The Mafia, The Music Mogul, Island Records and Millie – My Boy Lollipop!

To everything there is a season. Turn, turn, turn.

Here in the woods Summer has now definitively turned into Autumn.
U
The last blaze of heat but an ember in the memory.

Now, as the birds perform miraculous harmonies in song I wake at break of dawn to walk among mist wreathed trees.

Chill winds urge me onward.

As I broke into my running stride yesterday the Jukebox in my head selected an irresistible childhood favourite from 1964 which, for two minutes or so, persuaded me that perhaps it was a time to laugh and a time to dance.

Further, as I settled into the pace of the song I realised that, for one day only, the great David Rudisha, twice Olympic 800 metres champion, would not be so far ahead of me as he crossed the finishing line!

What song could produce such a miraculous effect? Well, a song that is guaranteed, guaranteed, to make your heart go GiddyUp!

I refer, of course, to the deliriously wonderful multi million selling, ‘My Boy Lollipop’ by Millie Small.

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An innocent pop confection behind which lies, improbably; a Mafia Don, a forgotten original, an aristocratic music mogul and and the record label which would host Bob Marley and U2.

Oh, and an urban myth that the urgent harmonica on the record is played by none other than Rod Stewart! For the record all the evidence strongly suggests that it was actually played by Pete Hogman.

GiddyUp! GiddyUp!

Lollipop is the sound of careless youth. Of bottled Caribbean sunshine. Of gravity defying jumping Joy.

You want to feel the purity of emotion you had before you worried about grades, guys, girls, guns and geopolitics?

Drop the needle on My Boy Lollipop!

No wonder it was a top 5 hit in Britain and the USA and a smash all around the world. One of the chief functions of pop music is to put a smile on your face – to make you remember what a sheer blessing it is to be alive.

Millie’s artless gleeful vocal and guitarist Ernest Ranglin’s perfectly judged arrangement which morphed the original’s shuffle into a lovely lurching Ska/Bluebeat rhythm fulfils the life affirming and smile inducing functions effortlessly.

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And, it could make your Uncle, who Never dances (we all have one) turn into a veritable Dervish.

Millie, or in full – Millicent Dolly May Small is now 70! She was born in Clarendon Jamaica in 1946 and first attracted attention as a 12 year old when she won the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour contest.

Moving to big city Kingston in 1962 she made her initial, thoroughly charming, recordings in duet format with Owen Gray (‘Sugar Plum’) and Roy Panton (‘We’ll Meet’).

These, substantial hits in Jamaica, brought her to the attention of the urbane, uber canny, music buff and would be music mogul, Chris Blackwell.

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Blackwell, then in his mid 20s, sensed the commercial potential in Millie. Few in the music business have ever had a better nose for commercial potential.

He judged that her elfin looks and effervescent personality coupled with a proper pop song (one that appeals to six year olds, sixteen year olds and 66 year olds) might just provide him with the fabled, ‘breakthrough record’.

One that would turn his fledgling Island Records from a niche, ‘out of the boot of a car’ operation into a label that could quickly amass cash and be able to compete with the established major outfits like EMI and Decca in battles to sign and promote the hottest new acts.

So, he brought Millie over to London in 1963 and became her manager, chaperone and indeed Legal Guardian. Millie was then, in Motown grooming style, put through an intensive programme of stage education to prepare her for the UK and American markets.

Thus when Lollipop lit up radios and Jukeboxes in 1964 she was ready. So ready that she won the hearts of what seemed the entire nation through her appearances on key TV shows like, ‘Juke Box Jury’ and,’Ready, Steady, Go’.

She even managed to share screen time with The Beatles and matched them for charm and likability if not musical sophistication.

Similar triumphs followed in America where she was taken up by Murray The K. On her return home was greeted as virtual Royalty by everyone from the Prime Minister to her own family!

In Jamaica, one of Chris Blackwell’s many roles (which also included acting as ADC to the Governor General and local fixer for the James Bond film Dr No) was managing a Jukebox empire.

It may well have been this that alerted him to ‘My Boy Lollypop’ a 1956 regional hit in the New York area by Barbie Gaye.

The Gaye original has a lolloping shuffle rhythm, a doowop style vocal and a very 1950s burlesque sax solo instead of harmonica. Though it features first class musicians like Leroy Kirkland, Al Sears and Panama Francis it has very low pop wattage in comparison to the dazzling brilliance of Millie’s version.

The song was written by Robert Spencer a member of one of the incarnations of The Cadillacs (of, ‘Speedo’ fame). However, poor Robert didn’t get to bank much of the royalties as notorious record boss Morris Levy managed to get himself and another dubious connection on the songwriting credits.

Talking of, ‘Connections’ Barbie Gaye was managed by Gaetano ‘Corky’ Vastola who was later to share a cell with famed Mafia capo John Gotti.

Barbie was paid the princely sum of 200 dollars for Lollypop. Corky’s income from the record remains unknown (not least to the IRS!).

Millie had a few minor hits after Lollipop but was unfortunately classed as a novelty act rather than the pop princess she was.

Still, she made one of the most memorable records of the entire 1960s which will never fade from true pop pickers affections. She is now, quite rightly, garlanded with Jamaica’s Order of Distinction.

It is estimated that My Boy Lollipop has now sold over 7 million copies. It’s playing somewhere on the radio right now.

A proper pop record for all time.

P.S. Many, many thanks to all the Jukebox aficionados who have taken the time to nominate The Immortal Jukebox for the UK Blog Awards. And, for the very kind words used to describe the virtues of The Jukebox.

Nominations remain open so … If you haven’t already please do follow the link below!

The URL is http://www.theimmortaljukebox.com

My email is thomhickey55@yahoo.co.uk

http://ow.ly/9hHJ304McG4

91 thoughts on “The Mafia, The Music Mogul, Island Records and Millie – My Boy Lollipop!

  1. Pingback: The Story of Millie Small and My Boy Lollipop – Jamaica Peace Council

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