Bert Berns: Accidentally, Like a Martyr


Dear New York Times,

As Larry Rohter’s lively and illuminating article (“Many-hit Wonder, Out of Obscurity: Bert Berns, Songwriter and Producer, Remembered,” July 20) demonstrates, obscurities like Berns deserve a bigger place in rock history. But too many people forget that while his ” trademark was the dark, angst-ridden tale of love unrequited or gone wrong,” he scored his biggest hit with an accident. “Twist and Shout” was originally written in 1961 as a crude answer song to Chubby Checkers’s “The Twist” (1960) and performed by a long-forgotten white Atlantic act from Phillie called the Top Notes. One year later, after repeated strikeouts in the wake of their 1959 hit “Shout!” the Isley Brothers reached for the Berns song to get back on the scoreboard. It seems unlikely that the Beatles ever heard the original Top Notes version, but it makes an intriguing footnote. As gifted as Berns proved, one of his biggest hits came about randomly—reversing of the usual pattern—when a black act revived a failed white novelty number.

The original on youtube:

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