There's more to Chubby Checker than 'The Twist'
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However, the singer, who performs Friday at Huntington's Ribfest, said he would like to be remembered for more than just being the face of a particular moment. He's a lot more than that. He's American history and a cultural movement.
The 70-year-old pop legend said, "When you say, 'Chubby did "The Twist,"' you've limited me, and [it's like] I died."
Checker did have substantial success beyond the ever-catchy "Twist." Through the decade following the song, he charted several other hits, including "Pony Time," "Dance the Mess Around" and "Jingle Bell Rock," but he frequently mined gold from the success of the twist craze. He returned to "The Twist" with songs like, "Let's Twist Again," "Slow Twistin'" and "Twistin' Round the World."
Still, Checker felt like it was cheap to see him as just another singer with a catchy song that the kids danced to once upon a time.
"The Twist" changed everything -- and he did that.
"When we talk about 'The Twist,' we talk about the dance floor," Checker said. "The great thing about 'The Twist' is that you were on the dance floor dancing by yourself with someone who was dancing by themselves.
"That's the dance we still do."
Dancing before "The Twist," Checker said, was much different. At least for popular dancing, you needed a partner. "The Twist" changed that. Plus, he said, it changed the way people met on the dance floor.
"In the old days, when you went to a dance, if you wanted the girls to see what you look like, you had to approach them with a friend. You had to wait until somebody went to the bathroom."
"The Twist" changed more than how we dance. It also changed how we approached one another.
Checker explained it like this: "You run into a woman you've never met before and ask her to come out on the dance floor and, all of a sudden, you're looking at everything. She gets the chance to turn around. She gets the chance to bend over. She's doing all kinds of sexy things in front of you and, by the time the song is over, you're having a heart attack."
It wasn't just "The Twist," but many of the dances that came later, including those he introduced to world like "The Twist," "The Fly," "The Pony," "The Shake" and "The Hucklebuck." Those dances, he said, represented a kind of dance floor alphabet.
"They've been rehashed a thousand different ways, but that's what we brought to the dance floor."
Checker said "The Twist" wasn't a craze any more than the telephone or the light bulb was a craze.
"We're still enjoying them," he said.
The singer wishes people would think of his contribution to music and dance in those terms. If so, maybe his songs would get more airplay on the radio.
"'The Twist' is the number one song of all time. It was number one on the charts twice," he said, "but I don't get that much airplay. Others from that era -- Frankie Vallie, The Beach Boys, Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Beatles and others -- get much more time on radio than I do, and a lot of those guys are dead."
If more people heard his music, he believes, he'd see more people at his shows, which he promises are a musical explosion.
Checker said, "I think I deserve it. If I got the airplay of some, I'd be playing not for 2,000 people, but for 10,000."
"We work with what we have, but there's more out there."
Reach Bill Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5195.