How many working drummers out there have played “The Twist” at a gig this year? While you may be quite familiar with the 4/4, kick-snare-kick-snare quarter-note pattern and intermittent fills to set up the refrains, you might not know the original release of the song has a bit of a different feel to it.
While most people recognize Chubby Checker’s 1960 version of “The Twist,” he was late to the party. The song was originally recorded on this date in 1958 by Hank Ballard And The Midnighters, and released on King Records in 1959. Despite being a B-side to “Teardrops On Your Letter,” the song was a decent hit for Ballard, peaking at #28 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Ballard’s version has a heavier shuffle to it, and—gasp—a bit of syncopation with the bass drum!
Chubby Checker (born Ernest Evans) only got involved when Dick Clark’s American Bandstand needed a fill-in for Ballard, who was unavailable to perform the song for the show later that year. As the story goes, Checker got the gig since his voice was similar to Ballard’s, and he brought drummer Ellis Tollin and sax player Buddy Savit with him for the gig. Checker recorded the song in 1960 and released it later that year, and it was this version that hit #1 across the country. He was 18 at the time.
It became a true phenomenon a couple years later, when the hip-shaking dance associated with the song caught on in dance clubs and with celebrities. The song has been released numerous times since then, including by Checker himself (“Let’s Twist Again” was released in 1961, “T-82” in 1982), and hip-hop duo The Fat Boys in 1988 (featuring Chubby Checker).
How would history have changed had Ballard been available for that TV appearance? Would the song have been as popular? We’ll never know, but for now we can enjoy several different versions of The Twist through the years. What’s your favorite version? Comment below!