the then London-based owner of the Island Records label, Chris Blackwell, decided on a new edition that should be sung by the Jamaican Millie Small. According to Blackwell, he discovered the song while on business in New York and intended it for sale to Jamaican sound systems - mobile open-air discos - but ultimately decided to produce a new version after Millie Small was already on the British music market had tried to establish. The Jamaican jazz guitarist Ernest Ranglin was entrusted with working out a new arrangement, while the recordings were exclusively made by the British musicians of the blues band The Five Dimensions (cf. Stratton 2014: 51-52).

II. Context

The song MY BOY LOLLIPOP marked a high point in the commercial success of Jamaican music in Great Britain, but benefited from cultural interrelationships that had existed between the two countries for several years at the time. In the 1950s, the number of Caribbean immigrants in Great Britain increased steadily, elements of musical culture were appropriated, and the Jamaican music industry benefited from the resulting new market. When ska developed in Jamaica in the early 1960s, Jamaican musicians such as Ernest Ranglin, Jackie Edwards and Laurel Aitken were already playing a role in the London music scene (cf. Barrow / Dalton 1997: 325 f.). In 1964, in addition to MY BOY LOLLIPOP, other songs were placed in the British charts, which are attested to be close to the styles of Jamaican Ska: “Mockin 'Bird Hill” by Migil 5, Ezz Reco's cover of the Jimmy Cliff song “King of Kings ”(Cf. Bradley 2003: 146) and Georgie Fames“ Yeh Yeh ”(cf. Stratton 2014: 37). Nevertheless, Millie Small was the first to succeed in making a song of this still young style an international success. Producer Chris Blackwell played a crucial role in this context: he had to face the challenge of doing targeted intercultural mediation work for the benefit of commercial success and bringing Jamaican Millie Small closer to European listeners.

The child of a British and a Jamaican woman, the producer spent his childhood and youth in both Great Britain and Jamaica and was consequently able to familiarize himself with the cultural specifics of both countries. Blackwell founded his company Island Records in Kingston in 1959 and relocated its headquarters to London in 1962 - the year of Jamaican independence. Blackwell had already assumed a special role among producers in Jamaica: the sound of the Icelandic artists was considered unusually "smooth", and Blackwell did not have as extensive experience in Kingston's urban sound system culture as other Jamaican producers. The role of the cultural middleman with European roots, who seemed to give Jamaican pop music a "polished" touch, was apparently targeted by Blackwell when working with Millie Small. This was already successful in the Jamaican music market when she was about to start her career in Great Britain in 1963. Blackwell decreed that the young singer first had to attend the Italia Conti Stage School in London in order to receive speech and dance lessons - singing with a Jamaican accent or dialect was apparently not included in the producer's concept. The first single release "Don’t You Know" was based on contemporary European pop music and fell short of commercial expectations. Success was only achieved through a targeted staging of the singer: On the one hand, the apparent exoticism of the Jamaican singer was highlighted, on the other hand, her music was adapted to European listening habits. The second single, MY BOY LOLLIPOP, was clearly based on the styles of Jamaican ska, which is still largely unknown in Europe, but the reference to the pop mainstream was retained. The song thus reflects key decisions regarding the internationalization of Jamaican pop music. Finally, an Afro-American R&B song served as a template - in general, Ska is considered the Jamaican transformation of R&B (cf. Pfleiderer 2006: 302) - which, under the aegis of the half-British Chris Blackwell, was supposed to help a Jamaican woman break through in Europe and which was exclusively from British musicians recorded, but was arranged by a Jamaican (cf. ibid .: 44-50). So it doesn't seem surprising that various authors don't define MY BOY LOLLIPOP as a ska song. Rather, the recording is a “galloping ska cover” (Bradley 2003: 145), a “global pop-ska hit” (Barrow / Dalton 1997: 28) or a “love song with toned-down ska rhythms” (Hebdige 1987 : 67).

