December 2 – Cooke’s Voice Stirred The Soul

The Inventor of Soul” gave us his creation 65 years ago. This day in 1957, a day after making his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, Sam Cooke had the #1 song in the U.S. with “You Send Me.” It would end up being his only #1 hit single, but enough to put his name down in music history and inspire a generation of young singers.

Cooke was born in Mississippi but grew up primarily in Chicago, where he was friends with Lou Rawls. Cooke was raised in a church-going home and was a talented gospel singer from a young age. In 1950, while he was still in his teens, he joined a gospel group called the Soul Stirrers. They were respected in their field, but had little mass-market appeal. However, Cooke also liked doo-wop and some pop music, and felt entirely justified in singing that. “My father told me it was not what I sang that was important, but that God gave me a voice and musical talent,” he reflected, making it “important to share it and make people happy.”

Which brings us to “You Send Me”, the great love song he wrote, although oddly it was originally credited to his brother LC Cooke. The song was undeniably fine. Decades later, Rolling Stone would list it as the 115th greatest song of all-time and Mojo’s Tim Sheridan would call it “one of the great pop love songs of all-time.” But, the Soul Stirrers and their label, Specialty Records, felt it was too secular, not Godly enough for them to do. So it was recorded and they made arrangements with Keen Records to put it out. That worked out well for Keen!

In a year when Elvis Presley was starting to make his presence widely known but Pat Boone was still a major star, Cooke’s song became one of the first “soul” records ever to hit it big. It went to the top of both sales and radio play charts, as well as the R&B one and sold two million copies eventually. And it made a name for Cooke. While he’d not have another #1 single (he came close in 1960 with “Chain Gang”, which got to #2) he did top the R&B ones four more times and established him as an in-demand writer. Among the many other well-known tunes he’d write was “Another Saturday Night”, turned into a hit by Cat Stevens over a decade later.

Cooke’s time in the spotlight was cut short unfortunately. He was shot dead at age 33 by a motel manager in California under suspicious circumstances. The shooting was ruled self-defense


November 16 – You Can’t Spell British Rock Without 2i’s

A night of significance that would a few years to recognize. That was this day in 1956, when according to On This Day, the BBC broadcast it’s very first pop radio program – The Six Five Special. It would soon spawn their first pop music TV show too, which had the same name.

The BBC, or British Broadcasting System, had been around for over thirty years by then. The first radio programs began in 1922 and in ’27 they were given a royal charter to be the monopoly radio-provider for Britain. But most of their programming it would seem was classical music, perhaps some big bands, and news, speeches from royalty, that sort of thing. The proper “Beeb” had no time for the silliness of youth and their music. But by ’56, Elvis was catching on worldwide, and at home “skiffle”, an odd sort of mix of jazz, folk, rock & roll and other elements was becoming popular. And a great place to find it was on Old Compton Road in London, near Chinatown at the 2I’s Coffee house.

2I’s was one of many cafes in the city, described by as “dingy places, reeking of tobacco.” But they were popular, espresso had been discovered by the Brits, and not being licensed for alcohol they could stay open late and serve teens. 2I’s had been run by brothers Freddy and Sammy Irani (hence the “2 I’s”) but by ’56 sold to a couple of ex-wrestlers, Rebel Ray Hunter and Paul Lincoln. They saw the potential to cash in on the skiffle fad and decided to have live music on the stage in the cramped basement, which was supposed to hold upto 80 people (but often had far more.) Among the early names to appear and be “discovered” there were Cliff Richard and Petula Clark. So, the BBC decided it was the place to be for their pop radio show.

Apparently it was a hit for the BBC and the cafe. Soon it was being described as “the place to be” for up and coming musicians and “a magnet for pop singers, agents and music entrepreneurs.” An official historical plaque placed there by the government describes it as “the birthplace of British rock & roll.” Among the people one might have found there were future star producer Mickie Most, waiting tables, and Peter Grant, working as a bouncer before he hooked up with Led Zeppelin and became their manager.

The TV show only ran a year and a half, and it would take until 1964 for BBC TV to get back into pop music, with Top of the Pops. The 2I’s itself began to lose steam in the ’60s and closed in 1970. But they’d both played their role. It brought new rock music to eager British ears and likely kick-started many a musical dream and career. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the same month the radio began airing the Six Five Special, up north in the land one John Lennon started a band, the Quarrymen whom after a few personnel changes became a little better known… as the Beatles.

