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A Simple Twist of Fate

Chubby Checker may have become synonymous with The Twist, but that didn’t bother the song’s composer. On the 60th anniversary of its original release, we examine the career of an artist at the vanguard of rock’n’roll…

I gave the world the biggest dance craze ever,” boasts Hank Ballard in Ron Mann’s 1992 documentary, Twist. However disputable the claim – and that’s a dispute best mediated by dance connoisseurs – there’s no doubt that Ballard’s song, The Twist, remains one of rock’n’roll’s defining moments.

Unfortunately for Ballard, that moment was defined not by his version, but by Chubby Checker’s, which went to No.1 Stateside on two separate occasions in 1960 and 1961, and also topped Billboard magazine’s all-time Hot 100 singles chart. Furthermore, it has been added to America’s National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress for longterm preservation.

Ballard wrote The Twist in 1958, adapting the melody of a previous composition, Is Your Love For Real (itself inspired by The Drifters’ What’cha Gonna Do), to a new set of lyrics. But when he went to record the single at King Records with his band, The Midnighters, producer Henry Glover plumped for Teardrops On Your Letter (which he had penned) as the A-side, relegating The Twist to the B-side. The track became popular on a Baltimore television dance show hosted by Buddy Dean. He recommended it to Dick Clark, who attempted to book Ballard on American Bandstand. Ballard was unable to appear, and so Clark auditioned for a replacement, finally choosing Checker because of his and Ballard’s similar vocal styles. The rest is history – history that could have left Ballard an embittered man.

Yet he told a 1980 interviewer, “That was the best thing that ever happened to me when Chubby Checker did it.” Ballard went on to explain, “What happened to me, my company had lost the record. They didn’t have any faith in it. I was the only one that had faith in the record. I knew that this record should have been a hit. Dick Clark heard it and he felt the same way I felt about it.

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About Vintage Rock

In this issue of Vintage Rock we reveal our definitive Top 100 Rockabilly Tracks from classics of the genre through to lesser-known gems in the catalogue. With Halloween upon us, this issue we brush aside the cobwebs to step inside the spooky world of ghoul-rock pioneer Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and David West navigates his way through the zombie-loving ranks of Psychobilly with the help of The Sharks' frontman Alan Wilson and Dutch psychobilly giants Batmobile. 60 years on from it's release, Randy Fox investigates this month's classic album, Bo Diddley's big-selling second offering Go Bo Diddley, we hear from 21st century roots rockers The Delta Bombers who discuss their new material, and David Burke looks into the fascinating story of Hank Ballard, the rhythm and blues mastermind behind The Twist. Much more inside too, including the Jive Aces' Summertime Swing live, news – including an upcoming Netflix animation with Elvis cast as a spy, and all of the latest music reviewed! Enjoy the issue!