Issue #130: Chequered! by Chubby Checker

September 10, 2018

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Chequered! by Chubby Checker
Released In 1971
Released By London Records

This Week’s Selection Chosen By Guest Contributor Kristin Hersh (of Throwing Muses)

One night when I was living in LA, a bear wandered down from the hills and took a walk in my neighborhood. Three people saw it, so on the local news that night, they claimed there were three bears, most likely marauding ones. Hide your cats and picnics, et cetera. They told us the bear was confused, possibly rabid. The next night, a noticeably uncomfortable “bear wrangler” was called in and we gathered to watch him hit garbage can lids while the bear watched quietly. Occasionally, the bear wrangler punctuated his clanging with, “Bad bear!” not so much yelled as muttered. It was weird but cool and would have been a lot cooler if we’d just watched a bear do his thing and didn’t yell at him or call him rabid on his way back home to the hills. The bear wrangler was unnecessary as was counting invisible bears and hiding our stuff. I imagine it was just a hungry, interesting bear who took a chance.

We don’t like unanswered questions or surprises that appear out of nowhere. We are unusually attached to explanations, even off-base ones. We want answers, even if they’re wrong. And when it comes to music, just about every explanation is off-base except for the music itself. Who, where, and how come are fingers pointing at the moon. In other words, fingers shouldn’t be the focus when you could be mesmerized by a moon.

Chubby Checker’s Chequered! comes with a list of unanswered questions for those who like explanations, but it’s a gorgeous full moon. The mythology goes something like this: Dude did some Top 40 goofiness, then lost his shit, moved to Holland, discovered weed and Hendrix, and this is the result. They also say it was recorded in New York or Holland or Norway by “hippies” and that nobody liked it, including Chubby Checker. They’re not always clear on the title, either.

This is great, actually. If you can’t pin music down, it’s easier to hear it. Rather, to really listen to it. Some of these songs are like living entities; the reduction of which to who, where, and how come would be a disservice to the experience. They’re oozing but tight. The snare work alone is unapologetic yet restrained, the vocals and vocal treatment distant yet passionate. A writhing on the floor that sort of defies explanation, so any attempt would be wrong and it would be wrong to attempt. Songs like “Goodbye Victoria” challenge musically without groping outside the space that the sixties created within standard song structure and production treatment. The work is raw, as are the feelings which gave rise to it. There is no rock star here, no fun, nothing premeditated. Even the charming sweetness of “If The Sun Stopped Shining” eventually reveals itself to be more like a calm desperation.

When a bear like this wanders down from the hills, it keeps music fascinating. I wanna say “unheard” is beside the point, but it might actually be the point. Because the music business didn’t wrangle it, we get to watch it do its thing. This chapter of Chubby Checker’s life was a hungry, interesting one that took a chance and we didn’t lose it for autopsying its process. Find it if you can and try “Stoned In The Bathroom” first. Listening to it swirl and spin, you want to be there with him that Sunday afternoon, whether he was in Holland or New York or “sitting on the moon” as he says he was.

Kristin Hersh (@kristinhersh)
Regnant Aural Conjurer

A gifted musician, known for frivolity yet driven by artistry.

I’m always intrigued by a song (or an album) that recontextualizes or causes me to reevaluate the artist in question. In the case of Chubby Checker, I was only familiar with “The Twist” (natch) so it doesn’t take much for me to reconfigure my view. (I’m fairly certain I’ve seen this clip in more than one of those commercials for album compilations.) Thus, a record that features groove, funk, hard rock, some loose jamming, a “Like A Rolling Stone”-esque rocker, a bit of psychedelic experimentation, some socially conscious R&B, and some shit-hot lead work, quickly shifts my perspective. And while Chequered! does just that — forces me to reevaluate Checker, at least beyond his signature song — its half-dozen other versions accomplish the same task. In Spain, it was self-titled with the same track order, suggesting a kind of (new) debut for Checker. If you hadn’t heard of him, you might start here — and that would wildly change one’s understanding of his career. It was also an eponymous album in Italy, but the track order is different: notably, it opens with “Goodbye Victoria” and ends with “Stoned In The Bathroom.” Again, assuming you start here because of the title, imagine a soulful ballad as your introduction to Checker (!). In Germany, it was called The Other Side Of — for me, that’s a much more fitting name — and opens with “My Mind,” followed by “Stoned.” With this iteration, you might think he did a deep dive into Cream and Hendrix and wanted to try that himself. Here in the States, it was reissued in 1982 as New Revelation with “Goodbye” as the opener, “Let’s Go Down” as the closer, and “Slow Lovin’” left off. This track order, sadly, makes NR the least compelling version I found. New Revelation as the title, though? Well, that’ll do just fine.

