In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
The first song to hit #1 in 1962 wasn’t a new song. It was Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” back out of nowhere for a two-week run. Sometime between 1960, when the song came out, and 1962, when it reascended the charts, twisting went through a sort of revival to become a national phenomenon. A lot of that had to do with the Peppermint Lounge, a New York nightclub where celebrities went to twist.
Judy Garland and John Wayne and Truman Capote and, eventually, the Beatles all visited this New York club, a former gay bar run by a Mafia captain named Matty “The Horse” Ianniello. (In 1986, more than two decades after the club shut down, Ianniello went to prison for embezzling money from the Peppermint Lounge and a few other places.) The Peppermint Lounge, known as the Temple Of Twist, was the Studio 54 of its day. And its house band was a group of New Jersey kids who called themselves Joey Dee And The Starliters.
Joey Dee And The Starliters did everything they could to capitalize on this passing national fascination with their place of work. In 1961, they starred as themselves in a teensploitation biopic called Hey, Let’s Twist! (It has an amazing trailer.) And in 1962, they managed to hit #1 with a fairly generic two-minute dance song that sold itself by mentioning the Peppermint Lounge whenever possible.
“Peppermint Twist – Part 1” is perfectly acceptable dance-craze music. It’s got energy, which is pretty much all it needs. Dee sold the song with a sort of cheeseball lounge-singer charisma, and his band capably cranked behind him, swiping a generous helping of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout” in the process. There’s nothing bad about the song, but there’s nothing that transcends its moment, either. This was a song made for a very specific cultural context, and once that context disappeared, so, for the most part, did the song.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s UK glam-rockers the Sweet’s far-superior cover of “Peppermint Twist,” which went to #1 in Australia in 1974: