What it looked like was a roomful of people with their feet nailed to the floor trying to dry themselves off with invisible towels. But on Sept. 19, 1960, when Chubby Checker’s ”The Twist” reached No. 1 on the music charts, its attendant dance craze was considered not only erotic-hey, this was before the sexual revolution-but very daring. As the first modern dance in which partners didn’t touch, the twist was taken as an expression of freedom. It also made a pop fixture of a South Philly chicken plucker named Ernest Evans. He didn’t create the twist-that honor went to soul singer Hank Ballard, who had released the song as a B-side in 1959. In 1960, with the dance fad starting to build, Dick Clark asked Danny and the Juniors to record a cover version of the song. When they failed to come up with anything, Clark asked Evans-who had a reputation as a Fats Domino impersonator-to tackle the song instead. Inspired by Fats, Clark’s then wife, Bobbie, suggested he call himself Chubby Checker. Recorded in just 35 minutes, Checker’s version spawned the first nationwide pop phenomenon of the Soaring Sixties. Checker, who lost 30 pounds demonstrating the dance that first year, milked the trend for six Top 40 Twist albums, a Grammy for 1961’s ”Let’s Twist Again,” and countless film cameos in teen fare like Don’t Knock the Twist and Twist Around the Clock. As kids moved on to other steps, adults at New York City’s Peppermint Lounge rediscovered the twist, helping the record recapture the No. 1 spot in January of 1962. In the late ’60s, when rock & roll became more sophisticated, Checker was left twisting in the wind, although he did remain active on the club circuit. This year, the twist is flaring up like recurring back pain. Twist, a documentary film that gives Ballard proper credit, is making the theater rounds. Meanwhile, Checker and his band, the Wildcats, play more than 300 dates annually, and he appears as himself in the movie Calendar Girl. Never a modest type, Checker, 51, knows he holds a place in pop history. ”I compare the twist to the electric light,” he says. ”The twist is dancing apart to popular music, and before Chubby Checker, that did not exist. The twist is me, and I’m it. I am the electric light.”
Time Capsule Sept. 19, 1960 Readers toured James Michener’s Hawaii, while on screen Marilyn Monroe and Yves Montand said, Let’s Make Love. The Kingston Trio’s String Along was the top album, and Gunsmoke shot down everything on TV.