Posts Tagged ‘Chubby Checker’

‘The Gist Of The Twist . . .’

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

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.

Some No. 10s From November 20

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

“Hmm,” I thought this morning as I scanned the Billboard Top Ten from November 20, 1965, and my eye fell on the listing for “You’re the One” by the Vogues. “I’m not sure I know that one.”

And I wandered off to YouTube, where I learned that I did, of course, know “You’re the One,” which went to No. 4. I had just never connected it with the Vogues. And that got me to wondering for a moment about how many records from the years, say, 1960 to 1980 that I know but that I’m not aware I know. It’s a thought that has no answer, unless I want to go line-by-line through the Hot 100 charts and run to YouTube every time a title seems unfamiliar to me.

That might be interesting for a while, but I imagine the task would eventually lapse into drudgery, and I have better ways to spend my time. This morning, for example, I’m going to invest a little bit of time in looking at the Billboard Hot 100 charts issued over the years on November 20. And given that I noticed “You’re the One” sitting at No. 10 in that 1965 chart, I thought I’d look at the records that were at No. 10 as well as noting which two records topped the separate charts.

My collection of Billboard charts starts in December 1954 and ends during the summer of 2004, a nearly fifty-year span. During that time, there were seven charts released on November 20; we’ll look at five of them and leave the charts from the 1990s to themselves.

The first chart released on November 20 came in 1961, when Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John” was No. 1 and Dion’s ‘Runaround Sue” was sitting at No. 2 (after peaking at No. 1). The No. 10 single that week was “The Fly” by Chubby Checker. Another dance record in the spirit of Checker’s earlier singles, “The Twist,” “The Hucklebuck” and “Pony Time,” “The Fly” had peaked a week earlier at No. 7. I’ve known the top two records for years, of course, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard “The Fly” until this morning.

Four years later, in the Hot 100 for November 20, 1965, the top two singles are again familiar records: Sitting at No. 1 was “I Hear A Symphony” by the Supremes while Len Barry’s “1-2-3” was at its peak position of No. 2. This was, as I noted above, the chart in which I came across “You’re the One.” The video I found at YouTube is notable for the inclusion every few seconds of young ladies’ graduation pictures from the mid-1960s. I didn’t know those girls, but I knew girls with clothing and hair styles just like theirs.

Unsurprisingly, as I look at the Hot 100 from November 20, 1971, I see a lot of familiar titles. Topping the chart during that week was Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft” and sitting just behind it was Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” which had been No. 1 the week before. I knew both of those, loving Hayes’ single and not totally disliking Cher’s. I was, however, pretty dismissive of the single sitting at No. 10 that week: “Yo-Yo” by the Osmonds. My scorn was likely a product of my slow shift away from Top 40 toward album rock, which accelerated that autumn. Now, listening forty years later without that purity/snobbery filter in place, “Yo-Yo” – which had already peaked at No. 3 by November 20 – is a pretty good single.

Another five years went by before a Hot 100 came out on November 20, and the top two records on that date in 1976 were “Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)” by Rod Stewart at No. 1 and “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot at No. 2. The Stewart single has made me cringe since the first time I heard it, and the Lightfoot single, which went no higher, still has my admiration. At No. 10 that week was “Do You Feel Like We Do,” the third hit – if I read my Joel Whitburn books accurately – from the massively popular Frampton Comes Alive album that spent ten weeks at No. 1. The label for the 45 of “Do You Feel Like We Do” says the record clocks in at 7:19 (which may or may not be accurate). The link here is to the full track, which runs more than fourteen minutes.

By the time we hit our fifth and last November 20 chart, we’re into 1982 and into a time when I wasn’t hearing everything that hit the charts. I knew the top two records of the week: “Up Where We Belong,” the duet between Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes, was at No. 1, and Lionel Richie’s “Truly,” which would go to No. 1, was sitting at No. 2. Those two were inescapable that late autumn, but I’m not sure I’ve ever before heard the record that was at its peak position of No. 10: “Muscles” by Diana Ross. Listening this morning, I don’t know that I really missed anything.

Saturday Single No. 281

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

A couple of news stories popped up online this week about spring break. One of them, on the website of the Houston Chronicle, noted that hotel bookings on Texas’ South Padre Island were at 95 percent capacity this week. For the month of March, officials on the island said in the piece, about 45,000 young people are expected on the island.

That makes South Padre Island one of the chief sites this month for college students who want to wander on the beach, drink beer and, well, be college kids. Other prime locations for spring break these days include Panama City, Florida, and Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Less attractive, noted the piece in the Houston Chronicle and a few others I saw online, are the Mexican resorts – Cancún and the others – because of drug-related violence in Mexico. The Chronicle reported that earlier this week, the Texas Department of Public Safety “warned spring break visitors to avoid not just the tourist-centric northern border towns, but all of Mexico.”

(That’s probably prudent, but there’s no doubt it’s also good for the coffers of South Padre Island and anywhere else in Texas spring-breaking students might gather. Or is that too cynical a thought?)

