Monday, September 20, 2010

Dance Craze Predicts Future: Chubby Checker: "Let's Twist Again"

There were, of course, those who didn't have much interest in jazz of either a death-defying or contemplative nature; which is to say, the angst of the early 60s was something easily avoided by a new dance craze: the Twist. Why think about possible nuclear war, the situation in South Africa, this new war in a place called Vietnam...when you could just move your body back and forth, with or without a partner? If there is any song that marks the definitive beginning of the 60s (at least in this blog's remit), here it is - sung by Checker as a long encore, as if it's the real beginning of a party that is maybe about to get way out of hand ("Is it a bird, is it a plane? It's a Twister!" he cries, as if sufficient twisting could make you fly) with no way down, no way out. And indeed at the time the dance spawned many others, but it mostly spread like a virus across all classes and nations, until it was pretty much the case that it was the new hip thing, for young and old, royalty and sweaty teenagers giving it their all despite parental disapproval. The twist was the first rock 'n' roll dance, a dance that came out of the famed Peppermint Lounge, which was a place to dance to records: a discotheque. Thus another craze was born on the side: going somewhere to dance to recorded music amongst any number of people, famous and infamous, to do the latest dances and hear the hot records. (Of course people danced to records before this; I always imagine kids going crazy around a jukebox, or even dancing in their car, should they be lucky enough to get a hold of one.)

The song itself is as basic as the dance, Checker is jolly and a little scary too (as if, if you don't dance, he will come over and make you dance); seeing as how there were at least two other twist songs in the chart at this time, I can imagine how some kids were probably wondering what on earth could be better than this; without giving much away I would argue that the very best twist song was the last big one, which acted as a springboard for a group we have yet to encounter. (Those of you who can't stand the suspense can click here.) Hello, 1960s, and hello, the future.

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