53 Years Ago: The Isley Brothers Shake It Up With ‘Twist and Shout’
In 1962, the Isley Brothers didn’t even want to record “Twist and Shout.” Yet, it would be the song that would transform their musical career.
The boys weren’t too keen on the tune for a few reasons. After all, it was another group’s sloppy seconds. When it was still called “Shake It Up, Baby,” the single had been a flop for Atlantic recording artists the Top Notes. A very green (and pre-“Wall of Sound”) Phil Spector had produced the recording, but had stripped the song of all its inherent energy.
Co-songwriters Bert Berns (sometimes credited as Russell) and Phil Medley were less than pleased with the result, which is why they thought “Twist and Shout” deserved another chance. Berns had been the prime creative force behind the tune, which drew on the Latin rhythms and the raw R&B that had captured his imagination while growing up in New York City. It would later be said that “Twist and Shout” was loosely inspired by the Richie Valens hit “La Bamba.”
Aware of the Isleys' powerful performances, Berns and Medley thought the group might be the correct fit for their song. But the brothers were not as convinced. After all, their breakout 1959 hit had been called “Shout” (the Isleys wrote that one for themselves) and did they really want to become the band that only sang “Shout” songs? Meanwhile, the twist craze was in full force and could end at any moment, with the Isleys appearing a little late to the trend.
Still, the Isley Brothers hadn’t had a hit in three years and were willing to try something new. Berns and Medley convinced the group to let them produce the song as a B-side, with the idea that the sound would mimic the rambunctious atmosphere of an Isley concert. The plan was that a Burt Bacharach song (“Make It Easy on Yourself”) would be the A-side and that “Twist and Shout” would be a bit of fun on the flipside.
Listen to the Top Notes' "Twist and Shout"
But everyone changed their minds once they heard the unbridled lead vocal of Ronald Isley, the wind-up exuberance of the track and that raucous, shout-along bridge. “Twist and Shout” was too good to obscure and so it was released as a single on the Wand label on June 16, 1962. Throughout the summer, it rose to No. 17 on the U.S. pop charts and No. 2 on the R&B charts, quickly becoming a party standard for other R&B and rock and roll groups to include in their sets.
One of those rock and roll groups was the Beatles, who began playing their version of “Twist and Shout” in clubs in Hamburg, Germany. In 1963, the Fab Four recorded an even less inhibited take on the single, with John Lennon shredding his vocals over his band’s driving Mersey beat. The song became an early Beatles classic, which only helped the Isley Brothers. For the first time, the group was developing a fan base in the U.K.
“Twist and Shout” did more than just that for the Isley Brothers. It established the group as more than a one-hit wonder, brought the brothers’ music to new audiences and eventually helped land the boys a deal with Motown. The hit single can be credited with sparking the Isley Brothers’ remarkable streak of having a Billboard pop hit in six consecutive decades (they would have a Top 50 hit in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s).
It also did wonders for its producer and songwriter, Bert Berns, who went on to write some of the most famous R&B and pop songs of all time (“Tell Him,” “Everybody Needs Someone to Love,” “I Want Candy,” “Piece of My Heart” and “Hang on Sloopy” -- which was inspired by “Twist and Shout”). Berns also would produce records for Solomon Burke, the Drifters and Them while also shepherding the young careers of fellow Brill Building writer Neil Diamond, Irish star Van Morrison and rock heavyweights Led Zeppelin.
Sadly, Berns died from a heart attack in December 1967 at 38, long before he could get the recognition he deserved. But “Twist and Shout” endures in many forms as a classic of ’60s R&B and rock and roll.
Watch the Beatles Perform 'Twist and Shout"
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