twisting with john and lew at the tell it like it was a-go-go

Es­ti­mated reading time is 5 min­utes.

FOR THE PAST FEW MONTHS, I have been in­volved in a rather large project with two other writers, John Ross and Lew Shiner. I as­sem­bled a list of every record to make it to #1 on the Cash Box Top 100 chart from the be­gin­ning of 1960 through the end of 1969. Each title is linked to a recording of that song on YouTube. For each entry, we went about com­menting on the record, the artist, the times, and, even­tu­ally, one an­oth­er’s comments.

It was fun, but it was also a lot of work: at this time, the ten ar­ti­cles have passed 80,000 words and fea­ture more than 200 im­ages and 500 hy­per­links. That’s a lot of work for us—granted, we had fun doing it—and it’s also a lot of reading for someone to take on.

Of course, we’re pretty cer­tain that once you start reading, you’ll have fun, too!

And to get you reading, here is a sample of our ef­forts, al­most 800 words on a record that many “se­rious” rock fans dis­miss without a second thought.

The ques­tion “But do you like it?” fol­lows each entry. There, we use a 3-star system to ex­press our opin­ions. Ac­tu­ally, a star-shape wasn’t avail­able to us, so we used a di­a­mond (♦). We are not grading the record ala All Music Guide, we are simply stating how much we like a given record. There are ex­cel­lent records that none of us par­tic­u­larly care for, and there are “crappy” records we love.

All of this makes a hel­luva lot more sense if you take a few min­utes and read the “In­tro­duc­tion to The Top­per­most of the Pop­per­most.”





Medium 45 1960 ChubbyChecker TheTwist 1960 600

Sep­tember 10–October 1

Chubby Checker
The Twist
Parkway P-811

(4 weeks)

Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” was more than the first of the re­ally BIG dance craze records of the ’60s — it was a cul­tural phe­nom­enon that went global. Its ef­fects should not be un­der­es­ti­mated in that dancers were freed from the need to hold on to a partner and follow a pat­tern of steps while dancing. Once you learned how to twist, with a little tweaking you had your own dance!

And sud­denly a whole gen­er­a­tion was “ex­pressing them­selves” through dance.

Even wall­flowers like me!

(I know — no­body who knows me now be­lieves I was ever re­motely shy, but it’s true. Hell, I fell for a girl in 1967 and didn’t work up the courage to ask her out until 1997. But that’s an­other story.)

“The Twist” may be the most pop­ular dance song of all time: After spending four weeks at #1 in 1960, it dropped off the charts as all hit records do. A slew of twist-like dance records and fads came and went (the Mashed Potato, the Pony, the Wa­tusi, etc.) and then, eigh­teen months later, “The Twist” re­turned to the top and spent four more weeks at #1 (see Jan­uary 6, 1962, entry).

John: And all be­cause Dick Clark re­put­edly couldn’t get hold of Hank Bal­lard — who was spending his 9,000th con­sec­u­tive week on the road — for a gig on Amer­ican Band­stand. Clark needed some­body to do it.

The dance was taking off.

Had to have a record a singer could lip-synch to on the show.

Found Chubby.

To be fair, Hank was a great band­leader, but Chubby could out-sing him any day of the week,

Neal: As John noted above, the record and the dance have an in­ter­esting his­tory. In early 1959, King Records re­leased Hank Bal­lard & the Mid­nighters’ new single, the ballad “Teardrops on Your Letter” backed with the dance number “The Twist.” The A-side was a Top 10 hit on the R&B chart while the B-side made the Top 20. Nei­ther side made much of an im­pres­sion on the pop charts.

A year later, “The Twist” started get­ting a lot of at­ten­tion so King re-released the single in July 1960, this time pro­moting the B-side. Ex­actly what hap­pened next varies from source to source (and some­times varies a lot) but the gist of the story re­mains rea­son­ably con­stant. Bal­lard got the idea for the song by either:

by watching Mid­nighters moving on stage, or

by watching kids dancing an un­named step on the floor while they played. Bal­lard and the Mid­nighters started doing the song with the dance at their shows as they toured America.

Ap­par­ently, the dance caught on in parts of the East Coast (it may have taken hold in Bal­ti­more be­fore Philadel­phia) and came to the at­ten­tion of Dick Clark. He loved the song and the dance but either:

he couldn’t get Bal­lard onto his show due to the singer’s busy schedule, or

he was wary of Ballard’s his­tory of sug­ges­tive songs like “Sexy Ways” and “Work with Me Annie.”

Clark had a good re­la­tion­ship with Philadelphia’s Cameo-Parkway Records who had a young singer named Ernest Evans who recorded as Chubby Checker. He could do rea­son­able im­per­son­ations of such pop­ular stars of the time as Fats Domino, Elvis, and the Coasters.

Evans and a group of local studio mu­si­cians du­pli­cated the Bal­lard record, using the same key and the same tempo. Parkway rush-released the record and Evans sounded so much like Bal­lard that when Hank heard it on the radio he thought it was his own record!

Both the Bal­lard record and the Checker record de­buted at #82 on the Cash Box Top 100 on July 23, 1960, the same week that Ballard’s latest single “Finger Poppin’ Time” en­tered the Top 40. The next week, both records moved up to #42.

At this point, most his­to­rians credit Checker’s Au­gust 6 ap­pear­ance on Amer­ican Band­stand as cat­a­pulting the song and the dance to the fore­front of teens’ at­ten­tion. But by the time Chubby ap­peared on Clark’s show, his ver­sion of “The Twist” had al­ready shot from #42 to #22 on the Cash Box Au­gust 6 chart (which had been com­piled the week be­fore the pub­li­ca­tion date) while Ballard’s ver­sion had dropped off the survey!

Sup­pos­edly, Bal­lard was not bitter to­ward Checker or Clark: as the song’s writer, he re­ceived mas­sive roy­alty checks from the use of the Checker ver­sion on count­less com­pi­la­tion albums.

For an even more de­tailed look at the Twist and every­thing that fol­lowed, check out “The Twist: Ballard’s Brain­child, Checker’s Change of For­tune” on the Way Back At­tack website.

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (4 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: Unknown
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: Yes
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John: ♦ ♦ ♦
♦ ♦
♦ ♦ ♦


JohnKennedy NYC Nov1960 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was taken on No­vember 5, 1960. It is Sen­ator John F. Kennedy standing on a car to ad­dress the people in front of the Con­course Plaza Hotel in the Bronx in New York City on the weekend be­fore Elec­tion Day. De­spite heavy rains, large crowds turned up for him every­where, to which JFK ob­served, “I don’t know any place in the United States where De­moc­rats would turn out on a rainy Sat­urday af­ter­noon like this. I un­der­stand the sun is shining on Mr. Nixon in Cal­i­fornia. Well, it won’t be shining after Tuesday.”

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