He considers himself to be the equivalent of Elvis and The Beatles. And while that may merit some debate in mixed circles, not even “The King” or “The Fab Four” were able to hit #1 twice with the same song.
Chubby Checker did exactly that with his dance-floor classic “The Twist” in 1960 and early 1962. Currently on tour and hyping a newly re-mastered “hits” collection, Checker says that his live show offers nothing that’s unexpected.
“It’s just like Walt Disney,” says Checker. “I don’t give anybody any surprises. I give them exactly what they expect to hear. They deserve that. Out of respect, they deserve to hear what they came to see. And I do give them all the Chubby Checker that I can give them, I really do.”
“The Twist” was actually an old Hank Ballard song that Checker says he resurrected and brought back from the dead.
“It was re-recorded by me, but I recorded a dead song,” says Checker. “I mean, a cover song is a song that people record when someone else has it on the charts, and somebody like Pat Boone or one of those guys comes along and covers the song. I resurrected a corpse and made it something that swept the world. And thank God for Hank Ballard because if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t even be on the phone talking to you, so believe me, I know how to give credit where credit is due (laughs).”
“The Twist” is the only song to ever hit #1 twice by the same artist. Teenagers pushed it to the top the first time, but Checker credits actress Zsa Zsa Gabor for getting the momentum going the second time around, only a year and a half after its initial chart run.
“Zsa Zsa went to the Peppermint Lounge in Manhattan, went on the floor and did ‘The Twist,’” says Checker. “Verle Wilson, the famed columnist, got ahold of it, put her picture in the magazine and in all the newspapers, and the people that didn’t get to hear it the first time around wanted to hear it again. And then they started buying it and it became #1 twice. Zsa Zsa Gabor, I always give her credit for that. She’s the one that made it happen the second time around. It was quite wonderful, and it changed the world. It gave us a style of dancing that we’re doing, and we have been doing since I went on ‘American Bandstand’ in 1959 while I was still in high school. I still call it the biggest event in show business. And not only was it the only song to go to #1 twice, would you believe that the #1 song for the entire ’60s decade is ‘The Twist?’ It just changed the world. Do you know that at one time we had five albums in the top 12? No one’s ever done that. We also had nine double-sided hit songs. In those days, 45s had two sides to it, and we had nine double-sided songs.”
“Pony Time” was Checker’s second #1 single in 1961, and it was another cover song, this one written and sung originally by Don Covay And The Goodtimers. But whereas Covay’s version stalled out at #60 on the charts, Checker’s roared to the top.
“Covay says, ‘Hey Chubby, we want you to do ‘The Pony.’ We’re not gonna do anything with it.’ He was the guy that brought it to me,” says Checker. “I’m not boasting, but when Chubby Checker comes on the scene, its equivalent to Elvis and The Beatles. I mean, the industry never wants to admit that, and they never wanna give me the credit that I deserve, because if they did they wouldn’t be playing ‘Twist And Shout’ more than they are playing ‘The Twist,’ and they would be playing my records the way they still play all the big people in the business like Billy Joel and John Mellencamp and