Steve Lampiris (@stevenlampiris)
Sure, Let’s Go With That

Years ago, gyrating and swirling in the neon lights and sequined reflections pooling on the floor of the Ivy League college auditorium was this tiny, weird Of Montreal show, I screamed out one of those lyrics that’s hit home with me: “Don’t say that I have changed / cuz man of course I have.” It’s a lazy trap, putting someone who’s really great at something into the box they’ve created, and I think about that when child actors step into more adult roles, when I change up the way I dress or talk, and when I’m presented with an album like Chequered! Chubby Checker later said, after the album was released a few years ago, that earlier in his life no one would play these songs. Truly distinctive from classic Checker tracks like “Runaround Sue,” “The Twist,” and my personal favorite, “Twenty Miles,” the tracks on Chequered! fit neatly into the psychedelic 1970s. Listeners who swooned over Checker’s earlier career, those sugar-pop little odes to good times and parties and young love, might not recognize the artist in this album. Full of peppy horns, organ riffs, and repetitive swells of melody punctuated with intermittent shouts, the album could easily be some lost, chill Hendrix or happier Arthur Brown. “Gypsy,” the bonus ending track of the reissue, starts off with some aggressive scat singing before hitting hard on the drums, organ pulsing and building in the background as Checker screams about hitting the tracks, getting the hell out of dodge. Heavy and emotive, the guitar on “My Mind” never lets up, pushes the listener into the spaced-out realm of the music, Checker’s vocals guiding you through what feels redemptive and also disturbed. Gone is the idealistic, tongue-in-cheek youngster that gave us those tracks of the ’50s and ’60s, instead a man grown and changed by the musical and cultural landscape of the time.

Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite

I have a number of books on my shelf that constitute what my wife calls “the Jeremy Shatan reference library,” consisting mostly of music books, many of which are long out of print. These include three editions of The Rolling Stone Record Guide (1979, 1992 and 2004) that I keep around as a way to keep track of shifting opinions and as a valuable source of information about out-of-print obscurities. In the earliest edition, Chubby Checker, a man who had had nearly ten Top 10 hits in the early ’60s, received the following entry: “A former chicken plucker with a stage name clownishly aped from Fats Domino, Checker was a below-average R&B singer who hooked on to Hank Ballard’s ‘The Twist,’ which subsequently became the hottest dance craze of the past twenty years… Just pretend you’re grinding out cigarette butts with each foot… For nostalgia buffs and cultural historians only.” Thank you, John Swenson, for those illuminating words. The edition of his Greatest Hits under review is granted one parsimonious star, which puts it in the category of “records in which technical competence is at question, or which are remarkably ill-conceived.” To be fair, the album probably consisted of quickie re-recordings of those greatest hits, as legal issues at Cameo Parkway, Checker’s original label, tied up the early recordings in limbo for years — but still. It was perhaps a kindness that the subsequent editions of the Guide didn’t bother to list Checker at all. Obviously, Checker recorded Chequered! several years before he would have had the opportunity to read Rolling Stone‘s dismissal, but one listen to “How Does It Feel” makes me think it was an attitude with which he was all too familiar. “How does it feel when someone says you’re a dirty joke?,” he sings, “How does it feel when you’re surprised as you can be?” And then there’s that cover illustration, depicting an expression that can only be described as somewhere between “pissed off,” “don’t fuck with me,” and “I’ve got my eyes on the prize.” It’s a far cry from the light-skinned, processed-hair caricature presented on those early albums. Here’s the amazing thing: I don’t even like “The Twist” or “Pony Time” or “The Hucklebuck” (etc.!!) all that much, but listening to Checquered! makes me as angry about that part of his career as he probably was when he made it. Another person chewed up and spat out by the music biz, typecast as the “dance-craze guy,” and then left to founder on the shoals of changing tides and times. And he knew it, too, telling an interviewer in The Twist: The Story Of The Song And Dance That Changed The World, “…in a way, ‘The Twist’ really ruined my life. I was on my way to becoming a big nightclub performer, and ‘The Twist’ just wiped it out… It got so out of proportion. No one ever believes I have talent.” Well, Chubby — or Ernest (his real name) — you do have some goddamned talent. This album is a revelation of your hidden depths, as you deploy your foghorn of a voice over hot rock tracks that sound like a cross between The Experience without Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, or the crack band that played on Lou Reed’s first solo album. While the psyched-out lyrics are often of their time, that’s true of many canonical records from the period. It’s bizarre that this album was never even released in the U.S., where it could have given you the opportunity to expand your audience the way Little Richard did with The Rill Thing, which spawned a top ten hit in “Freedom Blues.” Chequered! is your freedom blues, Ernest, and I like to imagine you singing some of these songs during soundchecks with your band as you get ready to go out and twist again.

Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore

It typically takes about 15 seconds for me to go from pressing play on the week’s Off Your Radar album to searching for it on Discogs. I’m always curious: Am I listening to a rare gem I’d be lucky to see in a record store once in my lifetime? Is it a dollar-bin standout I might be able to snag before the week is out? The listing for Chequered! is… out there. Some pressings are cheap and others are listed for more than a hundred dollars. There are a handful of album cover designs printed in at least as many countries, and some even have different titles. And then there’s the way tracks jump around in terms of theme. Following a song called “Slow Lovin’” (“C’mon and squeeze me baby”) with an impassioned description of Jesus’ crucifixion? Not your typical sequencing. It’s an album in only the loosest sense, and in that way, it asks us consider why we collect songs in batches to begin with. Marketing? Sure. The desire to make a cohesive artistic statement? Sometimes. In this case, the “why” feels connected to time. Chequered! plays like a love letter to the musical moment in which it was created. You’ve got Hendrix’s looseness, keys that made me wonder whether Ray Manzarek was sitting in, a spot in “Slow Lovin’” that tears a page right out of Robert Plant’s book, and “How Does It Feel,” which uses one of Bob Dylan’s legendary turns of phrase as a jumping off point while nodding to Dylan’s delivery, pacing, and emotional palette. The second song is called “Stoned In The Bathroom,” for crying out loud. It’s a snapshot taken by someone who knows a thing or two about riding the waves of popular culture. Riddle me this: If aliens landed and asked to hear what music sounded like at the start of the 1970s, why not reach for Chequered!?

Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds

A defiant departure from his dance craze days, Chequered! seeks to challenge the very concept of “Chubby Checker.”

