Chubby Checker Releases New Version of ‘The Twist,’ the Hot 100’s All-Time No. 1
The remix is "like bringing an antique Rolls Royce back to brand-new condition," says producer Gary Lefkowith.
On Dec. 16, Chubby Checker releases a newly-remixed physical version of his iconic hit, “The Twist,” the Billboard Hot 100‘s all-time No. 1. The update had arrived for digital purchase Sept. 16, but now fans can own a hard copy of it.
To celebrate the new release, the ever-active Checker, 75, will appear at the FYE Store at Mohegan Sun (in the Wolf Den) in Uncasville, Connecticut, a week later (Dec. 23), ahead of his show at the venue that night.
“The Twist” boasts the honor of being the top-performing single in the Hot 100’s 58-year history and is the only song ever to top the chart in two separate release cycles, in 1960 and again in 1962, when it found greater popularity among adults after its original reign, which was largely sparked by younger listeners (and dancers).
The new version of “The Twist” is a remix and re-mastering of its ’70s re-recording. The original single was recorded in 1960 and released on Parkway Records. Checker subsequently re-recorded “The Twist” and 20 other of his hits for the K-tel label beginning in 1973; still, the original remains available on various releases on the ABKCO label (which acquired Parkway in 1967).
Upon the physical release of the new update of “The Twist,” Billboard chatted with Gary Lefkowith, Checker’s producer for the last 15 years, who also runs Checker’s TEEC imprint. (Lefkowith adds that Checker has a new, original single in the works, following the release earlier in 2016 of the country-tinged “Lookin’ for Me.”)
BILLBOARD: What led you to remix and release this new version of “The Twist”?
LEFKOWITH: The digital era has, of course, given listeners a whole new way of listening to pop music. It’s for primarily that reason; Chubby wanted an upgrade. The audience still listens in many different ways, so it’s ideal to have a recording that sounds good on an iPhone, a computer or big speakers.
Personally, I always felt that the ’70s version, while the vocal is nearly identical to the original, was a bit aggressive. The rhythm section mirrored what was in fashion for that era. Nevertheless, the audience gravitated to it.
Did you encounter any difficulties while producing the new remix?
The most difficult part of the process was getting the original master; not only prodding the company that had it into making it available to us, but also locating it. I’m partially joking, but it was a process, to say the least, nearly a year of phone calls back and forth.
Once that was sorted out, my partner, Mike Rogers, went to Minneapolis and transferred it into Pro Tools Session. He’s actually well-known for many records, including his work on Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is in the Heart” (a No. 4 Hot 100 hit in 1990). Mike has worked with me on every Chubby record I’ve done since 2002, as co-producer, engineer and co-writer.
Getting past the drama and doing the actual work was a great joy and rewarding challenge.
How did the studio process then go?
The first thing was to stay true to the record in every way possible. My vision was something like bringing an antique Rolls-Royce back to brand-new condition.
What that involved first was getting the rhythm section sorted out, like I discussed earlier. Mike is also a world-class drummer and it was easy for him to make that happen. I replayed the guitar in the style of Dave Appell. The piano was awesome and we didn’t touch that. I wanted the background vocals to be as close to what The Dreamlovers did, so I used two studio pros for that: James Epps and Jamie Wilson. They totally nailed it.
So, you were happy with the finished product? Was Chubby?
When I played the track for Chubby he loved it, but he said, “You missed the background vocals during the sax break.” So much for seeing the forest from the trees! There’s a reason Chubby is the executive producer.
In all, the enduring legacy of “The Twist” adds another layer.
For this era, the new version just sounds more present, full and sonically pleasing. I think we enhanced what was there and still captured the vibe. How can you not be into it? I mean, it’s “The Twist.”