Who Wrote the Hip-Shaking Hit “The Twist”?

One of the things people love about music is the song, itself. The melody, the rhythm, the emotion it brings out from you. But another thing—a more specific element—that people love about music is dancing. And when a new song introduces a new dance, well, that’s sonic bliss. Such was the case with the song, “The Twist,” released in the late 1950s and made famous by singer Chubby Checker.

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But who wrote the song, originally? And how did it get into Checker’s capable hands?

Who Wrote It?

Originally released in 1958, the song was written by Hank Ballard. It was first recorded by Ballard’s band, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, as a B-side to their single “Teardrops on Your Letter.”

But while Ballard’s version was a small hit, hitting No. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960, Checker made it a massive one in 1960. His version hit No. 1 on the Hot 100. (The song later became a hit in 1988 when The Fat Boys released a version. That hit No. 2 in the U.K.)

[RELATED: The Story Behind How “The Twist” Creator Chubby Checker Got His Name]

Hank Ballard

For Ballard, his song’s success as performed by Checker was bittersweet.

He told The Los Angeles Times in 1988, “People think Chubby wrote it, but they’re wrong. They call Chubby the father of ‘The Twist,’ but he’s just the stepfather. I’m the father. It’s my baby.

“He was chosen because he came closest to my sound,” Ballard said about his relationship to the song and Checker. “He beat me with my own sound. I never spent much time worrying about it, despite what people say. If I had, it would have eaten me up by anger by now.”

The songwriter, who ran away from home and worked at a Ford motor plant at 15, penned the song after seeing teens in Tampa, Florida doing the dance. Ballard, who died of throat cancer at 66 years old, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

When he died, Checker remembered Ballard, saying, “We made history with the song, and Hank Ballard made all of that come about. He will be missed. But he is still alive because of that song and because of Chubby Checker. Even after I’m gone, the song will keep me alive too. The biggest thing to this day in rock ‘n’ roll and in pop music with a beat is two people, dancing apart and facing each other. And that never happened before we did ‘The Twist.’ ”


While Ballard is known as the writer, there has been some controversy over that fact.

In 2014, his former Midnighters bandmate, Lawson Smith, said that The Gospel Consolaters’ Nathaniel Bills first wrote the song. Then Bills, according to Smith, asked the band The Spaniels to record it. But Ballard “stole” the song and claimed he penned the tune.

Yet, despite this claim, Checker always credited Ballard with writing the song, saying after Ballard’s death, “People don’t think of him as the person that wrote the most important song, but that doesn’t make it an untruthful thing. And if it weren’t for him and it weren’t for ‘The Twist,’ where would I be?”

Dick Clark

The famous DJ and American Bandstand television show host said “The Twist” was the most important song ever in rock and roll, explaining, “It was the first time the adult population could embrace rock ‘n’ roll. Before that, adults were ashamed to say they liked it. They were folk fans, jazz fans—there was a sense that pop music was only for kids. But this song became a darling of high society and every demographic.”

Chubby Checker

Checker first performed the song in July of 1960 at the Rainbow Club in wildwood, New Jersey. The song became a hit when he performed it on American Bandstand with Clark hosting.

A year later in 1961, mainstream adults were obsessed with the song, Checker’s version and the accompanying dance.

The song became so popular that Checker recorded it several times, including the sequel “Let’s Twist Again.” And in 2018, the song was one of six singles inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Photo by David Farrell/Redferns

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