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Updated on November 1, 2011

Was Hank Ballard Ripped Off on "The Twist?"

When we last visited, you were asked to take a quiz over who recorded "The Twist" first--was it Hank Ballard, Chubby Checker, Buster Brown, or Round Robin? And what about the label that issued the song first--was it Fire, King, Parkway, or Atlantic (the yellow label)?

Chubby Checker, of course, is the artist most closely identified to the big 1960 (and 1961 when it was rereleased) dance craze, but his version--on Parkway--was basically a note-for-note remake of the original, which was recorded by Hank Ballard on King in 1959.

Ballard's version of "The Twist," which he wrote, was actually the B side of his hit, "Teardrops on Your Letter," which did pretty well on the charts. Ballard, who went on to have many mainstream Top 40 hits like "Finger Poppin' Time" and "Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go," had to struggle long and hard for success. For many years, he toiled in R and B with little pop success. Part of his problem was that he was labeled as a "dirty" singer with suggestive lyrics. His "Work With Me Annie" hits were said to have a double meaning, and many disc jockeys, including Dick Clark, were hesitant to play his early stuff because of that reputation.

It was Chubby Checker who invented the actual 'twist" dance. Hank Ballard's earlier version was not part of any dance craze, and the B side was not really considered a hit. When the song finally took off as a monster hit in the summer of 1960, Ballard's name was hardly even mentioned along with the success. For years, music writers and ordinary fans would ask Hank, "Man, aren't you really mad over the Twist?" and Hank would answer that he was pleased as all get-out, as long as the checks kept on coming. Ballard suffered some hard times after his subsequent hits. His wife was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver in New York City, and--despite his positive outlook--Ballard probably thought he never got his due professionally.

Now let's look at the other choices you had in the quiz--Buster Brown and Round Robin. Buster Brown was a down-and-dirty blues shouter, who recorded for Fire Records. The title of the label pretty much describes Buster's style--letting it all hang out. His two biggest hits were "Don't Dog Your Woman" and "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?" His delivery was almost falsetto and he had a hot harmonica behind most of his recordings.

Round Robin could best be described as a "one hit wonder." Like Chubby Checker, Robin was associated with a dance craze, "The Slauson," which never took off like the Twist. His biggest Top 40 hit was on the Domain label and called "Kick That Little Foot Sally Ann," back in 1964. To keep his connection going, the Slauson was mentioned throughout the song, even though it wasn't part of the title. One last tidbit about Mr. Robin: In Dick Clark's autobiography, "Rock, Roll, and Remember," Clark says that Round Robin and singer Billy Stewart pulled guns on each other on the tour bus during one of Clark's Caravan of Stars shows. Apparently, no one was hurt during the altercation.

"Kick That Little Foot" was written by two veterans of the Sixties rock and roll era, Steve Barri and P. F. Sloan. Sloan went on to write one of the most influential hits in music, "Eve of Destruction." That song was the first protest song to actually hit number one. Which leads us to our quiz below.

We'll take a look at vinyl history every Tuesday and Thursday on The Record Professor, and end each column with a new quiz, which we will explain in the next article. Just like any classroom, feel free to vent and discuss, especially since vinyl records, and the magnificent sound they provide, are making a comeback.







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