DEAR JERRY: To this day, when pop music documentaries recap the 1940s, '50s and '60s, they invariably devote a segment to the payola scandals. Alan Freed is often the payola poster boy, though Dick Clark and other big names are sometimes mentioned.
Regardless of those under discussion, it always is about dee jays being paid to play records on the air. Stan Freberg even spoofed the practice in his 1960 hit, “The Old Payola Roll Blues.”
But wasn't there a slight variation of payola, where, instead of money, dee jays got the artists to give personal performances for little or no pay?
Genevieve Espinosa, Beaumont, Texas
DEAR GENEVIEVE: This certainly is an overlooked slice of Rock and Roll history, one even I had forgotten about.
However, during the course of an interview I once published, Bobby Vinton shared his opinions and reflections on these forms of payola:
“It was just a way of life at the time. In fact, life itself is a form of payola you do something for me and I'll do something for you. That's certainly how the politicians and lobbyists work.
“Basically, there's no harm to it but the record industry had to take the brunt of the criticism. Still, no one ever forced anyone to buy a record they didn't want to own.
“I used to come to a city to do a record hop, put on by a local dee jay. The disc jockey would ask me to sing at the record hop in exchange for him playing my current record, especially in the week leading up to the hop.
“The dee jay was there to make money, from the kids (his listeners) who bought tickets to attend, which they did because I was there live performing my record, which was being played on the dee jay's radio show.
“I was happy; the record company was happy; the dee jay was happy; and the kids were happy. Everybody wins. What's wrong with that?
“It was better in those days, when all of this was out in the open.”
Good ol' quid pro quo: something for something.
DEAR JERRY: Just read your column about Chubby Checker having so many different hits with “Twist” titles. He definitely made a career out of hit songs based on teen dances.
Besides “The Twist,” I recall the pony, the fly, and the limbo, but I'm pretty sure he didn't stop there. Can you name them all?
Zoni Hamilton, York, Pa.
DEAR ZONI: Of course, and it may surprise you to know Chubby (who never was) has danced his way right into the 21st century, as you shall see from this chronological dance-a-thon:
“The Twist” (1960 & '61); “The Hucklebuck” (1960); “Pony Time” (1960); “(Dance the) Mess Around” (1961); “Let's Twist Again” (1961); “The Fly” (1961); “Twistin' U.S.A.” (1961); “Teach Me to Twist” (1962) (with Bobby Rydell); “Slow Twistin' (1962) (with Dee Dee Sharp); “La Paloma Twist” (1962); “Limbo Rock” (1962); “Popeye the Hitchhiker” (1962); “Let's Limbo Some More” (1963); “Birdland” (1963); “Twist It Up” (1963); “She Wants T' Swim” (1964); “Let's Do the Freddie” (1965); “Hey You! Little Boo-ga-loo” (1966); “The Twist (Yo, Twist!)” (1988) (with Fat Boys); “Doin' the Zombie” (2008); and “The Texas Twist”(2009) (with Texas Radio).
If we were compiling a concept album of Chubby's dance songs (umm, not a bad idea), to these 21 we would add two “bonus tracks,” both about dancing in general: “Dancin' Party” (1962) and “At the Discotheque” (1965).
All of these are single releases. Checker's albums include numerous other dance tunes.
Remarkably, over half of his 38 chart hits have a dance theme and title.
IZ ZAT SO? Though Chubby Checker is the best known artist with the same hit twice “The Twist” in 1960 and '61 with the exact same recording, he was not the first.
Two years before “The Twist,” Johnny Tillotson hit the charts in 1958 with “Dreamy Eyes,” then scored again in 1961 with the exact same recording. This tune is not the same song popularized by the Four Preps, Youngsters, Viceroys, and others.
Fortuitously for Chubby, his career skyrocketed on the wings of a cover version. His “The Twist” charted just two weeks after Hank Ballard's original recording, and it soon became THE version.
Things didn't work out too badly for Ballard, though. Since he wrote “The Twist” he collected kagillions in royalties.