Jewish Twists

July 5th, 2009 | admin | No Comments | Categories: Blog

  • When Hank Ballard and The Midnighters released a minor blues number they called “The Twist” back in 1959, it was a forgettable b-side. When Chubby Checker covered it a year later, it not only became an a- side single that rose to #1 on the Billboard charts, it became a social event, a culture-spanning dance craze to end all culture- spanning dance crazes– apologies to all of you still mastering your lambada, electric slide, and Aunt Jackie steps. Thanks to Checker, everybody was dancing The Twist, an entire nation’s body turning and bending to a blues shuffle and curing the country of a cultural cancer that Eldridge Cleaver diagnosed as “Bing Crosbyism, Perry Comoism, and Dinah Shoreism.” Kids of all colors shook off the vanilla purr of the 50s and The Twist became, in Cleaver’s famous words, “a guided missile, launched from the ghetto into the very heart of suburbia. The Twist succeeded, as politics, religion, and law could never do, in writing in the heart and soul what the Supreme Court could only write on the books.” Young Jews were key pioneers in the suburban shift of the 50s and key players in the civil rights movement so it’s no surprise that they added their own two cents to The Twist’s musical legislation. Checker himself made sure that Jews were dancing with him when he re-recorded The Twist to the tune of “Hava Nagilah,” even switching between the song’s original Hebrew and his own Hava-fied English that invites you to get on the dancefloor.

    Mambo king Perez Prado was onto the same idea but knowing how much Jews loved the mambo, Prado got rid of the “Hava Nagilah” lyrics and turned it into into a Twist, complete with his signature grunts and sparkling brass section. When it was time for the Twist to “go Latin,” Prado knew it also had to “go Jewish.”

    Of course, Jews themselves chimed on The Twist, none better than the Yiddish Fred Astaire himself, Leo Fuchs. Fuchs is best known for his work on the stages of Broadway and the Yiddish Theater, but we’re partial to his Shalom Pardner LP on the Tikva label, where he drops “Yiddish Twist,” a bi-cultural stomper that, around 1:20, makes Yiddish speakers get twisting to the sound of– who else?– “Chubbele Checker.”

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