‘The Gist Of The Twist . . .’

I remember twisting in the spring of 1962. I was in third grade, and the Twist was the pop culture nugget of the season, what with Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” having hit No. 1 in Billboard for the second time in January, spending two weeks atop the chart. (“The Twist” had been No. 1 for a week in September 1960, and it remains, I think, the only record to rise to No. 1 twice in separate releases.)

Like the rest of the country, my third-grade class at Lincoln Elementary School was very aware of the dance, of Checker’s record and of at least some of the numerous twist records that followed. There was one rainy afternoon when lessons were set aside for a time in favor of twist talk. I clearly remember our teacher, Miss Kelly, being schooled in the fine points of the “Peppermint Twist” (a No. 1 hit for Joey Dee & The Starliters early in 1962) by a classmate of mine named Debbie for whom dance was a passion; nine years later, she’d be one of the leaders of the St. Cloud Tech High dance line, the Tigerettes.

As Debbie demonstrated without music, Miss Kelly, a pretty brunette who I think was a first-year teacher, urged all of us to move away from our desks and follow along. And we did, making that afternoon the only time I’ve ever done the Twist, which is probably a good thing.

Had I wanted to dance some more, however, and had I listened to Top 40 radio at the time, I would have found plenty of music for twisting, as there were no fewer than ten twist records in or near the Billboard Hot 100 of May 5, 1962. One of them, at least, might have been useful to us in Miss Kelly’s classroom. “Teach Me To Twist” by Bobby Rydell & Chubby Checker was bubbling under at No. 112. Despite the classic line, “The gist of the twist is chiefly in the hips,” it would rise only to No. 109. The seemingly odd pairing of singers becomes less odd when one recalls that Rydell recorded for Cameo and Checker’s records were on Cameo’s sister label, Parkway.

Checker also twists much higher in that same Hot 100. His “Slow Twistin’,” recorded with Dee Dee Sharp, was parked at No. 8, having peaked at No. 3. The song was, I believe, featured in a movie titled Don’t Knock the Twist, and I believe the clip below is from the movie.

So what other records were urging folks to twist that week? Well, there was “Twist, Twist Senora” by Gary U.S. Bonds at No. 10, “Soul Twist” by King Curtis & The Noble Knights at No. 17, “Twistin’ The Night Away” by Sam Cooke at No. 32, “Twistin’ Matilda” by Jimmy Soul at No. 36 and “Meet Me At The Twistin’ Place” by Johnnie Morisette at No. 71. (Those not linked are all available at YouTube.)

And then there were three remakes of records by folks trying to capitalize – as good businessfolk should – on the craze. Perez Prado, known as the King of the Mambo, had scored a No. 1 hit in 1958 with “Patricia.” In early May 1962, Prado’s “Patricia – Twist” was sitting at No. 70, having peaked at No. 65. Bill Black’s Combo had reached No. 9 in 1960 with “White Silver Sands.” In early May 1962, the combo’s “Twistin’ White Silver Sands” was peaking at No. 92. And there was saxophonist Moe Koffman, who’d hit No. 23 in 1958 with “The Swingin’ Shepherd Blues.” In early May 1962, Koffman’s “Swingin’ Shepherd Blues Twist” was bubbling under at No. 115; it would peak at No. 110.

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