Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Moscow Girls Got Soul

A good song is a good song is a good song.

Over at Echoes in the Wind today, Whiteray dug through the Billboard charts from this week in 1969. Not so much the top of the charts (dominated by two songs from Hair, Glenn Campbell singing Jimmy Webb, Tommy Roe, the Temptations, the Zombies, and Blood Sweat & Tears), but the rest of the Hot 100.

Including an unlikely coulda-woulda-shoulda-been hit by Chubby Checker.

Certainly by 1969, it must have looked like Chubby Checker's best days were far behind him. Hell, even in his heyday, Checker seemed predestined to be a soon-to-be-forgotten novelty.

His stage name was a play on Fats Dominoe. In his first record, he imitated Alvin and the Chipmunks. And his signature song ("The Twist") was a dance-crazy novelty record.

A quick look at his career shows him going back to the same well over and over (with singles like "Let's Twist Again," "Twistin' USA," "Slow Twisting," "Twist It Up," and "Yo Twist"), then trying to "expand" his repertoire with other novelty dance songs ("Do the Freddy," "Dance the Mess Around," "Limbo Rock," "Pony Time," etc.).

By 1969, he was mostly forgotten in the U.S. (although he toured extensively throughout Europe).

Still, a good song is a good song is a good song.

And one of the signs of a good song is that you can rearrange it, put it into another style, and it's still a good song. Maybe it's an even better song in a different style because listeners bring with them the memory of the original, creating a hybrid experience when they hear a substantially reworked version.

And if there's one thing the Beatles knew well, it was good songs.

Whose idea was it to take the Chuck Berry-ish rocker "Back in the USSR" (with it's Beach Boys-inspired bridge) and rework it in a horn-fueled soul groove? Tom Sellers, who played in a pre-Oates band with Daryl Hall, arranged the song. And both Sellers and Hall played and sang on the record.

In a more just world, it would have been a hit and it might have given Chubby Checker the type of career rebirth Tina Turner enjoyed in the 1980s. But the record skimmed the bottom of the charts, peaked at number 82, then vanished.

And, up until this morning, I'd never heard it. Or even heard of it.

But now (with thanks to Whiteray and because a good song is a good song is a good song), here's Chubby Checker's comeback-that-never-was:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow... who knew!