“The Twist” by Chubby Checker remains a unique single in American music history. While hundreds of singles have reached number one on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart, fell out of that position, and then returned to the top, only “The Twist” reached number one in two completely different chart runs. It reached the top for the week of September 19, 1960 and again January 13, 1962, where it remained for two weeks.
The song first saw the light of day as the flip side of an obscure Hank Ballard and the Midnighters single “Teardrops On Your Letter.” Ballard re-released the song as an A-side on July 18, 1960. Checker released his version a couple of weeks later on August 1st. It all came down to Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. Ballard wasn’t available but Checker was, and the rest, as they say, is history as his performance on the show made his release the big hit.
Its first chart run was fueled by teenagers, but during the intervening 18 months the dance had become a phenomenon, even accepted by adults. It was one of the first rock songs to cross over to an older audience as the dance craze was appearing in clubs across the United States. Dozens of artists would issue Twist songs to capitalize on its popularity. Joey Dee and The Starliters would also top the charts with their version called “Peppermint Twist.” Checker would release “Let’s Twist Again,” “Twistin’ USA,” and “Slow Twistin.’” Its lasting appeal would be apparent by its reaching number two on the U.K. singles chart during 1988.
The dance was brilliant in its simplicity: swivel your hips and move your knees and arms back and forth, and there you have it. It was so simple even I can do it, and I can’t dance.
Checker would go one to release a number of dance records including “Pony Time,” “The Hucklebuck,” “The Fly,” and “Limbo Rock,” but none had the lasting impact of “The Twist,” which ruled the music world a half-century ago this week.