Archive for September, 2016


by Robert Seoane

A new type of dance called the Twist swept the planet in 1960. It was the first touchless dance ever and was introduced to the world by the song of the same name. The original version of “The Twist” was written by Hank Ballard, recorded with his Midnighters in 1958 and released the following year to an indifferent public.

Two years later however, music entrepreneur Dick Clark took the song and recorded an identical version with sound-alike singer Chubby Checker. Thanks to the promotional help of Clark’s TV show American Bandstand, Chubby Checker’s “Twist” launched a dance craze that would spawn a tsunami of Sixties dances to come.

At first, befuddled parents shook their heads as they watched their teenaged children dancing in place opposite their partner without even holding each other’s hand, but the Twist fad soon spread throughout the world like wildfire. It was easy to do, even if you didn’t know how to dance, and anyone could do it regardless of age. Celebrities were seen twisting in posh clubs around the world. Teens twisted to every rock ‘n’ roll song on the radio. You could even twist by yourself at home.

Its popularity was buoyed by the steady stream of subsequent Twist singles that were released between 1960 and 1962. Checker released four more Twist singles in those two years: “Twistin’ U.S.A.”, ”Let’s Twist Again”, “Slow Twistin’”, and “Twistin’ ‘round the World”. Other classic Twist songs released during that time were Sam Cooke’s “Twisting the Night Away”, Joey Dee & The Starlighters’ “Peppermint Twist” and the Isley Brothers’ “Twist & Shout”, later recorded by the Beatles on February 11, 1963 as the closing number of their debut album “Please Please Me”.

Other dances were starting to evolve, all of them inspired by the Twist in that you could dance without having to hold your partner, like the Mashed Potato, the Watusi, the Loco-Motion, the Frug, the Swim, the Monkey, the Jerk, the Pony, the Alligator, the Fly, the Dog, Walking the Dog, the Chicken, the Funky Chicken, the Hitchhike, the Shake, the Yo-Yo …and on and on. Chris Kenner’s “Land of a Thousand Dances”, released in the summer of ‘63 listed many of these dance fads in its lyrics.

By 1962, two years after it first became a hit, the Twist still ruled as the mother of all dance fads. So much so that the Number One 1960 Chubby Checker hit made it to Number One a second time on January 13, 1962, and stayed there for two weeks, one week longer than its debut release. Other dance songs that became hits in 1962 were Little Eva’s “Loco-Motion”, “The Wah-Watusi” by a one hit wonder group called the Orlons and “Mashed Potato Time” by Dee Dee Sharp.


The Mashed Potato was a dance that had been around as long as the Twist, In fact, the first Mashed Potato songs had already been recorded before Sharp’s 1962 version by the man who invented the dance, one of the most influential R&B artists of the rock ‘n’ roll era, called the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, nicknamed “The Godfather of Soul”, Mr. James Joseph Brown.



Mr. Dynamite, James Brown

“(In 1960), I received a call from James Brown while he was in Miami with his new backup band, the J.B.’s. He informed me he was having a problem with Syd Nathan at King Records. Syd refused to let Brown record with the J.B.’s. Always believing in Brown and standing by him, I suggested we record him and his backup band under a pseudonym. I had seen Brown at Ernie Busker’s Palms of Hallandale nightclub doing a dance he called “The James Brown Mashed Potatoes.” At Criteria the next day we decided to cut an instrumental track and title it “(Do The) Mashed Potatoes.”
One of the repeated lines was for someone to shout “Mashed Potatoes” and Brown volunteered. At the last minute, I decided it was too risky using Brown’s very recognizable voice and turned to him and said, ‘You can’t do that! I can’t use your voice on this record because Nathan will be on our ass. We have to leave your voice off and strictly make this an instrumental.’ I still liked the idea of someone shouting “Mashed Potatoes”, but I had to use someone else. Brown agreed, so I contacted one of Miami’s top black radio DJ personalities by the name of Carlton “King” Coleman and dubbed his voice on top of the recording. If you listen to the record very carefully, you can still hear Brown’s voice in the background. I released the song through my own Dade label under the name of Nat Kendrick and The Swans. Kendrick was Brown’s drummer at the time and the J.B.’s temporarily became The Swans. The single became a smash hit after peaking at #8 on the national R&B charts while reaching #84 on the Billboard Hot 100.” –Henry Stone, Dade Records owner source: (

“I would be telling a lie if I said I would be a world star without the help of men like Mr. Nathan. He was the first one willing to take a chance on me.” -James Brown

King Records owner, Syd Nathan

Syd Nathan did not like James Brown. He thought he was a terrible singer. In 1956, talent scout Ralph Bass signed Brown and his group the Famous Flames to Nathan’s Federal label, a subsidiary to his main label, King Records. Bass recorded James Brown and the Famous Flames’ debut single, “Please, Please, Please”. When Syd Nathan heard it, he reacted in his usual manner: yelling and screaming at Bass for being stupid enough to sign this group.