I never went on spring break. At about this time during every one of my college years, buses sponsored by fraternities and sororities left St. Cloud packed with kids who wanted to party on the beaches. The destination then was Florida, usually either Fort Lauderdale or Daytona Beach, and I admit to wondering more than once, as winter quarter was drawing to a close, how much fun it would be to do spring break on the warm sands of Florida.

But wondering was as close as I got to Florida. For most of my college years, the interim between winter and spring quarters was spent in the campus library re-shelving books, sorting and stacking periodicals, doing equipment inventories and taking care of other mundane but necessary tasks. I was generally working with nice folks, though, so those days weren’t as drear as they might sound. (The one college year that was different, of course, was 1973-74; I spent that spring break wandering through Western Europe, racking up a little more than 5,000 miles on my rail pass, so that kind of makes up for the lack of beer and bikini-watching on the beaches during the other springs.)

Anyway, all of those news stories and thoughts in the past few days fit neatly with my exploration earlier this week of the Billboard Hot 100 from early March of 1961. I noted in that post that the only record from that week’s Top Ten that I recalled hearing at the time was Connie Francis’ “Where The Boys Are.” And as I looked at the history of spring break this morning, I checked out what Wikipedia had to say:

From the end of World War II until the 1980s, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was a notorious spring break destination in the United States for college students. . . . Fort Lauderdale’s reputation as a spring break destination for college students started when the Colgate University men’s swimming team went to practice there over break in 1935. Fort Lauderdale became even more popular due to the 1960 film Where the Boys Are, in which college girls met boys while on spring break there.

I don’t know how good a movie Where The Boys Are actually is, although Wikipedia notes that it “was one of the first teen films to explore adolescent sexuality and the changing sexual morals and attitudes among American college youth” and that it “won Laurel awards for Best Comedy of the Year and Best Comedy Actress (Paula Prentiss).”*

Whatever depth there might have been to the film, spring break in 1961 was about partying (and still is, according to the pictures that accompany the Houston Chronicle piece), and Connie Francis’ “Where The Boys Are” is traditional pop. It’s too sweet and too soft to be a party record (though it might be a nice slow dance). To find what might have been a good party song for Spring Break 1961, I turned to the March 6, 1961, Top Ten from radio station WCKR in Miami. (That survey was the only one from a Florida station in March 1961 that I could find at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive.)

Here’s what Miami (and, one might assume, Fort Lauderdale) was listening to fifty-one years ago:

“Pony Time” by Chubby Checker
“Surrender” by Elvis Presley
“There’s A Moon Out Tonight” by the Capris
“Where The Boys Are” by Connie Francis
“Dedicated To The One I Love” by the Shirelles
“Walk Right Back” by the Everly Brothers
“Spanish Harlem” by Ben E. King
“Apache” by Jørgen Ingmann
“Shop Around” by the Miracles
“Think Twice” by Brook Benton

There are a few differences there from the Billboard Top Ten I looked at the other day, but the first five here all showed up there, too. And if one is looking for a party record, the No. 1 record on both charts is a pretty good choice. So, for spring breakers of all generations, Chubby Checker’s “Pony Time” is this week’s Saturday Single.

*The 1960 movie Where The Boys Are is available for viewing at YouTube for what seems a minimal cost. It’s also available through Netflix and, I would assume, other online services. I should note, too, that the movie was remade in 1984 with the imaginative title of Where The Boys Are ’84. The remake, I have read, is abysmal.

Chart Digging: April 12, 1969

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

I wrote my first screenplay in the spring of 1969. For a final project in a mass media class, I chose to adapt one of my favorite science fiction stories – “One Love Have I” by Robert F. Young – into a screenplay.

The results were mixed: I learned a lot about narrative, pacing and the use of language as I worked with Young’s meditation on love, loss, sacrifice and the Theory of Relativity; but then, I had a lot to learn. I came across my work not quite three years ago, when the Texas Gal and I were packing for storage those things we wanted to keep but did not need to have at hand. As I glanced through it, I saw immediately that as I’d written, I’d invested little effort in thinking visually, a major deficit in a piece intended for a visual medium.

Still, I was only fifteen in the spring of 1969, and for a first try at what was essentially a new language, the screenplay wasn’t bad. And I did get an A on it.

What else was happening as April of 1969 unreeled? I know Rick and Rob and I played table-top hockey. (Rick’s Chicago Blackhawks brought him his second Stanley Cup.) I spent weekday afternoons – as I chronicled here once before – in the St. Cloud Tech training room, overseeing the whirlpool and making certain that none of the distance runners drowned there.

