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This was written by up-and-coming songwriter Bert Berns (under the pseudonym Bert Russell) along with Bill Medley from the Righteous Brothers. It was first recorded by the Atlantic Records vocal group The Top Notes on February 23, 1961. It wasn't released until that September as Atlantic single 2115, and then as the B-Side of "Always Late (Why Lead Me On)."
This original version was produced by Phil Spector, who within the next 3 years became the most famous producer in the record business, but his work on this didn't go over well. Atlantic Records co-founder Jerry Wexler said: "It was when (Phil) Spector was working with us, and he and I produced the record and it was horrible. Bert (Berns) was such a newcomer, he was sitting in the spectator's booth, watching Phil and I butcher this song. Phil changed the middle around, we had the wrong tempo, the wrong feel, but we didn't realize that Bert could've produced it. Did he say anything afterward? Yeah, he said 'Man, you f--ked it up.'"
Berns took the song to the Isley Brothers and convinced them to record it with the energy they were famous for, this time producing it himself. The result was a #1 R&B hit and a #17 pop hit for Wand Records in the summer of 1962 (the Isley's second release for the label) and it was also this version that was copied by The Beatles. (Thanks to Kent at the Forgotten Hits newsletter, which you can join at The60sshop@aol.com.)
This song combined the twist craze with the energy of The Isleys 1959 hit "Shout
," and it proved a winning combination. The Isley's version used the same lyrics as the original, but with a completely different sound.
The Isleys thought this was stupid and reluctantly recorded it in the last few minutes of a session for another song. Good thing they did. It revived their career, until this they were unable to follow up "Shout" with a hit.
The Isleys tried to follow this up with other twist-themed songs, including "Twisting With Linda," "Let's Twist Again," and "Rubberleg Twist." None were successful.
The building "ah-ah-ah" refrain was used on many other Isley Brothers songs in the next few years.
This became a huge hit for The Beatles in 1964, who ended many of their concerts with it. Phil Spector, who unsuccessfully produced the first version of "Twist And Shout," went on to work with The Beatles, producing their album Let It Be.
The Beatles version gave the Isleys an audience in England, where they gradually gained popularity.
Proceeds from this song enabled The Isleys to start their own label, T-neck Records, in 1964. They signed with Motown a year later but revived T-neck in 1969.
In 1993, Chaka Demus & Pliers recorded a Reggae version produced by Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare (Sly & Robbie) that went to #1 in the UK.
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