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Shouting about the Twist

by David Soulsby, author of the novel "Somewhere in the Distance"


Rummaging in the loft just after New Year, I came across some of my old vinyl records. Flicking through them, one in particular caught my attention: it was Chubby Checker vs Gary U.S. Bonds, a Canadian issue LP that I’d bought in the late 1970s. It has five tracks by each singer and the Twist dominates the play-list. Listening to it again after it spent several years closeted in a cardboard box, I was reminded that the second phase of the Twist craze that enthralled the world was celebrating its 50th year. It was at the start of the Sixties that the dance first became popular, grabbing the imagination of young and old alike, ticking along in popularity for a couple of more years, then enjoying a phenomenal resurgent explosion towards the end of 1961 and through to mid-1962.

Songs with Twist in the title, or that were easy to do the dance to, filled the charts. Even long-established singers were putting out records with a Twist beat or Twist in the title. One highly popular British star enthused: ‘The Twist is the greatest musical thing to hit England since rock ‘n’ roll.’ Perhaps a bit overboard, but the Twist was certainly a great dance to show off to at parties or school end-of-term dances. A chance for some pure exhibitionism!

I have six Twist classics among my favourites from that period:

Let’s Twist Again: Chubby Checker doing what he did best, belting out a simple, irrepressible ditty to a lively beat that you couldn’t resist. You just had to get up and dance, which is what my school chums and I were doing in February 1962, celebrating a 16th birthday. We were twisting round and round and round on terra firma, while high above a certain John Glenn was going round and round and round as the first American to orbit the earth: three times in just under five hours. We didn’t know then, of course, that before the decade was out that man would be walking on the Moon. So whenever I hear Let’s Twist Again I always think back to that period, a more innocent time and one of hope and great expectation.

Twistin’ The Night Away: Here’s Sam Cooke, undoubtedly one of the greatest ever soul singers, lending his superb voice to the Twist list. I’d been a big fan of his for a couple of years, wallowing in the grandeur of such gems as Cupid and Only Sixteen, so hearing him putting his own interpretation on the dance craze was a delight. It was a regular on the turntable throughout those early months of 1962, always a thrill to listen to, and a silky-voiced sound that had you tapping your feet and singing along.

Sadly, Cooke was shot dead just a couple of years later, a great loss to the world of music, but his legacy lives on, and Twistin’ The Night Away is as good a reminder of his talent as any.

Twist Twist Senora: Sounds like it was recorded in a tin hut while a wild party was going on. It’s raw and raucous and totally primitive, but that’s what gave it its appeal. I loved Gary U.S. Bonds right from the start and this was a worthy addition to his groundbreaking greats, New Orleans and Quarter To Three.

I didn’t see Gary perform live during his heyday, but I was fortunate enough to catch him a couple of years ago on a tour of Britain when he a guest star with Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings. Before the show I wondered if I’d be disappointed after all the years that had passed since the early Sixties — but I needn’t have worried. He was superb, just as he was back then.

Twist And Shout: Often regarded as the piece de resistance of Twist records, this Isley Brothers classic had everyone up on the dance floor. It was an instant favourite, boasting immaculate vocals overlaying a tremendously understated, infectious beat. It has stood the test of time. I grant that The Beatles version is louder and more in your face, but the subtlety, control and musicianship of the Isley’s version is pure magic. The Searchers also did a very commendable version, probably closer to the original than many efforts by other Sixties groups. 

Peppermint Twist: Just when the Twist looked like losing its appeal, along came Joey Dee and the Starliters, wowing the in-crowd at New York’s prestigious Peppermint Lounge. Anyone who was anyone flocked to the club to strut their stuff. They couldn’t get enough of it, and the Twist was suddenly catapulted back into the public’s consciousness. The dance craze just went into the stratosphere.

A friend of mine had the Joey Dee album Live At The Peppermint Lounge and I remember borrowing it and playing it over and over again for a couple of weeks. I nearly wore it out! But back then, that’s what we did, we borrowed each other’s records all the time.

When my parents were away one weekend, I invited a crowd of school friends round and we danced the night away to Joey Dee and the Starliters. Ah, those were the days!

Do You Love Me: Although this mentions several dance crazes, I think it’s the Twist influence that comes across the strongest. It’s The Contours on top form, inviting you to dance like you’ve never danced before. I came across this record when someone at school, who bought it when it first came out, tired of it and offered to sell it to me for a fraction of what he paid. I grabbed it with open arms. It was his loss and my gain. It’s my personal number one for dancing to: it has a let-yourself-go corker of a beat that’s relentless throughout, and a delightful catch-you-out pause at the end before leaping back to life for a pulsating finale.

This was the song that saw me take to the floor at the 1962 Christmas school end-of-term party, not just twisting but improvising with abandon! I just couldn’t stop myself. I recall thoroughly enjoying myself that night, especially as a group of girls told me later that mine was the best dancing they’d ever seen!

So there they are, my top six Twisters, timeless and packed with memories. If only I could twist again like all those years ago!

David Soulsby lives in Romford, Essex,David Soulsby England, and is now retired after 46 years as a journalist. During his career, he worked on local and national newspapers and magazines, and in the Sixties met many of his musical heroes, including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Sonny Boy Williamson, James Brown and Mel Torme. He’s now freelancing as a writer and proof-reader, working from home. He’s the author of Somewhere In The Distance, a novel about four friends growing up in the Sixties.




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