Friday August 6, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Twist

On this Day:

In 1960, Chubby Checker performed his version of “The Twist” on “The Dick Clark Show” which started a worldwide dance craze. Ahh but let’s not get twisted out of shape – people have been dancing and twisting for a lot longer before that….

“The Twist” is an American pop song written and originally released in 1958 by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters as a B-side to “Teardrops on Your Letter”. Ballard’s version was a moderate hit, peaking at number 28 on the Billboard Hot 100. On the US Billboard Hot R&B Sides chart, the original version of “The Twist” first peaked at number sixteen in 1959 and at number six in 1960.

Chubby Checker’s 1960 cover version of the song gave birth to the Twist dance craze. His single became a hit, reaching number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on September 19, 1960, where it stayed for one week, and setting a record at the time as the only song to reach number 1 in two different hit parade runs when it resurfaced and topped the popular hit parade again for two weeks starting on January 13, 1962. This would not happen for another song for nearly 59 years until December 2020, when Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” reached the summit after previously topping in another separate chart run in December 2019.

In 1988, “The Twist” again became popular due to a new recording of the song by The Fat Boys featuring Chubby Checker. This version reached number 2 in the United Kingdom and number 1 in Germany. In 2014, Billboard magazine declared the song the “biggest hit” of the 1960s.

Songs about doing the Twist went back to nineteenth-century minstrelsy, including “Grape Vine Twist” from around 1844. In 1938 Jelly Roll Morton, in “Winin’ Boy Blues”, sang, “Mama, mama, look at sis, she’s out on the levee doing the double twist”—a reference to both sex and dancing in those days. As for this particular song, “The Twist”, Hank Ballard’s guitarist, Midnighters member Cal Green, said they picked up the general idea from Brother Joe Wallace of the gospel group The Sensational Nightingales, whose position and its associated image concerns prevented him from recording the song himself. 

Many years later, in an interview with Tom Meros that is currently available online, Midnighters’ member Lawson Smith recalled the authorship of “The Twist” differently, that The Sensational Nightingales’ Nathaniel Bills wrote the song instead. Green and Ballard already had written a song together called “Is Your Love for Real”, which was based on Clyde McPhatter and The Drifters’ 1955 song “What’cha Gonna Do”, so they created an entirely new song by simply putting the new Twist words to the older melody. They originally recorded a loose version of the song in a Florida studio for Vee-Jay Records in early 1958, with slightly different lyrics, featuring Green on guitar playing like Jimmy Reed. This version appeared on the box set “The Vee-Jay Story” in 1993, but it went unreleased at the time. 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.

The song became popular on a Baltimore television dance show hosted by local DJ Buddy Deane; Deane recommended the song to Dick Clark, host of the national American Bandstand. When the song proved popular with his audience, Clark attempted to book Ballard to perform on the show. Ballard was unavailable, and Clark searched for a local artist to record the song. He settled on Checker, whose voice was very similar to Ballard’s. Checker’s version featured Buddy Savitt on sax and Ellis Tollin on drums, with backing vocals by the Dreamlovers. Exposure for the song on American Bandstand and on The Dick Clark Saturday Night Show helped propel the song to the top of the American charts.

In July 1960, Checker performed “The Twist” for the first time in front of a live audience at the Rainbow Club in Wildwood, New Jersey, and just weeks later, on Aug. 6, 1960, the song became a national sensation after Checker performed it on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.

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, particularly after a report in the Cholly Knickerbocker gossip column. Soon there were long lines at the Peppermint Lounge nightclub in New York, the most popular celebrity twisting spot. This new interest made “The Twist” the first recording to hit number one on the United States charts during two separate chart runs, and marked a major turning point for adult acceptance of rock and roll music.

Checker re-recorded the song numerous times. An updated 1982 recording (from his album The Change Has Come) was retitled “T-82”, and in the 1990s, he recorded a country version. In the late 1970s, he recorded a new version that, except for the sound mix and some minor arrangement changes, was identical to the 1960 original; as a result this later version is often misidentified on compilations as the original recording. In 1988, he joined The Fat Boys on a rap version of the song, which hit number 2 in the UK, number 16 in the US, and number 1 in Germany and Switzerland. Checker also joined the group to perform the song that summer at a London tribute concert for Nelson Mandela. In addition, he recorded variations on the theme, such as “Let’s Twist Again” to keep the craze alive (although “Let’s Twist Again” was and has remained more popular than “The Twist” itself in the United Kingdom). Joey Dee and the Starliters, the Peppermint Lounge house band, scored a hit with “Peppermint Twist”, while other artists, including Sam Cooke scored with other “Twist”-themed songs. In Europe, Petula Clark scored hits in several countries with “Twist”-themed records, while Bill Haley and His Comets recorded several albums of Twist songs in Mexico for the Orfeon Records label. In 1997, the song was featured in a Teledyne Waterpik commercial, and a commercial for Denny’s in 1998, to promote the New Slams.

In the sixth episode of the second season of the TV series Quantum Leap, entitled “Good Morning, Peoria” (set on September 9, 1959), Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) and Al Calavicci (Dean Stockwell) have a Kiss with History, meeting Chubby Checker (played by himself) in a radio station (Sam leaps into a radio DJ called Chick Howell), where they sing and dance “The Twist”. An impressed Chubby asks, “Can I use that move?” Sam responds, “Yah, but I got it from you!”

Checker later toured with this signature piece throughout the U.S. Midwest in the 1980s. The fact that the twist was regarded by Americans of various ethnic and social classes as iconic means that the twist had and has successfully overcome previous social barriers (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

Einstein has a regular driver who takes him everywhere.

One day, Einstein has to speak at an important science conference.

On the way there, Einstein tells his driver that it just occurred to him that he looks a bit like him.

Einstein continues:

“I’m sick of all these conferences. I always say the same things over and over!”

The driver agrees: “You’re right. As your driver, I have attended all of them, and even though I don’t know anything about science, I could give the conference in your place.”

“That’s a great idea!” says Einstein. “As a twist, let’s switch places then!”

So they switch clothes and as soon as they arrive, the driver dressed as Einstein goes on stage and starts giving the usual speech, while the real Einstein, dressed as the car driver, attends it in the audience.

In the crowd, there is one scientist who wants to impress everyone and thinks of a very difficult question to ask Einstein, hoping he won’t be able to respond. So this guy stands up and interrupts the conference by posing his very difficult question. The whole room goes silent, holding their breath, waiting for the response.

The driver from the stage looks at this scientist, dead in the eye, and says:

“Sir, your question is so easy to answer that I’m going to let my driver reply to it for me.”

Second, a Song:

Here is the official music video for Chubby Checker’s “The Twist”.

“Follow the iconic dance craze that was ‘”The Twist”‘ made famous by Chubby Checker from the sixties through today. “The Twist” first went to #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles Chart in September of 1960. The music video incorporates footage of Chubby’s October 22, 1961 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in the wake of “The Twist” having again gone to #1 on the Hot 100 earlier that year, a feat never equaled in the decades that followed (per”

Here is Chubby Checker performing “The Twist”. I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“I compare the Twist to the electric light, The Twist is me, and I’m it. I’m the electric light.” – Chubby Checker

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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