September 23 – That’d Be That Day 65 Years Ago

Rock groups are senior citizens today…in a way of speaking. Because the first smash hit by a rock & roll band got to #1 this day 65 years ago – the 1957 hit “That’ll Be The Day” by Buddy Holly & the Crickets. Rock was still new back then, something that hadn’t hit the mainstream vernacular or even consciousness perhaps. Elvis was already huge mind you, having spent 18 weeks at #1 already that year. But the idea of a rock group – guitarists, bass, drums – instead of an orchestra or anonymous session musicians behind one singer, was quite fresh. And so far back was it that it pre-dates the “Hot 100” era on Billboard. They compiled lists of top-selling singles as well as plays on jukeboxes, but had yet to start the comprehensive list of top songs that became the industry standard by the 1960s.

Holly was of course, seemingly a major star in the making. A nerdy looking kid of 21– almost the anti-Elvis – with thick glasses, from west Texas who also had a knack for writing a catchy tune and an awkward but real on-stage charisma. He’d signed to Decca Records in 1956 and actually recorded “That’ll Be The Day” there first. It was a song he’d written with his drummer, Jerry Allison, the idea coming to him after they watched a Western in which John Wayne uttered the phrase defiantly.

However, as journalist James Harrison points out, the Decca version was “slower…not rock’n’roll.” Decca couldn’t be bothered releasing it, and cut Holly loose. However, they wouldn’t let him use the demos he’d recorded with them, nor release records under his own name for a certain period of time. So he found producer Norman Petty in New Mexico and recorded some tunes there with him…including a redo on this one. Petty helped himself to a writing co-credit on it but also seemed to get the feeling of the song right and make it marketable. Although his efforts to do so were just that – an effort. Columbia, Atlantic and RCA all turned it down flat. Finally Brunswick Records took a chance with it and released it under the name “The Crickets” owing to the old contract restrictions at Decca.

It took off, rising to #1 at home and in the UK, and as Harrison called it “here was the modern era.” Rock groups had arrived. Not surprisingly then, the Quarrymen (who morphed into a band known as The Beatles) recorded a demo of the song.

Rolling Stone rank it as the 39th greatest song of all-time, and it certainly is one that made a star and pointed the way for so many rock songs to follow, from its catchy, defiant chorus to a bit of a guitar solo and its featuring an entire band instead of just one singer.

Those of a certain age might not be that familiar with Holly’s original however. Gen X listeners perhaps got introduced to the song in 1976, when Linda Ronstadt had a top 20 hit in North America with her version of it which was actually sitting at #21 on this day that year.

As for Holly, his star shone brightly but went out too quickly. He died less than two years later in the plane crash referred to as “the day the music died.”

August 29 – The Day Britain Learned To Rock

It was a pivotal day in British rock history in 1958. In Liverpool, a 15 year-old George Harrison joined a group called the Quarrymen… a group that already featured John Lennon and Paul McCartney. As we know, before long they’d change their name and change the face of popular music for the rest of the century. Meanwhile, closer to London, Columbia Records would put out what Lennon called “the first British rock’n’roll record” . That was “Move It” by Cliff Richard and the Drifters.

Richard wasn’t an old-timer himself then; in fact he was only 18 and had just ditched his real name (Harry Webb) in favor of the new one the record company suggested. “Cliff” was to them representative of “rock”, for the type of music, and “Richard” was a tip of the cap to his personal idol, Little Richard.

Cliff had started the band the Drifters (which, it should be noted are not the same as the American group of the same name) and aimed to create a British version of the rock music that was starting to sweep America. He loved the energy of Little Richard but, as the video shows, fashioned himself a little as a “rebel rocker” in the image of Elvis.

Move It” was written by Ian Samwell of the Drifters, apparently while on a bus one day going to visit Richard. Although Columbia liked the song well enough, they weren’t fully confident in the Drifters, so while a couple of them did play on it, they brought in a couple of session musicians including guitarist Ernie Shears to fill in the sound. And they had it picked as the B-side to Richard’s debut single, with a cover of Bobby Helms song “Schoolboy Crush” as the A-side that was going to be noticed. That changed quickly though when BBC teen-oriented show Oh Boy offered to have him on…but only if he played “Move It.” Columbia quickly flipped the labeling and “Move It” was on its way. Although appearing confident and almost arrogant on stage, the young Cliff recalled feeling “it’s wonderful to be on TV for the first time, but I feel so nervous I don’t know what to do…I shaved off my sideburns last night, Jack Good said it would make me look more original.”

