The death of Dick Clark at age 82 means you are going to hear a lot about how Clark revolutionized the way Americans celebrate New Year's Eve at home, how Dick Clark changed the face of TV game shows, and how Dick Clark should bear at least some of the blame for the current state of television's reliance on reality TV. All well and good, but were you aware that Dick Clark's greatest accomplishment may have been his part in separating dance partners on the dance floor, which contributed to America's sexual revolution?
C'mon, baby, let's do the Twist!
The Twist introduced the word bifurcation into the world of nightclub dancing. Prior to the Twist, you had to learn all kind of steps that today are fodder for laughter when people like Martina Navratilova attempt to do them on national TV. Movies made before the Twist reveal that you had to actually know how to dance as a couple. Movies made after the Twist reveal that such knowledge became as obsolete as dinner table manners. And Dick Clark was the single most important element in the cultural revolution.
Wait a minute. Just a minute, there. Whoa! Wasn't it Chubby Checker who tore apart dance couples forever and institutionalized the kind of bodily wiggling that prior to the 1960s would have easily gotten you kicked out of the prom and even, in some towns, locked up on charges of lewd and lascivious behavior? The Chubster was the revolutionary figure in this story, wasn't he? Where does Dick Clark fit in?
In addition to his New Year's Rockin' Eve, the "$25,000 Pyramid" game show, and all those bloopers and practical jokes, there was "American Bandstand" to make Dick Clark one of the most iconic figures in the history of American entertainment. The truth of the matter is that the dance known as the Twist was already popular among a certain set of R&B radio station listeners and dance club patrons due to the song "The Twist" by a certain Hank Ballard. While Ballard was a big hit on what might be consider alternative stations, he was verboten on mainstream top 40 radio as a result of his rather suggestive lyrics at the time.
Dick Clark, ever on top of rock 'n' roll trends, naturally wanted to introduce "The Twist" to the world. It didn't take a genius to see that Ballard had something truly subversive on his hands. Dick Clark may seem like a fuddy-duddy in the age of gangsta rap and Lady Gaga, but he was a truly seditious figure in pop music in the early 1960s. Recognizing a dance that could explode rock 'n' roll from its teenage wasteland and into the mainstream, Clark made a deal with Ballard to sing the song on "American Bandstand."
Stories vary on what happened next, but one likely scenario is that TV execs carrying "American Bandstand" were not prepared for an act that made Elvis Presley of 1956 look like Elvis Presley of 1977. Ballard's highly sexualized controversy was out, and an up-and-coming Philadelphia singer that Dick Clark discovered named Ernest Evans was brought in. Evans had impressed Dick Clark with his remarkably talent for mimicking such contemporary music stars as Fats Domino.
Ernest Evans recorded a cover version of Ballard's original "The Twist" almost note for note. Although you don't know it, you have likely heard that version of "The Twist" because Ernest Evans recorded it under the name Chubby Checker. The song hit number one on separate occasions two years apart and coincident with that first climb to number one, Checker performed the song on "American Bandstand." Dick Clark's idea to have Chubby provide lessons on how to do "The Twist" was a stroke of genius.
I think you know the rest of the story.
For more from Timothy Sexton, Yahoo! Voices' first Writer of the Year, check out: