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The Twist

by

Chubby Checker



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This was written by Hank Ballard, who originally recorded it in 1959 with his group The Midnighters. Ballard was an influential R&B musician who blended Rock, Country and Gospel in the '50s and '60s. He died in 2003.

Ballard got the idea for the song by watching The Midnighters on stage. To Hank the group often moved onstage like they were "trying to put a cigarette out." In a sense, they were twisting. Thus, the title of the song.
Hank Ballard & The Midnighters tried to get a Twist craze going with their original version of the song, doing the dance at their shows as they toured America (their dance was a little different, with band members lifting a leg to twist). It caught on in Philadelphia and in Baltimore, but was far from a national craze until Chubby Checker covered the song.
Ballard's original version was the B-side to "Teardrops On Your Letter," a song that was covered by many Country musicians. "The Twist" went over very well live and Ballard thought it was a hit, but his record company (King Records) thought "Teardrops On My Letter" would do better (it made #87). In Baltimore a deejay named Buddy Deane had a TV dance party show (The Buddy Deane Show) and played the song. The kids' reaction was excellent and Buddy recommended the song to Dick Clark, who had his own show in Philadelphia, American Bandstand. Clark loved the song but was wary of Ballard, who was known for raunchy songs like "Sexy Ways" and "Work With Me Annie." Clark, who was a media mogul with interests in record labels and artists, went looking for his own artist to break the song. He held auditions, and found a young man named Earnest Evans, a chicken plucker who liked to sing on the job. He was a great impersonator and kept everyone at the chicken plant laughing as he'd do his impersonations of the popular stars of that time like Fats Domino, Elvis, The Coasters and the Chipmunks.

Because of payola laws, Clark was technically prohibited from having financial dealings with record companies, but he had a good relationship with the Philly label Cameo-Parkway, which took care of recording and releasing the new version. Studio musicians at Cameo-Parkway, along with Evans on vocals, duplicated the Ballard version of "The Twist," which they did almost exactly: Same key, same tempo, and Evans sounded just like Hank Ballard. Clark was going to release the record but wanted Ernest to think up a stage name. Clark's wife suggested that he use a take off on Fats Domino: Fats=Chubby Domino=Checker. Ernest Evans became Chubby Checker, and after performing the song on American Bandstand, it was his version that raced up the charts. The cover was so convincing that when Hank Ballard first heard the song on the radio he thought it was him - "They cloned it" were Hank's words. Ballard was not bitter toward Checker or Clark when his version was left behind, especially since Ballard's record company had no faith in the song. Since he was the songwriter, Ballard earned massive royalties when Checker's version became a huge hit.
This started a dance craze that got so popular because it was so easy to do. Even the severely rhythm-challenged could do The Twist (Chubby Checker explained it as "like putting out a cigarette with both feet and coming out of a shower and wiping your bottom with a towel to the beat). This helped bridge a generation gap, since both kids and adults could do it.

The Twist was also a dance where the participants didn't touch each other, which became a new trend, especially with Disco dancing.
Chubby Checker hit #1 in the US with this song on September 19, 1960. That same week, the original version by Hank Ballard & The Midnighters reached its peak chart position of #28.
Hank Ballard based the melody for "The Twist" on a song he recorded the year before called "Is Your Love For Real?" which in turn borrowed from The Drifters' 1955 song "What 'Cha Gonna Do?" (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
This hit #1 in the US when it was released in the summer of 1960, and again after it was re-released in the winter of 1961. It is the only song to hit US #1 twice with identical versions.

The second release hit #1 in America on January 13, 1962. Around this time, the dance had become a phenomenon, with many adults - including many celebrities and scenesters - getting in on the action. Famous folks photographed doing The Twist included Zsa Zsa Gabor and Rudolf Nureyev.
Before recording this song, Checker was known for his imitations of other artists. His 1959 song "The Class" featured imitations of Fats Domino, Elvis, and The Coasters. The name "Chubby Checker" is a parody of "Fats Domino."
Checker capitalized on this by releasing "Let's Twist Again" in 1961 and "Slow Twistin'" in 1962. He went on to release a bunch of other songs with dance themes, including "The Mess Around," "The Hucklebuck" and "The Fly." By the end of 1965, Checker had an amazing 22 Top 40 hits in the US. He stayed off the charts until 1988, when he teamed up with comic Rap group The Fat Boys to release yet another variation of signature hit, "The Twist (Yo Twist!)." This version was a big hit in England, going to UK #2. It hit #16 in America.
The second time this was released, it got a big boost when Checker performed it on The Ed Sullivan Show in a medley with "Let's Twist Again."
When this was released for the second time in 1961, three of Checker's albums entered the US top 10 at the same time. It was the first time this had been done in the Rock era.
Checker was in the movies Don't Knock The Twist and Twist Around The Clock. He was not shy about leveraging the marketing opportunities of The Twist.
After this was released, many other groups incorporated The Twist in their songs. Here's a breakdown with US chart position. As you'll see, but 1962, America was pretty much obsessed with The Twist, with even Frank Sinatra getting on board:

1960:
"Twistin' U.S.A" by Danny & The Juniors (#27)
"Twistin' Bells" by Santo & Johnny (#49, a Christmas song)
"(Let's Do) The Hully Gully Twist" by Bill Doggett (#66, instrumental)
"Kissin' And Twistin'" by Fabian (#91)

1961:
"Let's Twist Again" by Chubby Checker (#8)
"The Peppermint Twist" by Danny Peppermint (#54)
"Twistin' U.S.A." by Chubby Checker (#68)

1962:
A re-released "The Twist" hits #1 on January 13, and stays there for 2 weeks. It is replaced by "Peppermint Twist - Part I" by Joey Dee & The Starliters, which holds the top spot for 3 weeks.

"Slow Twistin'" by Chubby Checker w/ Dee Dee Sharp (#3)
"Dear Lady Twist" by Gary (U.S.) Bonds (#9)
"Twist, Twist Senora" by Gary (U.S.) Bonds (#9)
"Twistin' The Night Away" by Sam Cooke (#9)
"Percolator (Twist)" by Billy Joe & The Checkmates (#10, instrumental)
"Soul Twist" by King Curtis & The Noble Knights (#17, instrumental)
"Twist And Shout" by The Isley Brothers (#17)
"Hey, Let's Twist" by Joey Dee & The Starliters (#20)
"Twistin' Matilda (And The Channel)" by Jimmy Soul (#22)
"Twist-Her" by Bill Black's Combo (#26, instrumental)
"Bristol Twistin' Annie" by The Dovells (#27)
"Twistin' Postman" by Marvelettes (#34)
"The Alvin Twist" by The Chipmunks (#40)
"Twistin' With Linda" by The Isley Brothers (#54)
"Meet Me At The Twistin' Place" by Johnnie Morisette (#63)
"Patricia - Twist" by Perez Prado (#65, instrumental)
"Twistin' All Night Long" by Danny & The Juniors w/ Freddy Cannon (#68)
"La Paloma Twist" by Chubby Checker (#72)
"Ev'rybody's Twistin'" by Frank Sinatra (#75)
"Oliver Twist" by Rod McKuen (#76)
"Do You Know How To Twist" by Hank Ballard (#87)
"The Basie Twist" by Count Basie (#94, instrumental)
"Guitar Boogie Shuffle Twist" by The Virtues (#96, instrumental)
"Tequila Twist" by The Champs (#99, instrumental)

There were a few more Twists in 1963, and in 1964 The Beatles returned "Twist And Shout" to the charts (#2), but that was all the twisting of the '60s.
The Twist craze didn't catch on in England until 1962, after this was released for the second time. That's when it charted in the UK.
The Twist was a worldwide phenomenon. Checker recorded versions in Italian, German and French.
Chubby Checker
More Chubby Checker songs
More songs performed on The Ed Sullivan Show
More songs that became hits when they were re-released
More songs that have their own dance
More songs about dancing
More hit songs originally recorded by other artists
More songs with dances in the title

Comments (16):

