On 19 September, 1960, Chubby Checker and The Fat Boys premiered their single, The Twist, on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. With its easy dance and catchy tune, it went straight to Number One, and The Twist rescued Rock and Roll.
By the late fifties, the wild, wailing, and over the top Rock and Roll of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis gave way to the focus grouped, formulaic, starry eyed ballads of teen pop idols like Paul Anka, Ricky Nelson and Neil Sedaka. Vocal harmonies ruled the airwaves, whether the girl group doo-wops, the barbershop sounds of the swooners, or the early gospel inspired Motown acts. The problem was you can’t dance to harmonies. When Elvis Left the Building (for the Army) in 1957, and Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash (“The Day the Music Died”) in 1959, everyone assumed Rock was dead.
The Twist was an atomic explosion across the music scene unlike any seen before or since. Even the Charleston of the 1920s and the Jitterbug of the 30s can’t compare to the Twist mania that shook the world between 1960 and 1963. In the space of two minutes and thirty nine seconds, Rock and Roll stopped being about dreamy sequences of wooing your girl at the ice cream parlor, and set it back on the path to its roots in dancing, sweat, booze, sex, drugs, and live music. (You know you almost said “rock and roll” right there.)