And I think that more and more, I was listening to Top 40 radio. I hadn’t yet moved Grandpa’s old RCA radio from the basement workbench to my room, but that shift – a key moment in my listening life – wasn’t many weeks away. Sometime that spring, I’d lay down cash in a Minneapolis department store for my first 45 of popular music, buying the record that headed the Top Ten on this day in 1969:

“Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” by the 5th Dimension
“You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” by Blood, Sweat & Tears
“Dizzy” by Tommy Roe
“Galveston” by Glen Campbell
“Time of the Season” by the Zombies
“Only the Strong Survive” by Jerry Butler
“It’s Your Thing” by the Isley Brothers
“Hair” by the Cowsills
“Run Away Child, Running Wild” by the Temptations
“Twenty-Five Miles” by Edwin Starr

With the exception of the Tommy Roe record, which I’ve never liked, that’s a fine set. Given the hoo-ha over the nude scene in the stage version of Hair, and given the family image of the Cowsills, my sister and I were a bit puzzled by the group’s recording of the musical’s title track. “I didn’t think they’d record a song like that,” my sister said to me one day as KDWB provided the soundtrack as we did the dishes. The song, of course, was benign, just as the brief nude scene would be for most folks these days, forty-two years later.

As usual, there were some interesting things in the chart that week, and we’ll start our exploration of the Billboard Hot 100 just beyond the edge of the Top 40.

I once spent an entire post dissecting my thoughts about the Doors, returning to an earlier conclusion that they were a fine singles band but an overrated album band. While making that judgment, I don’t know if I thought about “Wishful Sinful” from The Soft Parade. One of the lesser known Doors’ singles, it was sitting at No. 45 that week, and would move up only one more notch before heading back down the chart. With that, “Wishful Sinful” was the first of four straight singles by the band that would reach the Hot 100 but fall short of the Top 40. (The others? “Tell All The People” and “Runnin’ Blue” from The Soft Parade would peak at Nos. 57 and 64, respectively, and the double-sided “You Make Me Real/Roadhouse Blues” from Morrison Hotel would get to No. 50.) Pulled from the context of its album, “Wishful Sinful” is better than I recalled.

Earthquakes were the inspiration for the only Hot 100 single by a California band called Shango. The group’s reggae-styled single “Day After Day (It’s Slippin’ Away)” was at No. 57 on the chart released forty-two years ago today, and would move no higher. “Where can we go when there’s no San Francisco?” the group asked. “Better get ready to tie up the boat in Idaho.” A year later, Shango’s single, “Some Things A Man’s Gotta Do,” went to No. 107 in the Hot 100’s Bubbling Under section. Other than that, the only other thing I know about Shango – and this is courtesy of Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles – is that Tommy Reynolds,  Shango’s lead singer, was later a member of Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds.

The Foundations are best-known for “Build Me Up Buttercup” (No. 3 in early 1969) and “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” (No. 11 in 1968). In mid-April of 1969, their lesser-known “In Those Bad, Bad Old Days (Before You Loved Me)” was sitting at No. 64, heading to a peak position of No. 59. The English group would have one more record reach the Hot 100 – “My Little Chickadee” would get to No. 99 during the summer of 1969 – and their last mentioned record in Top Pop Singles was “Stoney Ground,” which bubbled at No. 113 for one week in February 1972. “In Those Bad, Bad Old Days” isn’t awful, but it’s not very good, either.

For some reason, obscure covers of Beatles records are among my favorite things to discover. And last evening, as I was beginning the digging for this post, I came across a Beatles cover that surprised me. Not only had I never heard it before, but until last evening, I’d had no clue that it existed. Here’s Chubby Checker taking on “Back In The U.S.S.R.”

The record was at No. 85 in the Billboard Hot 100 released on this date in 1969, the thirty-third record Checker had placed in the Hot 100 (along with two that bubbled under). “Back In The U.S.S.R.” wouldn’t go much higher, spending the last week of April and the first week of May at No. 82 before falling off the chart. It would be another thirteen years – 1982 – before Checker would show up in the charts again, when “Running” went to No. 91 and “Harder Than Diamond” got to No. 104. And in 1988, “The Twist (Yo, Twist!),” credited to “The Fat Boys with Chubby Checker,” went to No. 16 on the pop chart and to No. 40 on the R&B chart, Checker’s last appearance on the charts.

At No. 91, we find Dusty Springfield’s sultry “Breakfast in Bed.” The B-side of her “Don’t Forget About Me” single (which went to No. 64), “Breakfast in Bed” would go no higher. To my ears, it deserved much more, being at least on a par with “Son Of A Preacher Man,” which had gone to No. 10 earlier in 1969. All three of those tracks – along with Springfield’s next charting single, “The Windmills of Your Mind/I Don’t Want To Hear It Anymore” (Nos. 31 and 105) – came from the sessions that resulted in the glorious Dusty In Memphis album, which had been released that March.

Finally, dipping into the Bubbling Under section of the April 12, 1969, chart, we find Al Wilson, whose “I Stand Accused” was perched at No. 107. In early 1968, Wilson’s “Do What You Gotta Do” had gotten to No. 102, and then two of his singles had climbed into the Hot 100 – “The Snake” went to No. 27 in 1968, and “Poor Side of Town” had reached No. 75 earlier in 1969. “I Stand Accused” would, however, climb only one spot more before disappearing. Not quite five years later, of course, Wilson’s brilliant “Show and Tell” would spend a week at No. 1.