Friday, June 13, 2014

The Twisting Dead?

Chubby Checker, who rose to fame with his 1960 hit cover of "The Twist," has suggested that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame needs to induct him soon or when they finally choose to do so, he will direct them to drop dead.

Checker covered the Hank Ballard R&B hit in the summer of 1960 and hit number one on the pop charts. It would do so again in 1962, after his sequel "Let's Twist Again" went to number 8 in 1961. Checker's chart career dried up in 1965, and he himself was less than enamored of how linked he was to the song, saying it had pegged him as a novelty act rather than a serious singer. Ballard and his Midnighters recorded the song as a B-side in 1959; it cracked the Top 30 on the pop charts and the top 20 on the R&B but stalled out there. Dick Clark heard the Ballard version and wanted the band to perform it on American Bandstand, but they were unavailable so he found another artist to record it that he could schedule: Checker, whose voice resembles Ballard's. Ballard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, in a class that included Charlie Christian, Bobby Darin, The Four Seasons, The Four Tops, The Kinks, The Platters, Simon and Garfunkel and The Who.

The Midnighters were themselves inducted in 2012 as a special group along with Smokey Robinson's Miracles, James Brown's Famous Flames, Bill Haley's Comets, Gene Vincent's Blue Caps, and Buddy Holley's Crickets -- all of which had been excluded when their respective lead singers had been inducted previously. Elvis' original guitarist Scotty Moore, drummer D. J. Fontana and bassist Bill Black are in as "sidemen," but apparently Johnny Cash's presence in the Hall can't keep Luther Perkins, Marshall Grant and "Fluke" Holland from being chopped liver instead of the Tennessee Three.

Checker is 72 and says does not want the Hall to wait so long that he can't translate his induction into a payday. This may sound crass, except that the Hall is itself a dressed-up I. M. Pei ATM for its operators that hasn't had much meaningful to say about anything other than Jann Wenner and Dave Marsh's Spotify playlists for several years. A couple of years ago, I rambled on this at the long post blog. In 2006 the Sex Pistols were more succinct and profane, if also somewhat more in need of a spellchecker. In 2012, Axl Rose was surprisingly coherent in asking just what the heck being inducted was supposed to mean anyway.

It's easy to make an argument that Checker's five-year heyday of great R&B dance records mostly written by other people is not really "Hall of Fame" material for rock and roll music, but since the Hall brought in Madonna in 2008, it's probably not the one to make that argument.


CGHill said...

Chubby's voice "resembled" Ballard's? Ballard once said that when he heard Chubby's "The Twist" on the radio, he thought it was his own recording.

And given some of the stories that have been circulating over the years about all the Cameo-Parkway recordings -- Chubby, Bobby Rydell, Dee Dee Sharp, the Dovells -- being out of print for extended periods of time, I suspect Checker's made this type of argument before.

Friar said...

On that song, the differences are very very slight indeed. Ballard had a different tone to my ear on some earlier stuff, but I admit I didn't grow up listening to them on the radio ;-)