Sunday, May 1, 2011

Accidentally great on purpose: Chubby Checker's psychedelic phase

A more serious Chubby Checker on the cover of one-and-only psychedelic album.

"I wouldn't want to meet that m*therf*cker!"

Hold on, Dave. You just might want to meet him after all.

The Sixties were a time of such social and cultural upheaval that a person could be considered the epitome of cool at one end of the decade and the very antithesis of cool at the other. Such was surely the case with singer Ernest Evans, a.k.a. Chubby Checker. At the beginning of that tumultuous decade, Chubby ruled the charts with such great dance-friendly pop R&B hits as "The Twist," "Limbo Rock," "Pony Time," and (best of all) "Let's Twist Again." Chubby's reign as the king of pop came during one of those awkward, in-between eras of rock music. The first wave of rock (Elvis, Chuck Berry, etc.) had subsided and the second wave (The Beatles, Stones, etc.) had not yet begun. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, something had to bridge the gap, and that something was twist music. For a heartfelt tribute to this era, please see John Waters' original 1988 version of Hairspray, a film which features roughly a half-dozen great Chubby Checker songs on the soundtrack (though, for legal reasons, not on the soundtrack album).

By the time the 1970s rolled around, Chubby Checker's reign on the top was definitely over. By 1973, he had already moved to the nostalgia circuit (as recorded in the massively-entertaining concert documentary Let The Good Times Roll), which is where he remains to this day. But in 1971, Chubby had not quite given up yet, so he did what any sensible person would do: he went to Holland and recorded a psychedelic rock-soul masterpiece with Jimi Hendrix's producer, Ed Chaplin. The resulting disc, known alternately as Chequered or New Revelation, apparently did not set the pop world aflame, and Chubby himself has basically disowned the thing. Perhaps he knew his future lay in giving "twist" demonstrations on morning talk shows.

But none of that stops Chequered from being awesome. Here, check out the lead track -- a slow-cooking, spaced-out jam called "Goodbye Victoria":

Quite a change from "Limbo Rock," right? You can see from the LP cover how Chubby was trying to change his image. Gone were the greasy pompadour and the fixed smile of his twistin' years. Now he was wearing his hair naturally and sneering at the camera. Maybe that's why this record didn't go over big at the time. Or maybe it was because the songs on the LP had titles like "Stoned in the Bathroom" and "Love Tunnel," which didn't fit Chubby's squeaky-clean image. Who knows? The good news is that the album is easy to find -- free! -- nowadays. Just do a Google search for "chubby checker" chequered and you'll find any number of places to download it.

Here. I've done it for you.

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