“That’s the worse piece of crap I’ve heard in my life. It’s someone stuttering on a record only saying one word …”. –Syd Nathan

James Brown and the Famous Flames debut studio album, “Please, Please, Please” (1959)

“Please, Please, Please” certainly didn’t sound like anything being heard on the radio at the time, but to Nathan’s surprise, the record found an audience, particularly because James Brown already had a fan following that went wild for his stage performances. During “Please, Please, Please”, he would suddenly get on his knees, engulfed in musical rapture. One of the Flames would then come to his side to pat him on the back and help him up, while another Flame draped a cape over him. Both of them would then attempt to escort Brown offstage, only to have Brown shrug off the cape in a resurgence of uncontrolled ecstasy, slowly return to the mic, screaming his heart out, and fall to his knees once again to repeat the process all over… as many as four more times.

“Please, Please, Please” only made it to Number 105 on the Billboard Pop chart but it reached Number Six in Billboard’s R&B chart. That gave Nathan brief pause, but he still didn’t think this James Brown fella would ever amount to anything, even after his next five single releases through Federal Records all made it into the charts, with one song “Try Me”, reaching Number 48 Billboard Pop, and Number One R&B, and “Think” breaking the Billboard Top Forty at Number 33 and climbing to Number Seven R&B.

James Brown and the Famous Flames also released their first two studio albums in 1959, each named after their first two singles. Curiously, the albums did not feature the group on the cover. Nathan chose instead to use white models, apparently to mask the color of the group so he could market the music to a more mainstream public.

James Brown and the Famous Flames’ second studio album “Try Me!” (1959), was a collection of singles b-sides and outtakes from their debut album.


When Syd Nathan first formed King Records in 1943, he only released Country & Western music, but Nathan soon realized that African-American teenagers danced to their own, totally different soundtrack comprised of African-American artists. Nathan referred to the genre he discovered as race records.

“We saw a need. Why should we go into all those towns and only sell to the hillbilly accounts? Why can’t we sell a few more while we’re there? So we got in the race business.” –Syd Nathan

Nathan was as stubborn as a mule and ran his company in a dictatorial manner, but despite his total inability to recognize original talent like James Brown, he was unwittingly influential in the development of rock ‘n roll music by integrating C&W with R&B. Once he had a good number of both R&B and C&W musical artists signed to his labels, Nathan would give his country artists R&B songs to record and country songs for the R&B artists to record. This inadvertent cross-pollination of genres wasn’t as much a grand musical experiment of his as it was a way of maximizing the revenue of his song publishing.

When Nathan found out that Brown was recording for Dade, he wisely relented and moved Brown to the main label, King Records, allowing him to record more instrumentals like “(Do The) Mashed Potatoes” and gradually taking James Brown’s ability to sell records more seriously. In response, seeing that he hit a dance nerve with his fans, Brown recorded a sequel called “Mashed Potatoes USA.”

The lyrics to “Mashed Potatoes USA” were similar to an earlier single of Brown’s called “Night Train”, in that it was essentially a promotion of his current tour. In “Mashed Potatoes USA,” James Brown claims his intention to bring the dance to the entire country, with shout outs to the cities he would be performing in the rest of the year.

Here I am and I’m back again, I’m doing mashed potatoes, I’m gonna start by going to New York City with your number one, I’m going to Boston, ow… I’m going to Buffalo straight down the road, gonna stop in Cleveland, Ohio…” “Mashed Potatoes U.S.A.” – James Brown & the Famous Flames

It got to Number 82 Pop and barely missed the R&B Top Twenty at Number 21 in 1962, but by then it had fulfilled its purpose as the Mashed Potato dance fad spread around the world.

In Brown’s earlier single, “Night Train”, all he does is yell out cities up and down the Eastern Coast, from Miami to Washington, DC.