III. analysis

The song has a duration of 2:01 minutes at a tempo of 130 bpm, the tonal center is D major. MY BOY LOLLIPOP begins with the 16-bar chorus, which is based on the chord progression D ǀ G A. This is repeated twice; the chord change D ǀ D7 acts as a transition to the eight-bar stanza. The chord changes G ǀ G ǀ D ǀ D and G ǀ G ǀ A ǀ A then follow once each, the sung refrain is reduced to eight bars, a harmonica solo is played in the remaining eight bars. At the end of the song the chorus can be heard again, which slowly fades out through a fade-out effect. MY BOY LOLLIPOP has a very clear design, uses only the chord levels I, I7, IV and V and consequently fits in with the formal conventions of early Ska. In terms of rhythm, there are no abnormalities either: the ternary phrased eighth accents of the ride cymbal and the snare backbeat, the quarter accents and walking bass elements of the bass guitar and the eighth offbeats of the guitar - these are the types of design for early ska typical (see Pfleiderer 2006: 303). The brass section, on the other hand, proves to be conspicuous: in early Ska recordings, the wind instruments mostly had the task of amplifying the eighth offbeats of the harmony instruments or playing short melody passages without the participation of the vocals. In MY BOY LOLLIPOP, the brass section essentially serves to enrich the chorus with a riff that is placed between the pauses in the singing and thus itself becomes a central compositional design element of this molded part. The use of the harmonica, which was rather part of the common line-up in contemporary R&B, is completely atypical for Ska. The instrument is used with sustaining notes in the stanzas and in an eight-bar solo. At the beginning of this, the recitation note C is played around over D major, this central placement of the minor seventh reveals references to forms of the blues. With regard to the instrumentation, the intended preparation of the Ska song for a European audience can be seen, with the voice of Millie Small added as a characteristic element of the song. Chris Blackwell reports that he presented earlier recordings of the singer in a private setting before her arrival in Great Britain and that her high-pitched voice, which is unusual for European listening habits, triggered consistently benevolent reactions (cf. Stratton 2014: 48 f.). The high-pitched voice was ultimately also conducive to the construction of the singer's image, who on the one hand was considered youthful and exotic, on the other hand had little in common with African-American R&B or gospel singers - rather, the comparison with Shirley Temple was sought, appropriately as a child became famous with the song “On the Good Ship Lollipop” (cf. ibid .: 57). The foundation stone for the success of MY BOY LOLLIPOP was laid through the targeted combination of the ‘exotic’ ska rhythm and the unusually high voice of the singer, as well as through a Europeanized ’arrangement.

Sociologist Jon Stratton also advocates taking a closer look at the lyrics when dealing with cultural transfer processes in the context of MY BOY LOLLIPOP. Millie Small sings about the man of her choice, whom she describes as “sugar dandy” and “sweet as candy”, whom she confesses her love to and whom she presents as her “boy lollipop”. Stratton points out that the meaning of the term “lollipop” in the European and Euro-American context differs significantly from the associations with “lollypop” in African American parlance. If Europeans and Euro-Americans thought of sweets, text elements could be discovered in blues songs of the 1940s that used “Lollypop” as a slang word to describe fellatio practices - for example in Roy Brown's “Lolly Pop Mama” (cf. ibid .: 53). Last but not least, popular music in Jamaica is known for processing sexually explicit content in song lyrics, MY BOY LOLLIPOP is also considered a “semi-frivolous” song by German authors (Karnik / Philipps 2007: 35). It is difficult to reconstruct how the text was interpreted by the Afro-American authors, the half-Jamaican Chris Blackwell or the Jamaican singer Millie Small. Nevertheless, this aspect reminds us that the song MY BOY LOLLIPOP first had to be released from its original cultural context before it could become a global hit in the Millie Small version.

IV. Reception

In commercial terms, MY BOY LOLLIPOP was an enormous success, reaching number 1 in the British, number 2 in the American and fifth in the West German charts, a total of seven million units of the single could be sold. Millie Small became so successful in the UK that the magazineEbony even a comparison with the popularity of the Beatles and an article about the singer with “Britain’s Exciting New Singer. Millie Small, 16, is challenging Beatlemania ”(Anonymous 1964: 48). However, it is still unclear whether Millie Small was actually only 16 years old in 1964, or whether she was deliberately presented to the public younger in favor of the childlike image - in the relevant literature, ages between 14 and 22 years can be found (cf. Bradley 2003: 145 ). In 1964, after her international successes on the occasion of her return, the singer was given a reception in her homeland of Jamaica in the presence of state dignitaries and thousands of fans, before she headlined the celebrations for the country's two-year independence (see Masouri 2014: 41). At this point in time, Millie Small became interesting as an international representative even for the political rulers of her home country because of her popularity. Last but not least, MY BOY LOLLIPOP is seen as a breakthrough for Ska, although the song is sometimes referred to as a pop crossover experiment (cf. Bradley 2003: 145). In England in particular, numerous ska bands emerged in the following years and decades, who developed their own playing styles of the originally Jamaican music. Well-known genre representatives such as The Specials, Madness and Bad Manners ultimately developed the so-called 2-tone ska, which could not have come about in this way without international role models such as MY BOY LOLLIPOP and the integration of numerous Caribbean immigrants in Great Britain. The latter band recorded one of the numerous cover versions of the song with “My Girl Lollipop”. MY BOY LOLLIPOP not only served as a template for ska bands, there are also a big band version by Hugo Strasser and a recording by Klaus Wunderlich that focuses on the electronic organ.