Chubby Checker always seemed cool to me — his early ’60s hits, in particular “Let’s Twist Again” (yeah, I like it even better than the original, is that weird?), have always been faves that I turn up when they come on oldies radio. One thing about former stars like Chubby Checker that I too-rarely think about, though, is that when the era changes and the music moves on, they don’t just spontaneously cease to exist or anything. In my mind it makes a ton of sense that as soon as The Beatles came in, he was relegated to the state fair circuit — but did it make sense to him at the time? Was that something he could accept? Well, apparently not, because in 1971 he made an attempt to find a place within the current music scene. The result was Chequered!, the album we’re considering here this week. And I can see how it might have seemed out of left field at the time it was released, but honestly, knowing the context in which it existed, I think it’s perfectly logical and actually sort of surprising to think that it didn’t do better. To begin with, it’s an album he recorded in the UK with a former Hendrix producer and a bunch of studio musicians. What’s more, while people will typically tell you that it’s Checker trying to go psychedelic, the truth makes a lot more sense for a rock n’ roll/R&B singer like him. Because yeah, there are psychedelic elements here — notably a strong organ that gives the album a Procol Harum feel, as well as some excellent Hendrix-like leads — but I hear a good bit more of what was going on in the world of soul music at the time. Marvin Gaye was making a specific effort to sing about social problems and issues confronting African-Americans in US society… and on “Let’s Go Down” and “How Does It Feel,” we find Checker doing the same thing. The Temptations had taken influence from James Brown and Sly & The Family Stone to create a psychedelic soul sound that bore fruit on singles like “I Can’t Get Next To You” and “Ball Of Confusion.” Checker is exploring similar ground on Chequered tracks like “My Mind” and “Love Tunnel.” “How Does It Feel” even channels extended psych-soul epics like The Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today” and The Temptations’ “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” though it lacks the dynamic rise-and-fall structure of these tracks, landing closer to a psych-soul version of a mid-’60s Bob Dylan epic. The end result is not some weird attempt of an aging pop star to get back on the gravy train by jumping on a musical bandwagon he doesn’t really understand. Rather, it’s an engaging hidden side to Chubby Checker’s work, one that will encourage a complete reappraisal of his value as an artist. It’s really too bad more people didn’t hear this album at the time of its release. However, it’s back in print today, so this is an injustice you have ample opportunity to correct.

Drew Necci (@buzzorhowl)
Insightful Scholar Of The Underground

If I were to write a Good Parts Version of my childhood, it would be incredibly short and all the bits including my mom would revolve around music; the majority of those memories would take place in the backseat of her 1980 Pontiac Sunbird. The car was very used and in terrible shape when she bought it. It ran horribly in the cold inland NW winters, and the antenna was broken so reception from the radio stations 150 miles away in Spokane was practically nonexistent. And it had an 8-track player. The car came with a box of an odd assortment of 8-tracks and over a few years, I supplemented the collection with some I found at yard sales and thrift stores. Nothing particularly went together, musically, but I always put myself in charge (and would lean forward to swap out 8-tracks when one eventually came to a song I didn’t want to hear [if this sounds dangerous, it was; my mom has never been a fan of seatbelts and a frequent refrain when I was a child was “Police! Act like you have your seatbelt on!” No, I’m not sure what that means, either.]) so it wasn’t uncommon for us to go from The Beach Boys to Robin Trower to the Drifters. Listening to Chequered! this week really took me back to that crappy car with its crappy stereo and its disparate (but decidedly non-crappy) selection of music. The songs on this album don’t really seem to go together when looked at individually, but somehow they work as a whole. The opening track, “How Does It Feel,” sounds like something Dobie Gray would have recorded in the same timeframe. “No Need To Get So Heavy” would have felt perfectly at home on the aforementioned Robin Trower’s Bridge Of Sighs (which wasn’t released ’til 1974), and “Goodbye Victoria” has a distinct Jesus Christ Superstar feel. I was talking to one of my best friends while listening this week and told him the album was what happened after Chubby Checker did a bunch of drugs and moved to Europe to record. His reply was “So, a more sophisticated Chubby Checker. Chubby Chess, if you will.” Yeah. That sounds about right.

SJ Lebowski
50 Foot Pop Queenie

In Training Day, when Denzel Washington’s Detective Alonzo Harris tells Officer Jake Hoyt that “the shit’s chess, it ain’t checkers,” the implication is that chess is a thinking man’s game as opposed to the child-friendly qualities of checkers. Chess is strategic, complex, and in some ways, a scaled down version of war. Chess is simple and homogeneous. Like most people reading OYR this week, I hadn’t heard any Chubby Checker songs other than “The Twist,” which I was probably introduced to around the same time I was introduced to checkers the game. Chequered! was released in 1971, and it’s obvious that Chubby graduated from childish anthems of the late 1950s to dense, layered, emotional pieces. The pacing of the record is chess-like in it’s methodical nature, featuring a few tracks over six minutes long, and almost all are at the lower end of the BPM spectrum. I was pleasantly surprised by the seriousness of the album on tracks like “How Does It Feel,” “Goodbye Victoria,” and “He Died.” There’s a dark cloud hanging over this album — a cloud of war, drugs and loss. And the best part is, Chubby knows it. Why else would he have referenced the ups and downs of his life by calling the album Chequered!?

Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator

Do you remember “The Twist?” Would you like to Twist again? No? Well, what if I told you we could visit the King Of Twist down the rabbit hole of psychedelia and you wouldn’t have to twist even once? Chequered! by Chubby Checker is unlike anything you’d expect to hear from the man who brought you “The Twist,” “Let’s Twist Again,” and the lesser known but still popular “Slow Twist.” That’s right, for a moment this Twist Titan himself relinquished his famous Twist to drop an album unlike anything he’d ever done before. From the first track, “How Does It Feel,” you can clearly hear that Checker has had enough of his family friendly image defining his musical career. Unlike the infamous Twist, Chequered! is certainly not family friendly and I’ve come to think of it as Checker’s album of rebellion. With various drug references, anguish, angry shouts of protest, and even some melancholy nihilism, Chequered! easily stands alone as the black sheep of Chubby Checker’s releases. Don’t let me get you too hung up on the psychedelics though — this drug induced trip through space poignantly touches on some sound topics like injustice, loneliness, love, heartache, and self-revelation, alongside some of the smoothest bluesy guitar riffs I’ve ever heard. More than a trip, less than a saga, Chequered! is a touching journey that ends in a delightfully warm numbness… which I assure you, is nothing like “The Twist.”

Erin Calvert (@erinpcalvert)
Elder Goth In The Making

It was conceived at the wrong time and nurtured in the wrong place. That’s the elevator pitch version of how Chequered! comes across in the context of Chubby Checker’s success up to that point in his career and how the general public had decided on “knowing him as an artist.” The man wasn’t quite a one-hit-wonder, but he wasn’t totally freed from the archetype of his Twist dancing days. The fact that a “revival” record like this one — the album intended on breaking Checker out of his hit single mold — never got proper handling and subsequently proper promotion here in the U.S. makes it feel like a missed connection off of Craigslist or something. Sure, Chequered! and its psychedelic Hendrix, classic rock Doors-channeling style aren’t overshadowing sliced bread but Checker was thinking differently enough that he should have had more diversely assorted staying power. “How Does It Feel” opens the record with a simple enough hook, on both lyrical and melodic fronts, to provide listeners with that “easy sing-a-long” appeal that Checker was known for but the song played with more everyday life imagery (“How does it feel when your girl finds somebody else?….how does it feel when you’re smoking by yourself / How does it feel when you’re tripping with somebody else?”) that took him and his music out of “just for partying” mode. Not to mention, let’s just talk about what it’s like to hear Checker sing in several different keys, highlighting different moods, and to have longer phrases with which to emote. It’s ironic that one such example falls on the track, “No Need To Get So Heavy,” (“No need to get so heavy about all the things that have gone down / Just look in the mirror, you’ll see things that have always been there in your town”) which isn’t built on a bubbly melody or cheesy quip like one might expect. There are also wordless moments when Checker injects an extra burst of emotion on syllables at the ends of phrases. During these times, the tonal character of the record, which came through things like bent guitar, organ, and even a little direct vocal distortion via “Love Tunnel,” could have partnered up with the vocal like to make Checker stand out as a bluesy and soulful artist undeniably worth second exploration. But the instrumental portion of the album seems to just coast by comparison. I tried to be fair at first, keeping in mind that older recordings don’t pack the kind of present day punch of hits today but, put on a record by a great like B.B. King, or Aretha Franklin, and you get solos, interludes, improvised licks, and lively dynamic changes that can stand alongside the energy of the singer at hand. I’ll give everyone on Chequered! a break and the benefit of the doubt that perhaps there hadn’t been enough convincing that this change in sound could really be “Checker’s thing” yet so, maybe the investment of musicianship didn’t feel earned from others. Still, even if that’s the case, it’s just another reason why not hearing more about this and this not being made into a bigger deal for the public, probably hurt Checker’s ability to be taken more seriously post-reinvention. It’s the kind of record that would probably do well with a total tribute redux by a committed group of musicians that want to show a moment in Checker’s career through an alternate lens of more enthusiasm and genuine public curiosity. After all, if a record gets made and no one’s around to hear it, how will we know what to think?

