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Come On, Baby – Let’s Steal The Twist!

Stop The Presses!

I'm not sure what's more bizarre: Billboard ranking Chubby Checker's "The Twist" as the most popular Top 100 chart single of the last 50 years--or Chubby Checker's comments about it.

Today, Billboard announced that Checker's 1960 recording of "The Twist" had landed at the top of a top 10all-time list in which numbers two, three, four, and five singles of the last half-century went to, respectively, Santana's "Smooth," Bobby Darin's "Mack The Knife," Leann Rimes's "How Can I Live," and Los Del Rio's "Macarena." In case you were wondering where, say, the Beatles, or Elvis, or Madonna, or Michael Jackson were on the list, well, the Beatles did come in at number eight with "Hey Jude" (behind Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" and Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life," and ahead of fellow top-tenners Mariah Carey's "We Belong Together" and Toni Braxton's "Un-break My Heart").

Quite a strange list, to be sure. And no sooner did Billboard make the announcement than the industry "bible" was already putting a don't-blame-us spin on their own proclamation. "We're not saying these are the most memorable songs of your life," said chart director Geoff Mayfield. "This is simply a chronicle of how each of these songs performed in their era."

Of course, throughout the first 30 of so of these last 50 years, the methodology which Billboard used to collect information for their charts wasn't exactly scientific. They relied on radio station "reports" on popularity and sale "surveys" from record stores. Meaning that whoever made out those reports or surveys could (theoretically, mind you) submit whatever data they wanted to, thus perhaps (theoretically, mind you) helping a song reach chart positions that maybe they really didn't deserve based on actual facts.

Those practice were finally replaced in the early '90s with the advent of more hi-tech sources like SoundScan and others to more accurately reflect actual radio play and sales (theoretically, mind you.) And Mayfield noted that Billboard did weigh older records a bit more heavily to reflect the higher turnover that characterized the charts in the '50s and '60s.

The added weight no doubt benefited Checker, who took the news of his chart-topping ranking to offer some interesting comments on both his role in the Twist dance craze and his rightful place in the pop pantheon. "Any place on the planet, they're on the floor dancing apart to the beat, and before Chubby Checker, it wasn't there," claimed the Chubster. "I think that has a lot to do with me being on the charts."

Now some may argue that that assertion might rightfully belong to Hank Ballard, the pioneering rock 'n' roller who actually wrote and first recorded "The Twist" in 1959--and had a top 20 R&B chart hit with it at that--before Checker's note-for-note cover ever hit pop charts. And some might argue that one of the prime reasons for Checker's Twist success was the fact that his record came out on Philadelphia-based Cameo-Parkway Records, who just happened to have a very cozy relationship with Philadelphia's Dick Clark, who just happened to book Chubby Checker on American Bandstand a lot just as "The Twist" was released. (Did I mention that it was Clark's wife who suggested Ernest Evans change his stage name to Chubby Checker? So you think maybe Clark might have used a little industry muscle--theoretically of course--to help Checker make it?)

In any event, Checker made it a point of noting that "My music is less played that any performer that has been a number one chart man on the planet...I don't get the respect that Rod Stewart does, or the Rolling Stones, or Frankie Valli...but I have to deal with it." Now, I guess, he'll get more respect--or at least as much respect as should be afforded the guy who popularized not only the Twist, the Pony and the Limbo, but also something called the Fly. You did that one by doing the Twist while waving your hands in the air in a shooing motion.

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Never saw Mick Jagger try that!

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