Monday, August 16, 2010

Chubby Checker

Chubby CheckerYou often see cheap CDs near the checkout at Zeller’s or Wal-Mart, favourites by your favourite oldies groups, and if you look closely you’ll see a notice in small writing that says something like this: “This collection features stereo re-recordings by one or more of the original artists.” They mention stereo in the vain hope that you may think that point was improvement.

Really what they do is this. They take some old has been, or a group of has beens, and they may really have been, but they aren’t anymore, and they have them re-record their old hits. I got burned a few times before they started labeling these frauds. I picked up a handful: Gary Lewis & The Playboys, Brook Benton, The Tremeloes. Anybody familiar with the originals can spot them within a few seconds; usually no matter how hard they try, the sound is totally different. Sometimes they don’t even try. My favourite was a remake of Keep On Dancing by The Gentrys; There was no way at all for them to reproduce that transcendent tinnyness.

The Chubby Checker collection that I picked up at Pyramid Records back around 1983 challenged me. The tracks were, if I recall correctly, provided courtesy of K-Tel. There was no mention of the original label, which was Cameo-Parkway. But the recordings were authentic sounding, and so I was convinced. Wrongly. All these years I’ve been living with fraud, and I’ve been none the wiser. Whoever produced the tracks did an extraordinary job mimicking the originals.

But finally finally Cameo Parkway, or whoever owns it now, has begun to reissue collections by its stable: Dee Dee Sharp, The Orlons, Charlie Gracie, Bobby Rydell, Chubby Checker. The basis of this collection is the recently acquired Cameo Parkway CD, called The Best Of Chubby Checker 1959 - 1963 plus a few leftover tracks from the aforementioned fraudulent LP, plus Lazy Elsie Molly from the single.

Chubby Checker:

Dancing Party – Sums up Chubby Checker’s entire oeuvre, doesn’t it? What is life if not a dancing party? And what other kind of party is there? From the summer of 1962.
The Twist – This was huge. I read a book about the twist; I don’t know how many books have been written about specific dances. There are many contradictory reports about whether Hank Ballard really wrote this; there is no doubt, though, that Chubby’s recording is a note for note copy. It was the luck of promotion that landed Chubby the hit. It was number 1 in the fall of 1960 and again in the winter of 1962.
Toot – Beyond the juvenile humour (that makes My Ding-A-Ling sound like TS Elliot) this is a real attempt to define the undefinable.
The Class – The class is full of pop stars, with Ricky, Frankie and Fabian as The Chipmunks, and they all do Mary Had A Little Lamb. The humour here is rather feeble. His first hit, from the summer of 1959.
Twistin’ U.S.A. – This was on the B side of the second release of The Twist, and it reached number 68 in its own right. Unlike Surfin USA, in which surfing was by geographic necessity restricted to areas on the coast, Twistin’ was really all over, “from Boston to LA.”
The Hucklebuck – This hit from the fall of 1960 describes a dance that involves pushing your partner out, walking like a duck, moving your sacroiliac, and I don’t even know what a sacroiliac is.
Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On – Whole lotta twistin’ goin on he sings off the top. This rewrite of Jerry Lee Lewis’ hit was the B Side of The Hucklebuck and was a hit at the same time.
Pony Time – With the famous refrain of “boogedy boogedy boogedy shoe” this was a hit in the winter of 1961.
Dance The Mess Around – Okay okay okay, very funny. “If you’re gonna mess around,” he sings, “mess around with me,” after giving his belle permission to do various other dances with other men. The humour is so contrived that I can’t believe they released this, but release it they did. From the spring of 1961.
Good, Good Lovin’ – The twistmeister covers the godfather of soul. Covering Jerry Lee was one thing; covering James Brown was insane. This was the B side of Dance The Mess Around; it reached number 43 on Billboard.
Let’s Twist Again – The percussion sets out the rhythm at the outset, and Chubby takes off with the band and it soars. From the summer of 1961.

The Fly – The Pony was ok, but the fly? The steps are not all that well detailed here, and imagining a dance in which one acts like a fly, well it doesn’t bare thinking about. Accompanied by buzzing, in case we don’t get the point. From the fall of 1961.
Slow Twistin’ – The idea is intriguing, but this isn’t particularly slow, though it is kind of slinky. Dee Dee Sharp sings with him on this, lending it more class than his usual stuff. From the spring of 1962.
Popeye The Hitchhiker – Popeye was a sailor man, not a hitchhiker. From the fall of 1962.
Limbo Rock – A hit for Chubby Checker and for The Champs, but without the words. Duane Eddy also did this. Chubby caught the coattails of this one. From the winter of 1962 / 1963.
Let’s Limbo Some More – The follow-up to Limbo Rock was actually the B side of Twenty Miles. From the winter of 1963.
Hooka Tooka – A nursery rhyme, the B side of Loddy Lo, and a hit in the winter of 1964, by which time Chubby was competing with The Beatles and all those groups from the UK.
Loddy Lo – The title is the name of the girl whom he loves so. From the winter of 63 / 64.
Hey Bobba Needle – Another nursery rhyme. He was getting away from dance songs, though there was no shortage of new dances at the time – the monkey, the jerk, the twine. From the spring of 1964.
Birdland – There doesn’t seem to be much connection between this song and the famous jazz club. Birdland, rather, seems to be yet another dance. What next? Do the Empire State Building? From the summer of 1963.
Surf Party – Chubby Checker the surfer? Less likely than Bo Diddley. At least Bo has attitude. The B side of Twist It Up, from the summer of 1963.
Twist It Up – Another twist song. No major revelations, just a lot of energy. From the summer of 1963.
Twistin’ Round The World – He’d already twisted across the US, now he had to take it round the world. A bit of a novelty record, with Chubby singing in different languages. Musically the song was a pastiche of every song he’d ever done. .
Jingle Bell Rock – Chubby Checker & Bobby Rydell. A revival of Bobby Helms’ hit. From the 1961 season.
Let’s Do The Freddie – This song was a hit in the spring of 1965, the most direct response to the British invasion among Chubby’s hits. The Freddie was a dance (of sorts) popularized by Freddie Garrity of Freddie & The Dreamers, who did a different song called Do The Freddie. I prefer Chubby’s. This from the album of rerecordings.
Mary Ann Limbo – Personalizing the limbo a bit here.
Twenty Miles – A song about distance, and if physical distance can be overcome, so can other types. A hit from the spring of 1963. Another one I picked up off the album of alleged rerecordings. It still sounds authentic to me, but listening to the original on YouTube I can hear the difference.
Rosie – The last of the remakes. A surprisingly touching love song with a lilting melody and a fetching arrangement. The B side of Lazy Elsie Molly. A Canadian hit in the summer of 1964. Not the song from Bye Bye Birdie.
Lazy Elsie Molly – It's not clear whether her laziness is charming or annoying. From the summer of 1964.

No comments:

Locations of visitors to this page