[August 17, 1960] Dancing to a new beat (The Twist)

We interrupt this cavalcade of science fact and fiction articles to bring you…some pop culture.

Seven years ago, The Crows came out with Gee, what is now generally recognized to have been the first “rock ‘n’ roll” song.  It was a revolution–within months, the crooners and the overripe schmaltzy swing tunes were swept aside in favor of the new mode.  Well, at least on the Black stations.  Then Elvis and Pat Boone came along and made this scary new music safe for everyone else. 

This year, it appears Chubby Checker has sparked a similar, related revolution.  With a simple, catchy rock ‘n’ roll tune, The Twist, he appears to have single-handedly invented solo dancing. 

Think about it: for centuries, from the Estampie to the Waltz to the Cha Cha Cha, dancing has been something you do with partners.  Now, with The Twist, you can shrug all by your lonesome–or with hundreds of friends.  There’s no denying its popularity.  Checker’s song is at the top of the charts this week (displacing Elvis’ short-lived tenure, thankfully), and if you caught his performance on American Bandstand the other day, you were probably tempted to join in the fun.  There may not be a jukebox in America what doesn’t have, at any given hour, several teens around it Twisting the night away.

I only hope that Checker, a promising nightclub player with a talent for mimicry (check out last Christmas’ surprise hit, The Class), doesn’t get pigeon-holed, doomed to release dance number after dance number to stay afloat. 

I suppose it is better to have one hit than none. 

11 thoughts on “[August 17, 1960] Dancing to a new beat (The Twist)”

  1. Bah!  Humbug!

    That “rock and roll” stuff is just a fad.  It’ll be a historical curiosity in just a few years.

    We’ve seen the Power of Television at work for a decade now, driving the clothing and automotive industries into annual style changes as they reach past the three-to-five month magazine advertising cycle to put the latest styles in front of far more people in real time.  And almost nobody disputes how television has influenced the last two elections.  What’s next?  A three-month style cycle and the TV picking our elected officials for us?

    The television industry can put the eyes of the public on something – anything at all – and make it current, newsworthy, and marketable.  And electable, from the looks of things.  You can find that Kennedy guy on any channel, dancing and waving like a homecoming queen.  We’re probably seeing the future of campaigning right there.

  2. At the very least, this is definitely the song of the summer, even if it did come along a little late. I’m a little old for this rock and roll stuff (heck, a couple of my kids are a little old for it), but I kind of like it. But then, I’ve always liked blues and swing, and rock and roll clearly has roots in both. I think my favorite Top 40 number in the last few weeks has been “Only the Lonely”. That Orbison kid has a beautiful music hall tenor.

    As for this solo dancing, I’m not really convinced. True, the kids have been dancing farther and farther apart over the last few years, and I can see this a bit of a warm-up (or the boys getting the jitters out of their systems), but nothing is ever going to replace the slow dance at the end of the evening.

    1. I wonder if the teachers and principals like or disapprove of this current development.

      As for music, I’m partial to the Sons of the Pioneers and other quality Western acts.  But I have to admit, I’m really enjoying the Ventures.  Their Walk, Don’t Run is a completely new sound.  I will definitely buy their 33 when it comes out this Fall.

      1. It’s probably making them tear their hair out in confusion. There’s certainly more than room enough between those kids than a Bible, but some of those Elvis style gyrations are pretty suggestive. But every new dance style is a scandal. When the waltz first came along people swore it meant the end of all moral decency.

        The Ventures do have an interesting sound. I’ve heard it called surf music, so I suppose it must be pretty popular in your neck of the woods.

        1. For a newish group the Ventures are doing quite well.  My wife has worn at least two of their records smooth. 

          She’s the audiophile here, and she’s been pestering me for one of those new stereo systems.  One of those things would cost three or four house payments!  If the Ventures start recording in stereo there’s going to be trouble in the household…

  3. I just wonder what Hank Ballard and the Midnighters think about Chubby Checker’s smash hit with their song.

    1. This has been a summer of remakes. For weeks, there were two different versions of Alley Oop on the charts, and right now there are two versions of Hot Rod Lincoln. Go figure.

  4. The FM radio stations coming online might be a contributor to that.  Though there has been commercial FM broadcasting since before the war, it’s only recently that there has been signficant numbers of FM stations.  Mostly in larger metro areas… which mean more listeners and more record stores.

    At least in my area, the FM stations are using different playlists and DJs than the AM stations.  They’re obviously aimed at different demographics; they’re either “rock and roll” or classical, with no western or news-only stations, at least none that I’ve encountered so far.

    The sound quality is definitely better on FM, though it’s liable to “shadowing” from buildings and terrain.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.