Kira Grunenberg (@shadowmelody1)
Prolific Sonic Scribe & Unifier

Though an outlier in his own discography, Chequered! fits in perfectly with the ever-changing soul landscape of the early ’70s.

Chasing relevance is a very human thing. It’s so human that just about everyone can relate to the feeling of a fleeting sense of purpose in your job, your relationships or the art you create. In the early ’70s, Chubby Checker found himself at the tail end of enthusiasm for the optimistic and fun rock which had propelled him to a household name. His audience had pretty much twisted themselves into relative ambivalence and Checker, like so many, went in search of what would update his style and make his music current again. The story goes that he’d been listening to a lot of Hendrix and decided that what he wanted to do was create a psychedelic album. Much to the chagrin of his management, he did just that and it remained unreleased for years. It’s not that it was bad — not at all. It’s just that they’d invested a lot in the happy-go-lucky image of the middle-aged rock-n-roller and there’s nothing bright and hopeful about the relative oddity that became Chequered! At first, “How Does It Feel” sounds like typical Checker and then somewhere around the 4 minute mark, you realize that he’s still playing and singing. The song is over — it’s done everything it came to do — and goes another minute. When that minute is up, he does it all again for another 2 minutes. Things go to a mellower, more psychedelic place after that. “Goodbye Victoria” is a moody and spaced-out ballad where Checker’s voice is lost in a high-pitched whistle of angelic hosts and Doors-like keys. “Love Tunnel” borders on hard rock and sings out “It is time to come together!” with an almost sinister urgency. If this album had been released under a different name by any other artist, it would be a classic psychedelic rock album. In fact, we’re going to ignore it’s association with the man who brought us “Let’s Twist Again” and acknowledge that it is a classic. The talent of Checker is nothing to be trifled with and even though he was doing something new and exploratory, his record companies keeping it from the public served their bottom lines more than it served the world of art and musical progression. Thankfully, it wasn’t lost forever and when it was finally released, the world finally got a taste of the depth of Checker’s musical message.

Darryl Wright (@punksteez)
Lovechild Of The Music & Technology Marriage

I was positively blown away by this album. I knew that Chubby Checker was one of the greats, but this album takes my esteem for him to new heights. It starts with the epic and entrancing “How Does It Feel” which is the kind of wonderful song where, when you discover it’s nearly 8 minutes long, you rejoice because you want it to go on forever. As with all wonderful things, though, it comes to an end, which bummed me out at first, but then my favorite song on the album, “Stoned In The Bathroom,” started and that was about when I knew this was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime album. A lot of albums can kick things off with an epic psychedelic journey on track 1, but then fall on their faces with the rest of the album. This is so far from the case with Chequered! that it is laughable even to consider it. Something I really love about this album is that it so perfectly mixes the wailing psychedelic guitar of one genre with the wonderfully soulful vocals of another. Reading the words “The album flopped” on his Wikipedia page just now practically knocked the wind out of me. I know that some albums don’t hit when they’re made but for this to be completely absent from lists of all-time great albums is mind-boggling. Find this album. I think you’ll love it as much as I do.