“And don’t forget New Orleans, the home of the Blues…” “Night Train” – James Brown

“Night Train” managed to crack the Billboard Pop Top Forty at Number 35 and was the Famous Flames’ biggest R&B hit of 1962, reaching Number Five. It’s a song with a history, originally recorded as a 12 bar instrumental standard in 1951 by Jimmy Forrest, who took the instrumental’s opening riff from Duke Ellington’s “Happy-go-Lucky Local” when Forrest played in the band. Brown took the song, added his lyrics and funked it up before anyone knew what funk even was.

Besides his success with the Mashed Potato dance and “Night Train”, James Brown’s musical output between 1960 and 1962 was on the rise both creatively and popularly, despite his continuing battles with Nathan. Once they had been moved to King Records, James Brown and the Famous Flames began recording their third studio album for Nathan. Neither Brown nor the group as a whole were showcased on this cover either. This time around, Nathan put a white baby on the cover in a pose that made the infant look like he was deep in thought.

Although most of the tracks on the Famous Flames’ first three albums were either written or co-written by Brown, for the most part, they were an assortment of Fifties-style compositions with strong similarities to Little Richard, along with a respectable collection of heartfelt blues wails. Brown’s passion was evident, especially when he was onstage, but he was still a few years away from developing the Funk R&B genre he invented. His singing style offered a rougher, more passionate version of the soul music that was first popularized by Sam Cooke’s contrasting smooth vocal. Brown’s unique voice would ultimately earn him the “Godfather of Soul” moniker.

His dancing style had developed much earlier. Original and totally his own, James Brown’s moves were like nothing ever seen before. Bathed in sweat and screaming his heart out is the epitome of Funk, and funnily enough, the word itself is derived from the strong odor one emanates after an intense performance.

The only other dancer of the rock ‘n’ roll era who could keep up with James Brown in dancing skills was Michael Jackson, who confessed more than once that James Brown was a deep influence in his dance style. You can see future Jackson moves in Brown’s performances.


“Think” was the first single released from the 1960 “Think!” album in May of that year, and was also the first James Brown song that sounded like a true pre-cursor of the Funk that was to come. Coincidentally enough, Brown didn’t write it. The composition was originally recorded by the Five Royales in 1957. When comparing the two recordings, the difference is like day and night. Brown’s musical arrangement is totally different and much more dynamic, belting out the words with his own unique passion. The Royales’ version boasts a nice electric guitar and a brief sax solo but remains rooted in Fifties doo-wop.

James Brown released eight more singles with the Famous Flames after “Think” during 1960 and 1961. Five of those made it into the Billboard R&B Top Ten but none of them cracked the Pop Top Forty. Looking for a hit, Brown wanted to capture his live events on record, since it was his stage performances that were making him a star. He felt a studio recording wasn’t doing his work justice because he wasn’t getting the insane audience reaction he received when he was onstage. He approached Syd Nathan with the idea, and in his usual negative manner, Nathan steadfastly refused, claiming that live albums never made money. Stubborn as always when it came to his musical instincts, Brown decided to fund a recording of an upcoming event at the Apollo Theater in Harlem on October 15, 1962, with his own money. Nathan scoffed, saying that every track on the live recording had already been released as a studio single, but Brown persisted and Nathan finally relented. “Live at the Apollo” turned out to be the album that put James Brown on the map. Released the following June, it became a million seller and reached Number Two on the Billboard Top LP chart. In 1963, Brown’s career would take off.



Also in 1962, sixteen-year-old Dione LaRue scored a Billboard Number Three Pop hit with Chubby Checker called “Slow Twistin’”, although she wasn’t credited. Thanks to that song’s success, LaRue was given the opportunity to record another single as a solo artist, so she changed her name to Dee Dee Sharp.


“Mashed Potato Time”, based on James Brown’s dance, made it to the Number Two position on Billboard’s Pop chart on May 5, 1962. Part of its success, besides riding on the coattails of the dance fad, was the fact that it sounded a lot like an earlier Number One hit from a few months earlier, “Please Mr. Postman”, and Sharp sounded very much like the Marvellettes’ lead singer Gladys Horton. The song even alludes to the earlier Motown hit in its lyrics.

“Now everybody is doin’ fine, they dance alone or in a big boss line, and they discovered it’s the most, man the day they did it to Please Mr. Postman. Mashed Potato, wait a minute, wait a minute, Mashed Potato, deliver de letter…” Mashed Potato Time – Dee Dee Sharp


Sharp’s next single would continue to ride the surf of the Mashed Potato’s popularity simply by adding gravy. Similar in style to her prior hit, “Gravy…” managed to crack the Billboard Pop Top Ten at Number Nine on July 14, 1962.



