Friday, August 5, 2011

Chubby Checker--The Twist (1960)

    Ernest Evans has lamented that his career has been focused on just one song, but probably no one artist in the rock and roll era has been linked to a song like he has...

     As a teenager, The Twist was the only song that I associated with Chubby Checker. In fact, it's the only song linked to him in 2010. There have been times that he has complained about that, which is a valued argument. From 1960 to 1965 Checker had 21 hits on the top 40 (if you count The Twist's second #1 showing in January 1962). So why isn't he known for more than just this one song.

     Well, first of all, it's a great song. It was originally recorded by Hank Ballard & The Midnighters in 1959 as a B-side to "Teardrops on your Letter". In 1960, Dick Clark attempted to get Ballard on American Bandstand to perform the song, but was unavailable. With that Clark decided to look for a local kid to do the song. He found Checker who's vocal style is similar to Ballard's. The song went to #1 and began a string of hits that linked itself to dance (including 5 about the Twist).

      The Twist was also on the cusp of a couple of cultural changes that are still with us today. The first was the style of music. People had been dancing for centuries, but the Twist was the first major hit in the rock era where couples didn't have to touch to dance. I'm not sure why, but it sparked a revolution in dance where the participants wouldn't be touching. Another huge change (and a reason why it went #1 for a second time) was that adults began dancing the Twist. Before this song, rock and roll songs were danced by teenagers and the parents stayed away. However, the upper and middle class adults began to take the dance moves to the floor, and this spurred on an entirely new audience for the song.

      Another factor why this was important in the career of Checker was that of all of those dance crazes, the Twist is one of the few that has survived the hype. The Pony, The Limbo and others have pretty much gone away except for those who were actually dancing in that era. For whatever reason, the dance and therefore the song stayed in the public eye for years. Then in 1988, he re-recorded the song with The Fat Boys, in a totally different style and reached the top 20 again and made the song hip again for a new generation.

       Checker hit the oldies circuit since the 70's, and is still touring today. And on dance floors all over the world, there will still be couples dancing the twist.....


Post a Comment