Battle Acts

Chubby Checker and The Twist vs. All His Other Dance Crazes!

Think about how many times you've given serious consideration to the twist dance in the last 25 years or at least since Mad Men went often air. Then multiply it by a 20-digit number and you realize how much Ernest Evans (Chubby Checker to you) has thought about, philosophized over, pontificated and theorized about the Twist. Not to mention actually doing the darned thing! Like he did last summer! And the 55 summers before that!

You and me, we'd probably crack under the strain of being Twist Ambassador to the World. But Chubby has not only thrived but he's survived to become The Lord of the Dance.

All dances.

I interviewed Chubby Checker in 1994 and back then I came away thinking Chubby might be a few squares short of a checkerboard when he claimed "anyone that was born after 1950 is living in the shadow of the Twist. You're living in the Twist. Every time you go out, it's a part of your life. People dance apart because of the Twist."

I even gave him an easy out by asking, "are you saying Chubby Checker is responsible for mosh-pits, slam-dancing and stage-diving?"

"They're all my dances," Chubby said. "As long as people dance apart, they're all my dances. They all come back to me. I'm the guy. You dance today to any fast songs, it all goes back to here."

Back in 1994, Chubby already had reason to be concerned about his place in history. Eligible that year to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the gatekeepers had already inducted Hank Ballard, the man who originally wrote and recorded the song "The Twist," and felt like they'd already gotten The Twist obligation out of the way. Adding more insult to injury, The Hall even inducted The Midnighters without Hank Ballard in 2013, while still maintaining a Chubby shutout.

Clearly, no one in Cleveland sees the whole picture. People dancing apart. Self expression. People dancing to fast songs. Chubby Checker was the guy, the entry point. So if it's mad to think that what George Washington Carver is to oil extract from peanuts and seeds, Chubby Checker is to people dancing apart, then so be it. We have Chubby and his Twist laying the groundwork for grateful gyrators everywhere.

But let's not forget all his other dance crazes:

"The Hucklebuck" - 1960

Chubby's follow-up to his chart-topping cover version of "The Twist" was actually a revival of another defunct dance, a salacious sexual R&B dance craze from 1949 which could get as graphic as twerking when done as a couple. The male would "waddle like a duck" behind the female, and, later, when the female lay on her sacroiliac, the male would wiggle like a stick over her. Chubby gave this dance the tubby kiss-of-life when, like nuns at a CYO dance, he forced the boys and girls to dance apart, making it American Bandstand-able. In truth, another more chubby one, Jackie Gleason, did the same dancing-apart trick when he freestyled The Hucklebuck with Ed Norton on a memorable Honeymooners episode.

Ralph Kramden: "How am I supposed to waddle like a duck?"

Ed Norton: "It's easy, just walk like you always do."

"The Pony" (1961)

While Chubby was popularizing The Twist, Don Covay and the Goodtimers were laying the "boogity boogity boogity boogity shoo" groundwork for "Pony Time," which Chubby made into an equestrian variation of his earlier craze, almost as if you cross-bred The Twist with Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks.

"The Fly" (1961)

Most of Chubby's 1961 and 1962 singles were consolidations of previous Twist triumphs, including "Let's Twist Again," "Twisting' USA," "La Paloma Twist," "Slow Twistin'"(with Dee Dee Sharp) and "Teach Me to Twist" (with Bobby Rydell) and a second No. 1 stint for the original "Twist." But Chubby did find time to innovate with "The Fly," whose opening drone predicted "Tomorrow Never Knows" and our love of raga rock five years later. By this time jetsetters like Zsa Zsa Gabor were doing The Twist at the Peppermint Lounge, so what better way to send them up than adding wild flapping arms and frenzied jazz hands that look like they belong to someone who doesn't want to tip the washroom attendant."Limbo Rock" (1962)

By Chubby's account, he had The Twist all to himself for 18 months. Then people like Joey Dee and the Starlighters muscled in on his Twist territory. Of Chubby, TV host and disc jockey Clay Cole said: "Chubby and the Twist got adults out and onto the dance floor for the first time. Before The Twist dance phenomenon, grownups did not dance to teenage music." Cole saw this as a good thing. But seeing aristocrats in tuxes and ball gowns shaking their fannies meant The Twist was on teen life support. Just like The Beach Boys when they gave up surf songs, Chubby left The Twist behind which led to "Limbo Rock," the dance craze seemingly made for office-parties, even if Chubby Checker (a favorite entertainer-for-hire at corporate functions) dropped the Limbo broomstick ages ago because "kids started beating me at it. (And) it wrecked my shoes!"

"Popeye (The Hitchhiker)" (1962)

It's the first of Chubby's super-sized two-in-one dances, combining the Pop Pop Pop - Pie (a couple's dance) with the Hitch-Hike (a dance of solitude). I really tried finding some video representation of this one but all that I could get was footage of Bluto and Popeye fighting over a taffy pull of a woman named Olive.

"The Swim" (1964)

By now if anyone was living in the shadow of The Twist, it was Chubby, who tried to diversify with folk and calypso. By 1964, dance crazes were everywhere and Chubby latched onto the Bobby Freeman hit "Do the Swim" like a life preserver for his variation "She Wants to Swim." Despite a great performance and an appearance on Shindig, Chubby's swim record sank like a stone. With nothing landing in the Top 20 after that, desperate times called for Chubby's most desperate leap into the dance record world yet.

"The Freddie" (1965)

Long before the Curly Shuffle, The Freddie was the dance fashioned exclusively for geeks. Since Checker's exile from Top 40 favor happened within weeks of the British rock invasion, it was only fair the Chubster should steal something back from the mother country. Parkway Records released his recording of "Let's Do the Freddie" in time to compete with Freddie & the Dreamers' less-suggestive single "Do the Freddie."

"It was goofy," Chubby admitted. "But it was fun. They could have made something out of that if they had done that right. At that time, no one was good in America but The Beatles and Motown. That's what dominated the charts for eight or nine years. And no one got chance to do anything." And certainly no one was doing The Freddie by late 1965. Contrary to the recording's claim that "it's the thing to do, kids will envy you," all "doing the Freddie" ever seemed to do for youngsters was invite unrelenting peer persecution. Perhaps the world decided it wasn't ready to see a portly black man doing a dance with all the offensive precision of a Nazi goose step. Both Chubby and The Dreamers' Top 40 streaks ended with "The Freddie."

In 1966, Chubby released "Hey You! Little Boo-Ga-Loo" and another compound dance record "Karate Monkey." By this time, the dances were bigger than the dance craze king. It was three years before he'd chart in the Top 100 again with an "if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em cover of The Beatles' "Back in the U.S.S.R."

"The Rub" (1976)

Van McCoy's No. 1 "The Hustle" single-handedly reintroduced young people to the idea of dancing together and undid all of Chubby's dance-this-mess-apart field work. By 1976, with disco in full glower, Chubby kicked out a slow-jam dance craze. Aye, and there's the rub, "it's the oldest dance in town, let's do the rub." Lubrication sold separately. He'd get into the Top 20 one last time, in 1989, when he teamed with another revival of "The Twist," this one with the Fat Boys who, untrue to their name, soon vanished into thin air.

The Penis Measuring app (2014)

Perhaps Chubby's best salvo of keeping his legend intact didn't even involve The Twist. In 2014, he settled a lawsuit in which he accused Hewlett-Packard Co. of using his trademarked name without permission for "The Chubby Checker," a penis-measuring app! How low can you go, HP? A federal judge decreed the company should have known "the owner of the Chubby Checker mark would never have consented to license the mark for such a vulgar purpose."

I mean, he got people to dance apart! There's something heartwarming about knowing the King of the Twisters is still a prude!

Triple Double's Cinco de Macho will be available to stream on their Bandcamp page, as well as Spotify and Apple Music, on Saturday, Oct. 22.

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