Singin' and Swingin' with. . .
Hank Ballard and the Midnighters
The Original Twist and So Much More
Hank Ballard's first step into pop culture consciousness came with a trio of bawdy 1954 singles that immortalized a girl named Annie. "Work with Me Annie" and its two sequels ("Annie Had a Baby," "Annie's Aunt Fanny") were banned by many radio stations as too explicit, but each sold over a million copies and established Ballard, who grew up in Alabama, as an original voice. His basic trick: pairing music that had the fervent vocal appeal of rhythm and blues with caterwauling dance rhythms—and lyrics filled with risque double entendres.
As his career progressed, Ballard sought more than to merely titillate. This hot 1957 date reveals him as a songwriter of significant range, capable of sorrowful, blues-inflected ballads and pieces that feel as giddy as doo-wop but without the dewy-eyed naivete. Singin' and Swingin's big hit, "Teardrops on your Letter," is a timeless early-rock song that somehow never became a standard; just about everything else shows that Ballard was not only willing to experiment (see the moody atmosphere of "I'll Be Home Someday," which sounds like it could have been recorded a decade later, during the height of psychedelia), but capable of crafting new hybrids of gospel, R&B, and rock and roll.
This album's commercial claim to fame, though, is the B side to "Teardrops," "The Twist," which was rerecorded by Chubby Checker and became one of the biggest singles in rock history as well as a dance craze. Checker's version follows the outline of the Ballard recording, adding a touch of teenage enthusiasm and little else. Check out the original to hear Ballard's group ride a significantly tighter roadhouse-rocking rhythm. Sure it's coarse, but it has that heedless devil-may-care quality that animates all great party music.
Released: 1959, King
Key Tracks: "Teardrops on Your Letter," "Last Goodbye," "I'll Be Home Someday," "Sweet Mama, Do Right"
Catalog Choice: Sexy Ways: The Best of . . .
Next Stop: Various Artists: Cameo-Parkway 1957-67
After That: Wynonie Harris: Bloodshot Eyes
Book Pages: 42–43