“We danced to the music that Dick Clark played,” says Chubby Checker. “The king of the disc jockeys has died and, because of him, we will never be the same.”
In 2008, Billboard named Checker’s iconic smash “The Twist” the No. 1 song of the Billboard Hot 100’s first 50 years. The song remains the only title to have logged two separate runs to No. 1, reigning the week of Sept. 24, 1960, and again the weeks of Jan. 13 and 20, 1962, after the song – and its revolutionary dance – experienced a second wave of pop culture fanfare.
Checker might never have recorded the song, however, had it not been for Clark. The original version by the song’s writer, Hank Ballard, won praise on “American Bandstand,” but when Ballard was unavailable to perform it on the show, Clark suggested that Checker cover it to expose it further to “Bandstand” viewers.
How did Checker get such a career-making nod? “I had worked with Clark on a recording session of ‘Jingle Bells,’ singing the song through impressions of other acts of the time,” Checker recalls.
Clark is, in fact, even not-so-indirectly responsible for Checker’s famed recording name. “Clark’s wife was in the studio when I was recording that holiday project,” Checker remembers. “I’d had the nickname Chubby since I was 11 years old, and I was doing a Fats Domino impression. Mrs. Clark said, ‘His name is Chubby, like Fats?’ Well, then, his last name should be Checker, like Domino’.”
Checker says that the reach of “Bandstand” and the dance that “The Twist” inspired combined to change music forever. “Before ‘The Twist,’ you danced in rhythm with the song. With ‘The Twist,’ suddenly you’re dancing apart from the beat, and not with your girl. Now, you see a girl across the floor that you’ve never seen before, you’re nodding your head, you’re seeing her dance … By the time the song is over … whew,” Checker says, chuckling at the song’s impact on not only the development of early rock & roll and dance, but perhaps also on relations between the sexes ever since.
“‘Bandstand was around before ‘The Twist,” Checker says, “but, it was Clark’s suggestion for me to record the song that caused an explosion for both the show and my career.”
“Just think,” marvels Checker, “the No. 1 song of all-time … all because of Dick Clark and ‘American Bandstand’.”