James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts

Without boring anyone with all the details, I recently got promoted at work which also includes a transfer to another location. What was once a 30 to 40 minute commute by bike or subway is soon going to become a 55ish minute commute by subway. One of the positives coming from this longer commute means I’m going to have even more time to listen to music. I know this because I went on a practice run the other day and I was able to listen to Chequered! twice between my journey there and back. Admittedly, the G train wasn’t running this past weekend so taking the shuttle bus definitely tacked on at least an additional 40 minutes to my travel time. But I digress. My point is that I got to spend some quality time with Chubby Checker this weekend. As one of many who really only knew Checker from his renditions of “The Twist” and “Jingle Bell Rock,” I was surprised at how different this record was from my expectations. Maybe I had Chubby Checker mixed up with someone else this entire time? In a fortuitous twist, being stuck on the shuttle bus allowed me to instantly Google both Checker and Chequered! and well, no, it turns out that I had the right guy in mind after all. I just had no idea his career had a late act that sounded like this. The music fits with what was going on at the time, Hendrix is the obvious comparison, but what I really like is that there’s still a sense of goofiness present (the repeated declaration of “My mind comes from a high place” in “My Mind” isn’t exactly subtle in its meaning, and “How Does It Feel” has its moments like “we’re gonna make some love and have a couple space babies” and that’s ignoring the previous line about doing “T [tea?] in 1983”). Naturally I spent this time on the bus reading more about it, and I was drawn into and fascinated by the album’s history — as I often am with albums that are either left unfinished or unreleased, but what really makes Chequered! interesting to me is that, despite everything is was finished and it was released. Maybe not in America, but unlike albums like Smile or Lifehouse, which got scrapped and its songs repurposed into other studio albums or projects, Checker got to release these songs fully realized in sequence the way he wanted to release them. That’s pretty amazing.

Dustin Gates (@cmoncheermeup)
Relapsed Pop Culture Junkie

So much of this album’s intrigue is predicated on its context, or perhaps your understanding of that context. Either this was Chubby Checker’s last ditch effort to stay in the limelight by releasing something relevant and impactful as opposed to disposable and anecdotal, or it was Chubby Checker coming into full realization of his own artistry while surrounded by an ever-changing scene of psychedelic, soul, and rock. Both are valid and both make this record one that is categorically and unbelievably fascinating. But I’d argue that Chequered! is also quite fascinating completely on its own — stripped of context, without the prominent name and face that many saw on their TVs once upon a time showcasing a new viral sensation. Imagine finding this in a record store bin, with maybe a surreal yet felicitous cover that grabs your eye. It’s available for the pocket change you have on hand, so you pick it up, take it home, and give it a whirl. What do you hear? A passionate singer exploring the world of music while surrounded by extremely talented musicians and singers. He is intriguing from the get-go, but not for his voice itself, rather his approach. It has an everyman quality that’s instantly appealing and relatable, allowing him the opportunity to discuss some very weighty subjects while still under the guise of casual observation. This style — which emotes just enough to be melodic, but not too much to lose his conversational foundation — allows him to be precise and direct across the whole record, making him just as direct while performing a garage lark (“Let’s Go Down“) as exploring the vastness of a studio space (“How Does It Feel“). Never does this wandering feel lost. Instead, it’s a carefully plotted journey that helps the singer explore the entirety of his mind at the time, one undoubtedly consumed with the social upheaving and musical splintering occurring all around him. At times he seems to be looking for clarity (“Stoned In The Bathroom,” “Love Tunnel“), while later he seems to be uneasy with the answers he found (“He Died,” “If The Sun Stopped Shining“). The music behind him often swirls to enormous heights to support this nomadic path, but no matter what insane guitar lick is playing or how many gorgeous background singers are crescendoing, your attention is still solely focused on this singer. This poised singer who, in all honesty, contains a voice that’s above-average at best, yet has pushed the limits of that voice to deliver something moving and momentous. It’s fascinating. Chequered! is categorically and unbelievably fascinating, no matter which way you look at it.

Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart

Next Week’s Selection:
We’re Gonna Drink A Lot Of Wine This Year, Boys by Ghettosocks
Chosen By Darryl Wright

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Editor: Doug Nunnally

Contributors: James Anderson, Laura Burroughs, Erin Calvert, Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford, Dustin Gates, Kira Grunenberg, Davy Jones, Chelsea Kostrey, Steve Lampiris, SJ Lebowski, David Munro, Drew Necci, Jeremy Shatan, & Darryl Wright

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