Import label Sunbeam Records, known for their high quality reissues, have resurrected Chubby Checker's supposedly "lost psychedelic" album. Recorded in 1971 by Producer Ed Chaplin (who contributes a liner note), who also produced Jimi Hendrix's early work on PPX. The album was only released in parts of Europe on either London, Ariola or MFP Records under various titles; CHEQUERED, THE OTHER SIDE OF CHUBBY CHECKER and just plain CHUBBY CHECKER. It may have also been released under the title SLOW TWISTIN' deduced by Sunbeam's copious photos of labels, album covers and single sleeves, and the fact that "Slow Lovin'" is the title of Track #8. According to Producer Chaplin the whole album was recorded in a couple of days with forgotten backing musicians. Whoever they are, the band is professionally competent and seem to consist of a decent lead guitarist, a good bassist, a hot Hammond organist (who may also play the occasional piano) and a drummer clearly influenced by Ginger Baker, who sometimes overplays, without Baker's finesse. Calling the album as a whole "psychedelic" is quite a stretch. The songs themselves are more informed by 70's Hard Rock, but some do have a psychedelic influence, especially the lyrics. Here's a song-by-song rundown:
TRACK #1: "How Does It Feel?" Strangely enough the lead cut is an almost eight minute opus. The lyrics have a definite Dylan
influence (to be on your own?) as far as structure, but are mostly Chubby asking the title question over and over, followed by a litany of contemporary references and concerns, the moon landing, losing you girl, smoking by yourself, personal worries and loneliness, having some "tea," the future (1983!), etc. The musical accompaniment is a strange conglomeration of Muscle Shoals and Dylan circa "Highway 61" with prominent organ.
TRACK #2: "Stoned In The Bathroom" Probably one of the tracks that inspired the album's psychedelic moniker. The song wouldn't be out of place on an early Jimi Hendrix B-Side, with again prominent, but very tasty, Hammond organ throughout. Was released as a single in Spain b/w "My Mind" released on Ariola.
TRACK #3: "No Need To Get So Heavy" A bluesy slice of what seems to be social commentary, with a melody that reminds one of "I Don't Need No Doctor," with a decent guitar break and more impressive Hammond work. A German single on Ariola.
TRACK #4: "Let's Go Down" Released as a single A-Side in England, and a great little tune, with a catchy title chorus hook interspersed with upbeat funky verses. The whole band acquits itself nicely, extremely tight, especially the drummer. You could definitely picture this on the radio back in the day. "Goodbye Victoria" was the flip.
TRACK #5: "My Mind" Another psychedelic flavoured cut, the intro is reminiscent of CREAM's "Strange Brew," complete with Ginger drums, and the verses remind one of Jimi's "Fire." The oft repeated chorus is "my mind comes from a high place," and Chubby sounds like he knows from whence he speaks.
TRACK #6 "Goodbye Victoria" An attempt at a futuristic ballad, again seemingly inspired by the contemporary moon landings, and sounding as if produced by Joe Meek! Piano throughout with numerous short organ breaks that remind one of Brian Auger. Producer Chalpin says it would have been a hit if released on a single, unaware that it was released in England on London as the B-Side of "Let's Go Down."
TRACK #7 "Love Tunnel" The second longest album track, in the first half Chubby exhorts you not to "Get hung up in the Love Tunnel," then switches gear and tempo to warn us that basically time is too short, ending with a repeat of his initial warning. I really wish the booklet contained the lyrics.
TRACK #8 "Slow Lovin'" The B-Side of "No Need To Get So Heavy," is a funky love song, again with a decent guitar break and that classic Hammond sound.
TRACK #9 "He Died" An organ led dirge-like meditation on Christ's crucifixion. Chubby's vocals sound as if he's baring his soul. Talk about a 360 degree turn! If some poor acid-head was groovin' to this platter, when he got to this track he would either find religion, or have a mental breakdown!
TRACK #10 "If The Sun Stopped Shining" Another serious, but more uptempo "Stop and smell the roses" organ-laced ballad, exhorting love and peace. Almost like a hippie-hymn, and you can tell Chubby is again dead serious.
TRACK #11 "Gypsy" (BONUS TRACK) Starting with some jazzy scat singing, the tune becomes a hard chargin' funky rocker about Chubby's travels as a gypsy to find the meaning of his life. The whole band gives what may be their best performance on the whole album. One of those head-scratchers where you wonder why the best song is an outtake. Whatever it may be, it's a fine coda to a VERY interesting listen.
In conclusion, although CHEQUERED features some psychedelic trappings, it's NOT a truly psychedelic album, nor a lost treasure. It's the sound of a legitimate artist trying to shake the shackles of a massively popular song and style, and evolve before he stagnated. Chubby never made another completely non-twist album until 1982's THE CHANGE HAS COME on MCA that contained the popular "Running" which only reached #92 on the charts. In 1998 he had a #16 hit collaboration with the rap group The Fat Boys, "The Twist (Yo, Twist)," and in 2008 a #1 Dance hit with "Knock Down The Walls." Supposedly Chubby gets dismissive and angry whenever someone tries to get him to reminisce about CHEQUERED. He certainly has nothing to be ashamed about, he composed EVERY track himself except for one co-write, and regardless of your opinion of the material, Chubby's vocals sound soulful, heartfelt and absolutely committed. Listening with fresh ears today it's certainly no classic, but it is an enjoyable reminder of another time, whose grooves hold more successes than failures......
Other releases from Chubby include: BEST OF 1959-1963, TWIST IT UP The First Four Albums [ORIGINAL RECORDINGS REMASTERED] 2CD SET, The Change Has Come LP, The Twist - Chubby Checker & The Fat Boys [12" Maxi Single], Knock Down the Walls
P.S. For information regarding the track "The Ballad Of Jimi" that was included on some pressings of this album but does not appear on the CD, read the comments below......