Chubby Checker still fits with ‘The Twist’
Quick, who is the only recording artist to have five albums in the Top 12 all at once? It’s Chubby Checker.
And that’s a surprise twist, because when you think Chubby Checker, most just think of one thing: “The Twist.” The 1960s dance sensation, which had been a minor R&B hit for its author, Hank Balard, became so popular for Checker that he wasn’t expected to play any other kind of music.
“In a way, ‘The Twist’ really ruined my life,” Checker said, according to Wikipedia. “I was on my way to becoming a big nightclub performer, and ‘The Twist’ just wiped it out. It got so out of proportion. No one ever believes I have talent.”
The record took nearly 14 months after its June 1959 release to reach the charts. But when it did, it hit big: Checker supposedly lost 30 pounds demonstrating the dance in interviews and live appearances. The single reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in September 1960. In fact, “The Twist” is the only record in pop music history to become No. 1 in two different years by the same artist (’60 and ’62).
The phenomenon inspired a rapid succession of additional dance fads, the result in part of Dick Clark’s record label. Other dance hits included “The Hucklebuck” (1960), “Pony Time” (’61), “The Mess Around” (’61), “Let’s Twist Again” (’61), “The Fly” (’61), “Slow Twistin'” (’62), “Limbo Rock”/”Popeye the Hitchhiker” (’62), “Let’s Limbo Some More” (’63), “Birdland” (’63), and “Twist It Up” (’63).
By the time the dance craze subsided, however, it was too late for Checker to transfer to another style. The British Invasion had arrived, then surf music, soul and folk rock. Checker continued to perform, but he would never recapture the magic he had in the early 1960s.
“We’re camouflaged in our thoughts about ‘The Twist,'” Checker said in an interview with classicbands.com. “‘The Twist’ is dancing apart from the beat. You blame me for ‘The Twist,’ but what about the rest of it? If you watch people dance right now, if you’re watching TV or in the movies, that’s the Chubby Checker. Dancing apart to the beat is when you look at someone and they look at you and you’re doing something together, but you’re not touching. That’s Chubby Checker. The Twist is just part of it.”
Recording “The Twist” was a happy accident, according to Checker.
“The only reason I recorded ‘The Twist’ is because the kids in the neighborhood made up a little dance to it, and they titled their dance after that song,” he said. “The radio stopped playing that song, and no one was ever gonna see that dance. and no one was ever gonna hear that song. In 1957, 1958, no one was gonna hear that song. I saw the opportunity. I went in and recorded the song.”
Born Ernest Evans in 1941 in Spring Gulley, S.C., he was raised in South Philadelphia, where he attended South Philadelphia High School, where two of his classmates were Frankie Avalon and Fabian.
It was the wife of “American Bandstand” host Clark who suggested the name Chubby Checker, meant as a take-off on then-popular singer Fats Domino.
Checker has never stopped performing. A review a recent Labor Day concert at Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, Va., included the following:
“The 67-year-old Checker is a physically fit powerhouse, with a gigantic gleaming smile, smooth tan complexion and muscular frame. His dance is incessant, both on the stage and as he glides through his audience to the music of his punctuated, class-act band of middle-aged rockers. The blow of bone chilling saxophone carves his path.
“But Chubby’s presence is about more than twisting, gleaming, gliding, and impressing with peaked performance. Chubby knows what his fans are wishing. If you want the chance to touch his hand, give a big bear hug, or quickly whisper your dire message in the ear of the only recording artist ever to have five albums in the Top 12 at once, you’ve got it. No matter where you are perched, Chubby lingers just long enough to meet you. Tall, burly, and still sporting his tight-fitting jeans, Checker is incredibly talented at gathering and giving big love and appreciation.”
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