The Beatles’ “She Said She Said” vs. Chubby Checker’s “She Said”: Odd Couples

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Elijah Weld’s 2009 book How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll explores a fascinating premise: In the 1960s, the Beatles can be seen as having performed much the same function as the most popular group from the jazz age 40 years earlier, the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Each in their own time can be seen as “a temporary impediment to the music’s evolution.”

Weld writes that the Beatles “performed rearguard holding actions” in “an archaic style,” progressing to a point where they “diffused rock’s energy,” “drape[d] it in a robe of arty mystification” and turned it into “a vehicle for white pap and pretension.” This distillation of text is an oversimplification, of course; Weld’s research goes into much more history and detail, and is a fascinating alternative history of American popular music. But what’s here is enough to set up an interesting comparison between the Beatles and an artist who sales and earnings were both in the millions before Beatlemania changed the course of music history — Chubby Checker.

Let’s start with the Beatles. By 1966, they were getting tired of grueling tours and unsatisfactory live appearances. Their final concert tour of America began on August 12th and concluded with their final live performance at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 29th. For anymore who cared to read, the writing was already on the wall: Though it had been released in the U.S. only four days before the tour began, they performed no songs from their latest album, Revolver. Too bad; it’s considered to be one of their best. A standout track on an album full them was John Lennon’s psychedelic pop masterpiece, “She Said She Said.”

Lennon says it was based on a comment actor Peter Fonda said to him while they were tripping on LSD. Even though the lyrics make sense in this context, the song can still be understood as a comment about hearsay and relationships. The guitars have that overdriven sound the band developed on Revolver; Ringo’s compressed snare pushed to the front of the mix also typifies their studio experimentation. Cool song, but can you dance to it?

There is no question about danceability in regards to this album cut from Chubby Checker’s Beach Party, released in 1963. “She Said” is a fairly obscure number from an album that was made as his short-lived but intense success was running down. (It was only recently reissued last year in a digital download format.) At the time of its release, Beach Party was an attempt to restart Checker’s career by tacking his “The King of the Twist” image and other novelty dance tunes to the next big thing: surf music — popularized by those other 1960’s innovators/impediments from California known as the Beach Boys.

Most of the tunes on Beach Party were written and produced by the Mann/Appell writing and production heads at the Cameo-Parkway label, and include such obvious bids at a winner like “Let’s Surf Again” (the rewrite of another Checker hit, “Let’s Twist Again”) and “Surf Party.” Sure, it’s a mono recording with fake overdubbed audience noises, and the whole affair sound like some garage band in a cabana, but it’s driven by great drums, Farfisa organ, and the mother of all R&B horn sections. In many ways, it’s probably what the Beatles were trying to get their guitars to sound like. Most of the sax solos sound like a 20-year-old Clarence Clemons blowing his lungs out — and, at this point in his life, Clemons probably was doing just that at some gig somewhere.

“She Said,” the only song on this album with a writing credit given to one E. Evans (i.e., yhe Chubbster’s given name), is cut from the same beach blanket: only the dead couldn’t dance to this. Lyrically, it’s a hearsay and relationship song that has nothing to do with dancing, and it’s unfortunately buried on the middle of side two, the traditional graveyard for album filler. But what filler! The backing band hits a groove that no amateurs could hit properly. The drummer gets that jazzy bell cymbal thing going while holding the rest of the fort down as rock solid as possible, and those horns are what Southside Johnny only dreams of (when he can’t get his regular guys).

Yeah, I like the Beatles, with all of their masterpieces and mini-masterpieces, but I love Chubby Checker’s long-lost throwaway as well. This contest called as a draw; two different time periods, two different weight divisions, two different worlds.

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