The song took off, as apparently many people felt the same as Lennon at the time. He said “before Cliff…there had been nothing worth listening to in British music.” The song got to #2 there, and also was a hit in Norway though it seemed to be ignored elsewhere. However, the next year he’d have a bit of a breakthrough with a #1 hit at home, “Living Doll” that even made North American charts.

Richard of course went on to be massively popular for decades in Britain, although primarily only remembered for a trio of soft rock songs from the ’70s and early-’80s over here – “Devil Woman”, “Dreaming” and “We Don’t Talk Anymore.” He calls “Move It” “my one outstanding rock classic” and to whit, has recorded it several times on live records and once in 2006 with Queen’s Brian May on an album of duets. And he might be right calling it a rock classic. Not only did Lennon applaud it, but so did Led Zeppelin who included it on a compilation album they released called The Music That Rocked Us. m

August 21 – Patsy Would Have Been ‘Crazy’ Not To Sing This

An all-time classic was recorded in Nashville on this day in 1961. Recorded quickly and reluctantly as it turned out. Patsy Cline sang “Crazy”, which would become not only her signature song but one of the first ever country-to-pop crossover hits, in one take at producer Owen Bradley’s studio…after much urging and cajoling from him and her husband, Charlie Dick. Which was good for everyone involved, including then unknown songwriter Willie Nelson. Cline herself was probably pretty happy it took just one take; she’d been in a serious car accident two months earlier and was still in a good deal of pain recovering from broken ribs (which made singing very arduous) among other things.

Cline was on her way to becoming a major star, but she’d paid her dues. She grew up poor, in a broken home in Virginia, was apparently sexually abused by her dad, and nearly died of Rheumatic Fever as a tween. She had a good voice however, and dreamed of being on the Grand Ole Opry stage. She became locally famous and in 1957, signed to a small division of Decca called Four Star Records, she got a break when she appeared on a national TV show, Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Search. That helped her song “Walking After Midnight” become a big hit on country radio and eventually, by 1960, get invited to the Opry she’d dreamed of for years.

She was by then married and working on a second album, Showcase. Recording had begun in late ’60, and was close to done when she had her car accident.

Meanwhile, ol’ Willie was then young, struggling Willie. Nelson had just moved to Nashville after tooling around Texas working as a DJ , singer and songwriter. He had a wife and three kids and was scrambling to make ends meet. Surprisingly, in retrospect, few singers seemed to like the song “Crazy” when they first heard it. He notes that it uses more, and different chords than most country music at the time and owed more to jazz. As well, in his original version it had a spoken word bit in it.

Bradley, and Charlie both liked the song when they heard the demo. But Patsy balked, saying she didn’t want to record more “compositions that embrace vulnerability and loss of love.” As for “Crazy”, she initially told her husband “I don’t care what you say. I don’t like it and I ain’t going to record it.” It’s unclear how she was persuaded to change her mind, but music fans are happy she did.

Bradley played the organ himself and his brother Harold played bass. Pianist Floyd Cramer was among the other session musicians brought in to play the piece which would be the second single off the album.

The first, “I Go To Pieces” was a #1 hit on country charts but “Crazy” did … well, “crazy” good. It was #2 on country charts but also made the top 10 on Billboard‘s regular singles chart, as well as in Canada. It’s popularity would endure (it made it back on the charts in Britain in 1990 for instance) and end up being her biggest hit ever. It was also reported to be the most-played song ever in American jukeboxes when that was tabulated in 1996. And it seems Willie Nelson’s done alright for himself since then too! He by the way picks Patsy’s version of “Crazy” as the best, better than even his own or Linda Rondstadt’s 1977 hit version. 

As allmusic note, it has an “ageless, wise and vulnerable” quality that gives it an ongoing appeal. Rolling Stone put it at #85 on their greatest songs of all-time list (just ahead of another country crossover from the same era, “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash)suggesting “Cline’s vocals infuse Nelson’s lyrics with slow burn of sex appeal” and adding it “set the stage for a sophisticated new phase of C&W.”

Sadly, Cline wouldn’t see much of that new phase. She died two years later, at age 30, in a small plane crash.

