Written by: Hank Ballard
Billboard Hot 100: #1
From Rolling Stone:
“The Twist” began as a B side for Ballard and the Midnighters in 1958, a throwaway dance-instruction song. But in 1960, former chicken plucker Checker covered it at Dick Clark‘s suggestion. It became so wildly popular that it hit Number One twice, first in ’60, then again in ’62 — the only single in history to accomplish that feat. “Going crazy is what I was looking for — where the music is so good you lose control,” Checker said. ” ‘The Twist’ did that.”
Songs about doing the Twist went back to nineteenth-century minstrelsy, including “Grape Vine Twist” from around 1844. In 1938 Jelly Roll Morton, in “Winin’ Boy Blues,” sang, “Mama, mama, look at sis, she’s out on the levee doing the double twist”–a reference to both sex and dancing in those days. As for this particular song, “The Twist,” Hank Ballard’s guitarist, Cal Green, said they picked up the general idea from Brother Joe Wallace of the gospel group The Sensational Nightingales, who of course couldn’t record it himself. Green and Ballard already had written a song together called “Is Your Love For Real,” which they’d taken from Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters’ 1955 song “What’cha Gonna Do,” so they simply put the new Twist words to the older melody–and voila! “The Twist” They originally recorded a loose version of the song in a Florida studio in early 1958, with slightly different lyrics, featuring Green on guitar playing like Jimmy Reed. However, they didn’t get around to recording the released version until November 11, 1958, when the Midnighters were in Cincinnati. Ballard thought “The Twist” was the hit side, but King Records producer Henry Glover preferred the ballad “Teardrops on Your Letter,” which he’d written himself.