Chubby Checker: It’s Pony Time / Let’s Twist Again

The King of the Twist does the pony and twists again on his 3rd and 4th albums

One might imagine that the passing of Allen B. Klein in 2009 has something to do with the emergence of six Cameo-Parkway CD reissues, including this one and titles from Bobby Rydell, The Orlons, Terry Knight and the Pack, a vocal groups compilation, and a novelty outing from Clint Eastwood’s years on Rawhide. The legendary Philadelphia labels operated from 1956 through 1967, hitting a peak during American Bandstand’s years as a Philly institution, and becoming the root of Klein’s ABKCO Records in 1967. Klein reissued vault material on vinyl in the 1970s, but was very slow to adapt to CDs. Bootlegs and re-recordings proliferated for decades before the embargo was broken with the 2005 box set Cameo Parkway 1957-1967, and a series of best-of discs for the labels’ biggest stars. Five years later ABKCO is really starting to dig into the vault with this volley of original full-length album reissues.

Oddly, rather than starting the reissue program with Checker’s (and the Parkway label’s) first two albums (1960’s Twist with Chubby Checker and 1961’s For Twisters Only), the series jump-starts with the twister’s third and fourth albums. Checker ignited a worldwide dance craze with his chart-topping cover of Hank Ballard’s “The Twist,” and hit the Top 20 again with a cover of the 1940’s dance number, “The Hucklebuck.” With his third album, he once again topped the charts with a novelty dance number, “Pony Time.” The album also yielded the lower-charting “Dance This Mess Around.” Later that year, he dropped his third of four albums for 1961, and with it scored a Top 10 (and a Grammy award) with “Let’s Twist Again.” He’d continue to ride novelty dance songs onto the charts into the mid-60s, including a return trip to #1 with his original recording of “The Twist.”

Checker’s albums were literally filled with dance tunes, old and new, here including “The Watusi,” “The Hully Gully” (sung to the tune of “Peanut Butter,” which Checker covered on Let’s Twist Again) “The Stroll,” “The Mashed Potatoes” (which preceded his labelmate Dee Dee Sharp’s hit “Mashed Potato Time” by a year), “The Shimmy” (which would be recycled in 1962 as a hit duet with Sharp as “Slow Twistin’”), “The Jet,” “The Continental Walk,” “The Charleston” and “The Ray Charles-Ton.” Throw in a couple of R&B covers, like “I Almost Lost My Baby” and “Quarter to Three” and you have a standard-issue Chubby Checker album. Despite the many variations on a few themes, Checker throws himself into each song as if it’s brand new, and the Cameo-Parkway house band swings hard on everything it plays.

As James Ritz’s liner notes point out, these are great, non-stop party albums, driven in large part by the fat sax tone of Buddy Savitt, and a swinging rhythm section (Joe Macho on bass and either Bobby Gregg or Joe Sher on drums) that even manages to sneak in a second-line rhythm for house arranger Dave Appell’s take on Lerner and Loewe’s “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Collectors’ Choice’s two-fer reissue includes the twenty-four tracks of the original albums and full-panel reproductions of both albums’ front and back covers. It’s a shame that detailed session credits at the time didn’t log who played on each track, as the house players were every bit the equal of their more name-familiar counterparts in the Wrecking Crew,  Motown and Stax house bands. Audio is radio-ready mono throughout, just the way these albums were originally issued. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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