(Music: "The Twist" by Chubby Checker)
September 19, 1960 - September 25, 1960
"The Twist" by Chubby Checker is the only single in the history of the Hot 100 to go to number one twice in separate chart runs --- first in September, 1960, for one week, and then again in January, 1962, when it remained in pole position for two weeks. The song, issued on Cameo's Parkway label, had a cumulative chart run of 39 weeks, longer than any other number one single until UB40's "Red Red Wine". Not bad for a former chicken plucker from Philadelphia.
The phenomenon of "The Twist" started in 1958 with a Detroit group, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. Best known for a big R&B hit that was banned by many radio stations in the early 50s ("Work With Me Annie"), the group's first pop hit was "Teardrops on Your Letter." The flip side of that single was a song Ballard had written after seeing some teenagers do a new dance in Tampa, Florida: "The Twist".
But DJs played the "A" side and "The Twist" went mostly unnoticed, until the dance spread across the country. When it became the hottest dance on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand," Clark suggested that Danny and the Juniors record a cover version. When they didn't come up with anything, Clark called some friends at Philadelphia's most successful record company, Cameo-Parkway, and made a suggestion of who should record the song.
It had been December, 1958 when Clark and his wife Bobbie went to Cameo Records to find someone to record an audio "Christmas card" they could send to their friends. Cameo had a new artist, Ernest Evans, who impressed Dick with his ability to impersonate other singers, especially Fats Domino. Evans recorded a song called "The Class," which Dick used for his Christmas card. Evans had been nicknamed "Chubby" by a friend who came into the produce market where he used to work, and Bobbie Clark added the last name "Checker" as a take-off of "Fats Domino".
"The Class" was such a hit with Clark's friends, that Cameo-Parkway released it as a commercial single in the spring of 1959. The novelty recording was Chubby's first Hot 100 entry, peaking at number 38.
So Chubby Checker was recruited to record a new version of "The Twist." It took him 35 minutes to do three takes, backed by a vocal group known as the Dreamlovers. He made several appearances on "American Bandstand," giving "Twist" lessons and promoting his single. On August 1, 1960, "The Twist" entered the Hot 100 at number 49.
Hank Ballard was floating in a swimming pool in Miami, Florida the first time he heard Chubby's song on the radio. It was so carefully copied note for note from the original version that Hank thought he was listening to himself on the radio. While many people thought Ballard was cheated out of a hit record by the cover version, he has since expressed his gratitude to Chubby and Dick Clark --- as the writer of the song, Ballard's royalties over the years have amounted to a nice sum.
As the twist faded from the dance scene and was replaced by the slop, the mashed potato, the fly, and the popeye, Chubby went on to record other dance songs. But while the twist was passe for teenagers, it was just catching on with adults. Society columnist "Cholly Knickerbocker" mentioned that Prince Serge Obolensky was seen dancing the twist at Manhattan's Peppermint Lounge, and suddenly it was a worldwide sensation; drawing the elite to discotheques to twist the night away.
Because of the dance's new found acceptance, Chubby was invited to sing "The Twist" on Ed Sullivan's show on October 22, 1961, prompting a re-release of the single. A full-page ad in Billboard said it all: "'TheTwist' dance rage explodes into the adult world!" This time around it was the grown-ups buying Chubby's single, and they bought enough copies to return it to the Hot 100 on November 13, and send it all the way to number one again just after the new year.
Reprinted from The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, copyright © 2003 by Fred Bronson.