July 19 – A Brand New Music Genre? That’s All Right

Yesterday we looked at the final show at Shea Stadium and mentioned the first one there was by the Beatles… that had been what some figured was really the beginning of the “big concert” rock era. Today we look at a record Rolling Stone would suggest ushered in rock & roll in general. It was 68 years ago today Elvis Presley hit the store shelves, and rock music hit the airwaves with the release of his first single, “That’s All Right.” The 1954 vinyl single didn’t exactly set the music world on fire… but it sparked the match that did.

Remarkably, in an example of how different things in music back then, the song had been recorded only two weeks earlier! Elvis, his lead guitarist friend Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black were trying to record a few songs at the Sun Studios in Memphis, with owner Sam Phillips producing. In between “real” songs, Elvis began fooling around and broke into this song, a Blues number from eight years earlier. However, Elvis was playing it on his acoustic guitar and singing almost twice as fast as the original and the others joined in. Phillips liked what he heard, and told them to do it again from the top. This time he had tape rolling. They played it through in 1:57 and Phillips recorded it and after a little fine-tuning, pressed it as a single. Live to the disc, so to speak.

One has to recall, at the time, Elvis was unknown, except for in clubs around Memphis. So this, the first of what ended up being 117 singles he’d put out (according to Wikipedia; getting an exact count is difficult due to re-issues and different ones released in limited markets) didn’t generate a whole lot of buzz. It did become a local hit in the Southwestern Tennessee area, and got some airplay around the land on country radio… once again, remember in the early-’50s, since “rock” wasn’t a thing yet, neither was “rock radio” or even “top 40” stations. It’s estimated to have sold 20 000 singles, but failed to hit the Billboard charts. It did make some country music charts, getting to #28.

Elvis’ profile kept rising, but at first it did so as slowly as the Mississippi off Memphis after a drizzle. He, and Sun Records, would put out three more essentially unsuccessful singles before catching a bit of a break in 1955 with “I Forgot to Remember To Forget,” which went to #1 on country charts around the country, and up to #2 overall in Canada. That of course set the stage for the levee to break so to speak, with him quickly running off four-straight #1 selling singles now considered classics before they rang in 1956 – “Heartbreak Hotel”, “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You”, “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Hound Dog.”

Although Mental Floss agreed with Rolling Stone, saying it “stands as a convincing front runner for rock & roll’s ‘ground zero’”, a few suggest Arthur Crudup’s ’46 original was because it had seemingly the first electric guitar solo ever. Which seems a slim criteria for determining “rock and roll.” What isn’t in debate was that Crudup wrote the song. Or is it in debate?

The Sun single lists Crudup as the writer, but apparently they never paid him any royalties, there was a lawsuit in the ’70s, and he was due about $60 000, but he, or his estate allege they never received it. But that led to another argument. Some suggest that Crudup more or less plagiarized an earlier work, a 1920’s blues number called “Black Snake Moan” and its artist, Blind Lemon should be given co-credit.

No matter who actually came up with the idea, Elvis put it on the map, and soon Memphis would put Elvis on the globe – the map worldwide!

To mark the 50th anniversary of the song, a CD single of it was put out in 2004. Although it didn’t sell huge numbers at home, it did hit #3 in the UK, where it had been ignored 50 years prior.

April 26 – Duane ‘Gunn’ed To Top Of The ’50s Charts

Happy birthday to a guitarist once so popular he beat out Elvis Presley as Britain’s favorite international musician. The “Titan of Twang”, Duane Eddy, turns 84 today. His name might not be instantly recognizable, but his sound most certainly is.

Although he was born and spent his childhood in New York, his family moved to Arizona in his teen years and he quickly fit in there and found a way of incorporating the wide open spaces of the desert into his guitar-work, which was something he’d been working on since he was a pre-schooler. At 16, he bought a Gretsch guitar and the rest is history, as they say. He soon formed a duo called Jimmy & Duane in Phoenix and put out a single called “Soda Fountain Girl” in 1955. It was a minor hit in the city, and the pair became popular in the area playing country music. Around that time, Duane started to play his trademark “twangy” sound, concentrating on the lower, bass strings on his guitar (and later, at times even using a six-string bass). When he signed a record deal, the producer, Lee Hazlewood, decided it needed more echo so he bought a 2000-gallon tank for Eddy to play in to really add reverb!

The sound took off and in 1958 he had his first real hit, “Rebel Rouser” which hit #6 in the U.S. and earned him a gold single. He’d go on to have a dozen top 30 hits by 1963 including “Because They’re Young” and “Dance With the Guitar Man.” He was even more popular across the ocean, with 18 top 30s there by the mid-’60s. So well-known and loved was he there that in 1960, the NME named him the favorite international musician, ahead of Elvis. As the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would say, some 30 years later when he was inducted, “twang came to represent a walk on the wild side…the sound of revved-up hot rods made for rebels with or without a cause.”

