Chubby Checker


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At the dawn of the 1970s, Chubby Checker was forced to face the grim truth that no one really cared about the Twist anymore, and his history as America's greatest champion of dance crazes was doing more to weigh him down than to help him reclaim his stardom. Checker needed an image makeover, and he teamed up with manager and producer Ed Chalpin to make a record that would introduce a "new" Chubby Checker to the world. The resulting album, 1971's Chequered!, is a curiosity that never got a proper release in the United States; many have cited it as Chubby's "psychedelic" album, but that's not really an accurate assessment, even though "Stoned in the Bathroom" and "My Mind" are just as loopy as the titles would lead you to expect. While the melodies (and Chubby's vocals) often show a pronounced Jimi Hendrix influence, Chequered! is rooted in hard rock and British R&B rather than lysergic meditation, as Checker demonstrates his abilities as a blues-leaning rock shouter. Chubby himself fares rather well on Chequered!; if the songs try too hard and often seem foolishly derivative, Checker's singing is strong and impassioned, and considering that his vocals were often the least remarkable thing about his best-known work, his performances here suggest he could have done fine on the rock ballroom circuit of the late '60s and early '70s if he'd had the right band and the right material. Unfortunately, this set of Hendrix/Cream/Joe Cocker retreads was not going to give Checker the fresh hearing he deserved (though if they'd heard it, "He Died" might have connected with the newly minted Jesus People who made Jesus Christ Superstar a hit), and while the instrumental work is competent, the players deliver little more than the songs absolutely require. Ultimately, Chequered! is a sporadically entertaining but mostly puzzling misfire that sounds like a wrongheaded product of its time, though whatever its flaws may be, Checker's own performances indicate he could have pulled this off with better help.

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