Writer(s): Hank Ballard (see lyrics here)
Released: June 1960
First Charted: July 18, 1960
Peak: 13 US, 18 CB, 3 GR, 15 HR, 2 RB, 5 UK, 16 CN, 20 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)
Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 1.0 world (includes US + UK)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 2.0 radio, 54.1 video, 70.75 streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
“The Twist” became the only song in U.S. history to top the pop charts in two separate runs. Author Andrew Hickey called it “the most successful record in chart history.” AH It was first recordedd by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, RS500 who were “a washed-up R&B group” AH by 1958. The song’s inspiration has been cited as a new dance Ballard saw Florida teens doing, SF but Ballard claims that his band invented it from his group’s on-stage dance routines. SJ
Another account suggests the dance and song originated with Jo Jo Wallace and Bill Woodruff, members of the black gospel group the Sensational Nightingales. SS They were touring on the same bill as the Midnighters and offered the song to Ballard because they couldn’t sing a secular song about a euphemism for sex. AH He reworked the lyrics to a melody they’d used for “Is Your Love for Real?” AH and took sole composer credit. SS That song was inspired by “Whatcha Gonna Do?” by Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters. AH
The Midnighters’ version came out in early 1959 as the B-side to “Teardrops on Your Letter” but “The Twist” started getting attention from DJs at dances. TB White teenagers then started doing the twist on the TV dance-party program The Buddy Deane Show. This caught the attention of Dick Clark at American Bandstand, “the biggest of the dance-party TV shows.” TB When it became that show’s hottest dance, FB Clark wanted it on his show, but either couldn’t get the Midnighters because they were on tour or he wanted a “less threatening” artist (code for less “black”), someone younger, and/or someone with whom he had some financial interest. AH
Clark met Ernest Evans when he went to Cameo Records to record an audio Christmas card for friends. Evans, who took the stage name Chubby Checker when Clark’s wife, Barbara, said he looked like a young Fats Domino, recorded the song doing impressions of Domino, Elvis Presley, and the Chipmunks. Clark wanted someone to perform “The Twist” exactly like Hank Ballard & the Midnighters so he turned to Checker. AH Clark introduced it on his show as the “hottest dance sensation in the last four years, a thing called the twist.” TB
As for the results, Ballard said, “they cloned it.” SF In fact, when he first heard it on the radio, he thought it was his version. TBP However, he was not bitter considering the huge songwriter royalties he received once Checker’s version became a hit SF – twice. The song owed its first wave of success to the teens. However, it became a hit all over again, thanks to the Peppermint Lounge in Manhattan. AH
Joey Dee & the Starliters played covers of dance hits at the club, as happened in many bars. However, the Peppermint Lounge hired a publicist to get celebrities to their club, which would get mentioned in society columns. Since the club was close to Broadway, It started attracting major stars including Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, and Greta Garbo. That garnered more attention for the dancing done in the club, which helped the Starliters reach #1 with “Peppermint Twist” and revived interest in “The Twist.” AH The song was re-released went back to the top. The two chart runs gave it a record 39 weeks on the Hot 100 for a #1 song, a feat that lasted until 1988 when UB40’s second chart run with “Red Red Wine” gave that song 40 weeks on the charts. BB
Part of the success of the dance was because anyone could do it. As Checker said, “It’s like putting out a cigarette with both feet.” SJ It succeeded on American Bandstand because it “was energetic and improvisatory...adaptable enough that it didn’t have to be sexualized…[and] didn’t require a partner, so shows like Bandstand were never in danger of violating any morality codes.” TB Black activist Eldridge Cleaver called it “a guided missile, launched from the ghetto into the very heart of suburbia.” SS
First posted 1/13/2012; last updated 4/2/2023.