Eddy’s now best-known for his take on a somewhat obscure TV show’s theme. Peter Gunn was a bete-noire type detective show around the end of the ’50s. Henry Mancini composed the theme for it, recalling it “derives more from rock and roll than jazz” and using a tense piano and guitar in unison sound to make it “sinister.” Eddy put his guitar sound to it and made it into a British top 10 hit… twice. First in 1959, then later with the band Art of Noise who redid it in 1986.

The Beatles of course changed the sound of pop dramatically around 1963, which coincided with when Duane’s hot streak petered out. He turned to acting for much of the rest of the decade, and in the ’70s produced some country records, and showed up here and there on other records, like B.J. Thomas’ “Rock & Roll Lullaby” which he played guitar on. Still, in those few short years he racked up quite a string of hits and influenced a whole generation of young guitarists including Bruce Springsteen, Dave Davies of the Kinks, Mark Knopfler and even George Harrison. No wonder he was an early entrant into the Rock Hall… and only the second winner of Guitar Player‘s “Guitar Legend” designation. The first was Les Paul, putting Eddy in pretty good company. And like Paul, there is a guitar named for Duane… the Gretsch “Duane Eddy” 6120DE.

Eddy was still touring as recently as 2018, when he had an 80th birthday tour!

March 21 – Moondog Began It All 70 Years Ago

Last week we talked about a U2 concert where only about a dozen people showed up. Many times we’ve talked about Live Aid and the Beatles legendary rooftop appearance in 1969 recently immortalized by the film Get Back. But today we remember a concert that might have been an even more significant ticket – the first rock concert ever was held this day in 1952. In Cleveland, fittingly, the city now home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Radio DJ Alan Freed was behind it and hosting (Freed is generally credited with coining the term “rock and roll”). He was working with WJW in Cleveland which was mainly a classical music station. However, as a local record store owner was selling a lot of R&B records, he sponsored a weekly late night show of that sort of music, hosted by Alan Freed, aka “Moon Dog”. They decided to bring some of the acts they played – Paul Williams and his Hucklebuckers, the Rockin’ Highlanders (a Black group that apparently played in kilts) and others to a live dance/show at the Cleveland Arena. Dubbed the Moondog Coronation Ball, the 10000 seat arena filled…unfortunately, due to counterfeit tickets and math problems in ticket printing, about twice that many kids showed up. A huge push to get in caused the fire department to complain and the police shut it down after just one song… first concert, first concert conflict with local authorities all in one night!  Still, one song in, the world of rock concerts had begun. Music would never be the same.

Alas, there aren’t any concerts taking place there anymore. The Cleveland Arena, which at one time hosted both professional hockey and basketball, was torn down in 1977. By then it was looking rather ragged and old-fashioned compared to other similar sports facilities and parking was entirely inadequate for large crowds. A Red Cross office building now stands on the site on Euclid Ave. 

March 18 – One Last Duckwalk

Remembering one of rock’s Founding Fathers. Chuck Berry passed away five years ago today at his St. Louis area home, at age 90. Bruce Springsteen soon after would say Berry was “rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist and the greatest pure rock’n’roll writer who ever lived.” Although he had a fairly small number of hit records, few if any shaped the future sound of rock as much as Chuck did.

Berry was born in St. Louis, where he spent most of his life, and grew up listening to a mix of Gospel, blues and even country music, all of which would influence the sound he would go on to create. He began playing guitar with a blues group, Johnnie Johnson Trio, around 1950 and by 1955, his idol, Muddy Waters helped him get signed on to Chess Records. His first single, “Maybelline”, got to #5 that year when rock’n’roll was almost an unknown novelty, and as the Wall Street Journal‘s Matthew Osinsky said, “by 1958, Berry had already pioneered much of rock’n’roll’s instrumentation and rhythm.” Not to mention its style -decades before Michael Jackson’s “Moonwalk”, Berry came up with perhaps the original rock’n’roll move – his Duckwalk!

Songs like “Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Rock & Roll Music” helped him become a popular and successful musician… and inspire the next generation or rock stars. Both the Beatles and Rolling Stones would jumpstart their young careers with covers of his songs, while the Beach Boys did so less directly – Chuck successfully sued them for plagiarizing his “Sweet Little Sixteen” on their “Surfin’ USA.”