Back in the early Sixties, I was in high school and loved the teen dance crazes & the records about the dance crazes. There was far more teen dancing then & dance parties. Just a fun time. I think I had almost all of Chubby Checker's albums & singles. I bought his version of "The Twist" but never did see Hank Ballard's single in any record stores! But I'll betcha old Hank sure enjoyed those royalty checks due to Chubby's record sales! Ya think? Chubby's version went ballistic (#1 twice in separate years; spawned a global dance craze; crossed over into adult dancing). A few years ago, I saw a TV documentary on the Twist craze & Chubby Checker and believe it was produced by Disney TV. It's available on DVD now. I saw a copy of Chubby Checker's new CD at Walmart too ("The Very Best of Chubby Checker" on Parkway Records----Chubby's original record company!!) . A label was affixed to it that read "#1 on Billboard's All-Time HOT 100 Top Songs." Still impressive! It just makes one wonder how pitiful the Rock & oll Hall of Fame has become by ignoring nominating Chubby for induction. Really! Thanks to Songfacts for this site. Now, if you can just add more Chubby Checker hit songs onto it, things will be reelin' and a-rockin'. You should add Chubby' s other big hits---the ones that almost made it to #1. Or were indeed #1 on Cashbox and Goldmine. Billboard is OK, but they weren't the only charts around then you know. For example, Limbo Rock, Slow Twistin', Let's Twist Again, The Fly, Popeye The Hitchhiker, and the monster #1 Pony Time. The main reason many later generations aren't so familiar with Chubby's hits is that when Cameo-Parkway Records went bust & Al Klein bought it out and set up ABKCO Records in it's stead, he intentionally did not release any golden oldies compilations for any of the old Cameo-Parkway recording stars for decades and decades. That killed any interest in those stars' contributions to rock & roll or R&B music. Now, I hear ABKCO has finally released great hit compilation CDs of their old stars hits. And I just bought Chubby's "The Best of....." CD of hits. Fantastic sound. Now, that wrong has been put right. Next----that Rock & Roll Hall of Fame fiasco needs to be fixed!
- Rotunda, Tulsa, OK
I guess you can say according to the Billboard Top 100 this week in 1962 was the height of the 'twist' craze...
On January 21st, 1962 "Peppermint Twist" by Joey Dee & the Starlighters peaked at #1, and the record it knocked out of the top spot was "The Twist" by Chubby Checker...
"The Twist" had been #1 for three weeks, and the "Peppermint Twist" also spent three weeks in the top spot; so for six straight weeks a 'twist' song was at the top of the chart...
And during this week in 1962 there were a total of six songs on the Top 100 with the word 'twist' in its title...
Mr. Checker, born Ernest Evans, celebrated his 72nd birthday three months ago on October 3rd (2013) and Mr. Dee, born Joseph DiNicola, will turn 74 years old come June 11th (2014).
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
I remember Chubby Checker's "The Twist" but never had the opportunity to hear the original by Hank Ballard on my area's radio "back when." I'm a "baby boomer/rocker" and I remember those fun times of the dance crazes. Every teen partied-it-up to the max because everyone was afraid of an impending nuclear war between the US and USSR. I like "The Twist" by Chubby, but I really love his big hit that he won the 1961 Grammy for (Best Rock & Roll Recording), "Let's Twist Again." Absolute fun! Hey, being a fan, I heard that a few years ago the Abkco Records Co. finally released hit compilations of the old Cameo/Parkway Records stars. Chubby's "Best Of....." CD is out there now with original hits digitally remastered. But more recently, like this fall (2013), I was at a record store & saw a newer CD hits compilation on Chubby Checker so I bought it. It had only his first 11 hits from 1960 to 1962, but well worth it. Great sound. I think the producer boosted up the bass sound. That's a good thing because of the heavy bass sounds music lovers prefer these days. I hear the Chubby Checker spent a lot of personal time promoting this record early-on, with Dick Clark's help, to get this record going in 1960. If Checker's version and Hank Ballard's original are supposedly similar, I wonder why Ballard's version never caught fire? Maybe it was the exposure on American Bandstand that made the difference? Well, it was a fun time, a dangerous time too, when rock & roll was younger, and the "rebellious" thing to do was to do the "Twist" with Chubby Checker.
- Raunchy, Tulsa, OK
The writer forgot a very early and very important 'Twist" song...from 1960, on Warwick Records # 607
Twistin' Pneumonia" by The Genies.
- John, Middletown, NJ
With all of Chubby Checker's hits, it's odd why Song Facts only shows three of his hits. On Billboard's website, it's noted that Checker has sold approximately 250 million records world-wide which mostly occurred during the dance-craze era. I recall when The Twist by Chubby Checker was first released & then its re-release and chart runs. By 1962, the Twist craze was in high gear world-wide & twist parties were "the thing to do." There was Twist merchandise and memorabilia sold in those times. And many other music artists recorded twist songs (i.e., Twist & Shout, Dear Lady Twist, Twistin' Postman, Twistin' The Night Away) which were at all levels of chart rankings from 1960 thru 1963. On Billboard's site it also is noted that Chubby Checker was the first recording star to place five million-selling albums in the Top Ten of the album charts at one time. And yet, Chubby Checker still isn't in The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?? He is definitely due this honor!!
- BubblesK, Memphis, TN
Knowing the history behind this song, If one listens to Ballard's version and Checker's version back to back, one can tell that Checker's is a copy of Ballard's.