Vocals: Millie Small
Music / writer / songwriting: Robert Spencer
Producer: Chris Blackwell
Arrangement: Ernest Ranglin
Label: Fontana
Recorded: 1964
Published: 1964
Length: 2:01


  • Barbie gaye. “My Boy Lollipop / Say You Understand”, 1956, Darl Records, R-1002, US (vinyl / single).
  • Ezz Reco and the Launchers. “King of Kings / Blue Beat Dance”, 1964, Columbia, DB 7217, UK (vinyl / single).
  • Georgie Fame and the Blue Fames. “Yeh Yeh / Preach and Teach”, 1964, Columbia, DB 7428, UK (vinyl / single).
  • Migil 5. "Mockin 'Bird Hill / Long Ago and Far Away", 1964, 7N.15597, UK (vinyl / single).
  • Millie Small. “My Boy Lollipop / Something’s Gotta Be Done”, 1964, Fontana, TF-710, UK (vinyl / single).
  • Millie Small. “Don’t You Know / Until You’re Mine”, 1963, Fontana, TF 425, UK (vinyl / single).
  • Roy Brown. “Good Rocking Tonight / Lolly Pop Mama”, 1947, DeLuxe, 1093, US (10 ”/ Shellac).
  • Shirley Temple. “On the Good Ship Lollipop / Animal Crackers in My Soup”, 1959, Top Rank, 45-JAR 139, UK (7 ”/ single).


  • Bad Manners. “My Girl Lollipop / Flashpoint”, 1982, Magnet, MAG 232, UK (vinyl / single).
  • Hugo Strasser and his large dance orchestra. “My Boy Lollipop”. On:Chic dance music - modern rhythms for everyone, 1965, HÖR ZU, SHZE 157, Germany (LP / Album).
  • Klaus Wunderlich and His New Pop Organ Sound. “My Boy Lollypop”. On:Wunderlich Pops 2, 1975, Telefunken, 6.22141, Germany (vinyl / album).


  • Anonymous: “Britain’s Exciting New Singer. Millie Small, 16, is challenging Beatlemania ”. In:Ebony 9 (1964), 48-56.
  • Barrow, Steve / Dalton, Peter:Reggae. The Rough Guide. The Definitive Guide to Jamaican Music, from Ska through Roots to Ragga. London: Penguin 1997.
  • Bradley, Lloyd:Bass Culture. The triumphant advance of reggae.Höfen: Hannibal 2003.
  • Hebdige, Dick:Cut 'n' mix. Culture, Identity and Caribbean Music. London: Routledge 1987.
  • Karnik, Olaf / Philipps, Helmut:Reggae in Germany. Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch 2007.
  • Masouri, John: “Millie Small. 50 years of ‘My Boy Lollipop '”. In:Riddim 4 (2014), 40-41.
  • Pfleiderer, Martin:Rhythm. Psychological, theoretical and stylistic aspects of popular music. Bielefeld: Transcript 2006.
  • Stratton, Jon:When Music Migrates. Crossing British and European Racial Faultlines, 1945–2010. Farnham: Ashgate 2014.

About the author

Benjamin Burkhart is currently a PhD student at the University of Music FRANZ LISZT Weimar and a research fellow at the Center for Popular Culture and Music at the University of Freiburg.
All contributions by Benjamin Burkhart


Benjamin Burkhart: “My Boy Lollipop (Millie Small)”. In:Song dictionary. Encyclopedia of Songs. Ed. by Michael Fischer, Fernand Hörner and Christofer Jost. http://www.songlexikon.de/songs/myboylollipop, 03/2018.