“Watusi” is the name of a 1959 adventure film that served as a sequel to a popular 1950 movie called “King Solomon’s Mines” and is also loosely based on the novel of the same name. In the film, the African tribe known as the Tutsi tribe, also called Watusis and known for their spectacular solo dances, are the backdrop for a Fifties action adventure film where two Americans travel to Africa in search of King Solomon’s treasure, killing African people and animal wildlife during the whole film in order to find it.

Two years after the movie’s release, the Watusi dance had its own record, thanks to a group called the Vibrations, who scored minor hits throughout their career in the late Fifties and early Sixties. Their version of “The Watusi” reached Number 25 Billboard Pop in 1961.

The most popular record of the Watusi, however, was recorded by a group called the Orlons called “The Wah-Watusi”. It reached Number Two on Billboard’s Pop chart during the summer of 1962, and was re-recorded the following year by groups such as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Chubby Checker, Annette Funicello and the Isley Brothers.

The Watusi dance fad had nothing to do with any of the dances of the actual Watusi tribe. The name for the dance was chosen instead only because it was in the public consciousness thanks to the film. The dance was embraced by the Establishment because it was relatively tame, and was even showcased on an old fogey’s program of the time called the Lawrence Welk Show.



Eva Narcissus Boyd was Carole King and husband Gerry Goffin’s sixteen-year-old babysitter when they discovered her singing talent. They grew to like Eva very much, inquiring about her life and amused by the way she danced when listening to one of the many great pop songs on the radio at the time, some of whom her employers actually wrote. Inspired by her dancing, King and Goffin wrote a song that would become a Number One smash hit in 1962 and give birth to yet another Sixties dance fad.

King and Goffin’s boss Don Kirshner liked “The Loco-Motion” and released it. The single managed to sell over one million copies, reaching the Number One Billboard chart position on August 25, 1962.

Little Eva never had a bigger hit than “The Loco-Motion”, but she did have a singing career that spanned the rest of her life until she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and died in 2003 at age 59.

Twelve years later, a rock group called Grand Funk was struggling for a hit after they dropped “Railroad” from their name. They re-made “The Loco-Motion” and the song returned to the top of the Pop charts on May 2nd, 1974.

Despite the ever growing list of dance fads and their accompanying songs, the song that carries the distinction of being the most enduring twist song of all time as well as one of the most famous songs in rock ‘n’ roll history is “Twist and Shout”. It’s a song that’s mostly associated with the Beatles, but it was actually written in 1961 by two songwriters named Phil Medley and Bill Berns. From there, it was recorded by a group called the Top Notes, then by the Isley Brothers before the Beatles took it and made it their own.



The Top Notes played it much faster than the Isley Brothers did on their recording. The TN’s version was a frantic rock ‘n’ roll song with an equally frantic sax solo played by the legendary King Curtis. This first version of “Twist & Shout” was produced by Phil Spector on February 23, 1961, when he worked for Atlantic Records, years before he invented his “Wall of Sound” recording technique. The original recording is almost unrecognizable from the known version, arranged by the Isley Brothers and then copied almost exactly by the Beatles.

The Top Notes’ single didn’t break the Billboard charts but the Isley Brothers’ version did, reaching Number 17 Billboard Pop on August 11, 1962. When adapting the tune, the brothers used the same musical arrangement but slowed-down for their version of “Twist and Shout” that Ritchie Valens used in 1958 for his adaptation of a traditional Mexican mariachi tune called “La Bamba” into a rock ‘n’ roll song.

The Isley Brothers’ version replaces the Top Notes’ sax solo with a horn section that repeats as a rising crescendo of “aaahhhs” overtake it, then bringing it back to the main part. The Beatles’ version mimics the Isley Brothers intact, but they replace the horns for their guitars and deliver rock ‘n’ roll screams that are essentially a blueprint for myriad joyful rock ‘n’ roll screams to come.

Many people have always believed that the Beatles had written “Twist and Shout”. It closes their 1963 debut album “Please Please Me”, but that album was basically a recording of the Beatles’ setlist when they played at the Cavern Club in their hometown of Liverpool back then, along with Beatle-written songs peppered throughout the album.

The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” showcases John Lennon’s voice, by then hoarse from having recorded the entire album with the other three in one 13-hour period. It was a vocal style he would successfully emulate during their live performances, and it was this unique performance captured on record that takes the song to the heights of rock ‘n’ roll legend.