P.S. I think Hank Ballard's version of this is sexy. And I know y'all might find me crazy for saying this. Lol.
- Stefanie, Rock Hill, SC
I recall the Twist craze in the early Sixties & that Chubby Checker's version of "The Twist" spawned other artist's Twist songs. According to Billboard's website, Chubby Checker is the only artist to have had five album releases in the top 12 at the same time. I am still a Chubby Checker fan and see his concerts whenever he's in my area. Great show! He's still got great pipes. He's fortunate to have had about 35 top forty hits in his career. So, after the dance craze era cooled down, Chubby still had successes. The Billboard website also mentioned that Chubby Checker has sold about 200 million records. In early 1962 I bought Chubby Checker's "The Twist" on Parkway Records when it was re-released. A cousin on mine bought Hank Ballard's original "The Twist" earlier & still owns it (very worn out), but still prefers Chubby Checker's version. The vocals are somewhat similar, but are not too similar. Chubby's version of "The Twist" is also on Billboard's List of 500 Greatest Rock & Roll Recordings.
- ELMER, WESTVILLE, OK
What does a good song make you want to do?....Dance!!! Of all the dance songs thru the years...this one has stood the test of time...have been dancing to this since I was 3 years old!
- Rick, Belfast, ME
In the fall of 1960 Chubby Checker was touring with Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars. On October 29th, 1960 they played in Utica, NY. Chubby only sang one song, The Twist of course, when he walked on stage they turned up all the all house lights and everyone in the place got up and danced. After he finished the song the crowd keep yelling and screaming that they brought him back out to sing the song again!!! Jimmy Charles, of 'A Million to One' fame, followed Chubby and had a difficult time settling down the audience...
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
Agreed with Brett, Edmonton, Canada
- Caitlin, Upper Township, NJ
Chubby's cover og Hank Ballard's song was so good that Ballard thought it was his (Hank's) record when he first heard it on the radio.
- Don, Newmarket, Canada
The stage name "Chubby Checker" was in homage to Fats Domino, not parody.
- Shell, Riverdale, GA
Chubby Checker flogged this dead horse another time when he performed different lyrics for this in an Oreo cookie commercial in 1990. In the commercial he was twisting apart the cookie from the creme filling.
- john, seattle, WA
"Let's Twist Again" features heavily in "That's What I Like" a remix of 60's songs by Jive Bunny and the Master Mixers.
- Katie, Goulburn, Australia
I actually prefer "Let's Twist Again" to "The Twist"- it's catchier and has more "soul", in my opinion.
- Brett, Edmonton, Canada
Checker married a Dutch girl, Rina Lodders, a former Miss World.
- Bert Van De Kamp, Den Bosch, Netherlands
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