Berry kept performing until weeks before his death, although his recording career stalled after his final (and strangely enough, biggest) top 10 hit, 1972’s “My Ding-a-ling.” But he was far from forgotten. President Carter had him perform at the White House and he was in the inaugural class of inductees in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, along with the likes of Elvis and Buddy Holly. Nine years after that, he’d play the first Rock & Roll Hall of Fame concert, with Bruce Springsteen and his E-Street Band being the backing musicians.

His memory shone upon his 2017 death, with the New York Times running a lengthy obituary declaring “with his indelible guitar licks, brash self-confidence and memorable songs (he) did as much as anyone to define rock’n’roll’s potential and attitude.” Mick Jagger said “I want to thank him for all the inspirational music he gave to us. He lit up our teenage years,” while Bob Seger noted “Chuck had tremendous influence on my work and could not have been a nicer guy.” Which seems like as good a way as any to be remembered. Long may you duckwalk across the rock’n’roll heaven stage, Chuck.

January 13 – Chubby’s Big Hit Put A Twist In His Career Path

People danced Chubby Checker into the record books for records 60 years ago. His early-rock classic “The Twist” rose to #1 on the singles chart this day in 1962.. a year and a half after it first made it to the top. It would be over 50 years before any other song would top Billboard in different years after dropping off the charts entirely (and that would be Mariah Carey with “All I Want For Christmas Is You”, in case you were wondering.) A whole lot of luck was involved, and for Checker, he’s not convinced it was all good.

The Twist was a dance that was catching on with the youth of the nation in the late-’50s. As one report put it, couples would do it and while “couples barely ever touch each other or move their feet. Everything else, however, moves!” Of course, as with all dance fads which seem to catch on, it was seen as too provocative and erotic by most of the elders (and it didn’t help it was done to that vile rock and roll sound of people like Elvis Presley or Little Richard) which only increased its popularity in the clubs.

A singer named Harold Ballard saw the dance and how enthusiastic a crowd of teens in Florida was doing it, so he wrote the song and recorded it with his band, The Midnighters, in 1959. It was only a minor hit though. Here’s where his luck was not great, but Checker’s was. Dick Clark was the host of the already-popular American Bandstand. Kids danced to popular music of the day on the show, and Clark wanted the Midnighters to perform it. For some reason, they were unavailable to appear, so he looked around and chose Checker to do it. Checker , aka Ernest Evans, was a teen himself and an up-and-coming singer who had already had one minor hit himself, “The Class.” Clark figured Checker sounded rather like Ballard. So he had Checker record the song, so there’d be a record around to justify his being on the TV show. He appeared on American Bandstand the first time in August, 1960. Less than a month later, the single was #1 in the States. It was the dance sensation of the nation in the early-’60s. Oddly, in Britain it only got to #44 initially, perhaps because they weren’t watching Dick Clark. Obviously though, some took notice and a certain band from Liverpool did their own rockier take on the dance four years later!

The Twist” was a big hit, being in the year-end top 10 in 1960, but eventually dropped off the charts as songs eventually do. Yet, the dance craze just continued to grow (by 1962 socialites were taking joy in doing it scandalously) and lo and behold, the single jumped back onto the charts about a year later, knocking “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” out of the top spot in early-’62. It spent two weeks at #1, and ended among that year’s top 10 singles too. Cumulatively, it spent 33 weeks in the American top 40, more than any song until the method of tabulating the chart changed in the ’90s. By some counts it sold 15 million copies, and although that’s not been verified, Billboard list it as the top single of the 1960s.

Checker would go on to have a string of hits for a few years; 14 of them top 20 hits in fact, including “Let’s Twist Again”, which got to #8 (but curiously hit #2 in the UK, doing better than his first “The twist”). And there was “Teach Me To Twist”, as well as a song about another dance, “Limbo Rock” that made it to #2 later in ’62. He’d return to the airwaves in 1988, adding his voice to hip hop Fat Boys with…yep, “The Twist.” All in all, it undoubtedly made Mr. Checker a rich artist…but also a bit of a joke at worst, a one-trick pony at best. “In a way, ‘The Twist’ really ruined my life,” he once said. “I was on my way to becoming a big nightclub performer,” but after “The Twist” and no fewer than five albums using “Twist’ in the title, “no one ever believes I have talent.” Van McCoy might be able to relate.