T is for The Twist by Chubby Checker

“Even the severely rhythm-challenged could do The Twist.”

From Billboard: “On December 16, [2016] Chubby Checker releases a newly-remixed physical version of his iconic hit, ‘The Twist,’ the Billboard Hot 100’s all-time No. 1. The update had arrived for digital purchase September 16, but now fans can own a hard copy of it.”

As all American pop music junkies should know, Chubby Checker’s version of the tune is the only one to go to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in two non-consecutive years. The writing credits are somewhat in dispute, as you can read in the Wikipedia, but certainly from within the group Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, based on other tunes.

Hank Ballard and the Midnighters “originally recorded a loose version of the song in a Florida studio for Vee-Jay Records in early 1958… They did not get around to recording the released version until November 11, 1958, when the Midnighters were in Cincinnati. Ballard thought ‘The Twist’ was the hit side, but King Records producer Henry Glover preferred the ballad ‘Teardrops on Your Letter’, which he’d written himself.”

After the song became popular in Baltimore and Philadelphia, the song was destined for American Bandstand, but either Ballard was unavailable for the show (Wikipedia) OR, per Songfacts, “[AB host Dick] Clark loved the song but was wary of Ballard, who was known for raunchy songs like ‘Sexy Ways’ and ‘Work With Me, Annie.”

Clark looked for his own artist to break the song. He found a young man who was a chicken plucker and great impersonator. According to the Chubby Checker official site: “Ernest Evans was born in Spring Gulley, South Carolina, but grew up in South Philadelphia, where he lived with his parents and two brothers.”

Clark’s wife suggested that Evans use a variation on Fats Domino: Fats=Chubby Domino=Checker. “It was his version that raced up the charts. The cover was so convincing that when Hank Ballard first heard the song on the radio he thought it was him – ‘They cloned it’ were Hank’s words. Ballard was not bitter toward Checker or Clark when his version was left behind, especially since Ballard’s record company had no faith in the song. Since he was the songwriter, Ballard earned massive royalties when Checker’s version became a huge hit.”

“This started a dance craze that got so popular because it was so easy to do. Even the severely rhythm-challenged could do The Twist… This helped bridge a generation gap since both kids and adults could do it.

“In late 1961 and early 1962, the twist craze belatedly caught on in high society. Sightings of celebrities doing the dance made the song a hit with adults… This new interest… marked a major turning point for adult acceptance of rock and roll music.”

There were lots of other twist-related songs on the charts in the early ’60s, including “Let’s Twist Again” (#8) and “Twistin’ U.S.A.” (#68), both by Checker, before the re-released “The Twist” hit #1 on January 13, 1962 and stayed there for 2 weeks. It was replaced by “Peppermint Twist – Part I” by Joey Dee and The Starliters, which held the top spot for 3 weeks. Checker re-recorded his biggest hit numerous times.

In this interview: Checker said, “Before ‘The Twist,’ you danced in rhythm with the song. With ‘The Twist,’ suddenly you’re dancing apart from the beat, and not with your girl. Now, you see a girl across the floor that you’ve never seen before, you’re nodding your head, you’re seeing her dance … By the time the song is over ā€¦ whew,” Checker says, chuckling at the song’s impact on not only the development of early rock ‘n’ roll and dance, but perhaps also on relations between the sexes ever since. Check out this podcast as well.

“The song has been added to the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress on March 21, 2013 for long-term preservation.”

Listen to The Twist:
Hank Ballard & the Midnighters (1959)
Chubby Checker on American Bandstand (1960)
The Fat Boys with Chubby Checker (1988)
Chubby Checker (2016)

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

15 thoughts on “T is for The Twist by Chubby Checker”

  1. OMG! Again you’ve taken me back to my youth. We all just LOVED doing the Twist and I could do it again now only a bit slower due to wonky back, hips, and knees. But oh what fun to try! Great post.

    Leslie
    abcw team

  2. OH I remember one sock-hop in high school, 1962 a friend and I got up to do the twist and the teachers told us to sit down because it was too seductive!!!!!!!! Up against today’s standards–hard to believe.
    Ann

  3. You get a taste of Chubby’s impersonation skills on “The Class,” released in 1959 (!) on Parkway 804, in which, per the label, the Chubster “imitates Fats Domino, the Coasters, Elvis Presley & The Chipmonks [sic].” Relegated to a B side, of course.

  4. What joyous songs. When it came on the scene we tried it out one break in the school library, strange the things one remembers.

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