Monday, January 02, 2012

When The Twist Dance And Movies Were Banned

                  **Crescendos n Susan Lim sings Mr Twister & Frankie Video: eosyeo

Hey, you may not know this. Not only were songs banned in Singapore in 1959 but a dance too. In the early years of Independence, saw the banning of The Twist, a dance fad from Western pop culture. As explained in an another *posting the Helen Shapiro/Billy Fury movie Play It Cool was banned because of its 'undesirable song and dance sequences'.

According to Wiki, The Twist's original inspiration came from the African American plantation dance called 'wringin' and twistin,' tracing back to the 1890s. However, its original aesthetic origins, using pelvic movement and the shuffling foot movement, could be traced to West Africa. Throughout the 20th Century, the dance evolved until it emerged to a mass audience in the 1960s.

So in Singapore, three other films which featured the dance were not allowed screenings. These movies were, Hey, Let's Twist, Twist Around The Clock and The Teenage Millionaire (images 1,2). This was a cinema clean-up because there was a policy that where books or films were detrimental to morals, they would be banned. Even juke boxes and pin-ball machines (image 3) were not allowed in Singapore. So what songs did we miss from all these movies?

As an example, the first movie Hey Let's Twist had a group called Joey Dee and The Starliters perform, Shake Me Baby, Hey Let's Twist, Peppermint Twist, Round and Round, Roly Poly, Let Me Teach You How to Twist, Shout. Also another two songs: Let's Twist by Mama and Shake Me Baby by Jo Ann Campbell were on the sound track. Just wondering if any of them reached our hit parade charts?

Apparently not only were Western movies banned, even Mandarin and Japanese movies were taken off the list as part of the authorities' campaign against yellow culture which had caused the 'moral degeneration of our young'. Censorship by the Culture Ministry was significant between June 1959 and June 1960.

But don't forget dear readers, that this was a season when The Shadows/Ventures were just around the corner and the saxaphone, double-bass, piano and f-hole guitars were still in vogue. It was a season of change. And change we did, when common sense prevailed.

The ban did not last long as Chubby Checker's famous stance and dance movie posters (image 1) crowded the scene afterwards. Tables turned in February 1963 as Singapore's first recording stars **The Crescendos released Mr. Twister fronted by power voice Susan Lim. The group was such a hit that even Singapore's Minister for Culture, Mr. S. Rajaratnam accompanied them on their Malaysian tour a few months later. All's well that ends well.

Do you have similar stories to tell about Singapore's sixties music scene? Write in.

Images: Google.


Yeong Chong said...

Dear Andy,

Happy New Year!

This is Yeong Chong from the Singapore Memory Project and we'd love to capture this post for irememberSG. Please let us know what you think; we'd fully credit you for the text

Yeong Chong

Anonymous said...

Hi Andy, great post. The link between the banning of The Twist and the Crescendos' hit single is fascinating and new to me. I wonder if there is any place to argue for "Mister Twister" as political protest? Imagine -- "Mister Twister" as wry political protest against cultural censorship! A groovy dance tune that screams, "No! We the new generation will TWIST as we please!" To my limited knowledge, that argument seems rather rich -- any justification in support or to refute that playful hypothesis?
- Mark Wong

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Sure Yeong Chong. Please feel free to 'capture' this post for the project.

I hope to find this posting in a paragraph somewhere in a book one day and I hope I will be credited too.

Thank you for visiting.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi Mark,
After all these years I finally get an interesting hypo from you.

I leave it to you and our readers to decide because when the lightning struck, do you think, at that time, there could have been a 'political protest'?

We were all hiding under our tables with ears covered, waiting for the next thunderstorm.

Enjoy the video-clip. Music's great!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Andy. Just a clarification though on the use of the word "ban". Based on this 8 Dec 1962 news report, a government spokesman stated for the record that the dance had not been banned:

Interestingly two months later, UMNO Johore Bahru called for the government to ban the twist because "it can corrupt the soul of Malayan youth":


ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks MW. The correction is appreciated.

I quote from the newspaper that MW provided:

1. the twist will no more be considered a healthy dance once it becomes 'sexually or morally depraved or tends to be deprave', he said.

2. A few of these films are believed to have been banned on the grounds of 'sexual or moral depravity'.

3. The film censor, Mr Raymond Huang, had no comment.

4. Twist films have yet to be shown here.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

An email to LL:

Is this true? Mike Ellery made a comment that obnoxious records are not encouraged and twist records have been requested and played (ST 8.12.62 Page: 13).

Anonymous said...

Email from PC:

When the PAP came to power in May 1959, Ong Pang Boon was the one who lead the ban on "Yellow Culture".

That meant the song, 'Rock Around the Clock' was banned, the jukebox was banned, T-Dance and 'curry-puff' hairstyle also.

I remembered there was a jukeboard at the corner kopitiam of Tiong Poh Road and Tiong Bharu Road. I still have a B&W pic of my uncle at the jukebox.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you PC for the information provided. I am sure many of our youngers are unaware of this.

I remember those days, many youths styled themselves as 'yankee belapoh' (western decadence) all adorned with Elvis Brylcreemed hair, sideburns and all.

Pants were very tight, called 'drainpipe trousers' and a comb sticking out of a back pocket.

Popular Nostalgia: said...

Teddy Boys:

Teds wore hair long, for the era. They used plenty of hair cream to get a quiff at the front and a Duck’s Arse at the back.

A variation at the front was the Elephant’s Trunk: the hair was shaped in to a sausage which sat on the top of the head.

Teds in the fifties had a reputation for violence. They clashed with immigrants newly arriving in 50′s Britain.

Rival Ted gangs often lashed at the annual Leamington Spa “Lights” and were responsible for much of the white racist violence at the Notting Hill riot of 1958.

Rock ‘n’ Roll was adopted by Teds after the film, 'Blackboard Jungle' (1955), was first shown in cinemas in the UK.

They ripped up seats and danced to Bill Haley’s music, which was played at the end of the film.

Razor attacks and fights at Rock ‘n’ Roll clubs led to the closure of many venues.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

If you read the above article, can you ever blame our Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Culture in Singapore for banning the dance and movies.

Until such a time when the government realised that it was safe to do so, did they overturn the ban and released the movies.

Thimbuktu said...

Hi Andy,

This is an interesting blog topic.

As time changed, the social media and the nature and circumstances of a new generation and culture has also adapted to internet and the digital age exposed to the world.

Long hair, tattoo, twist dance and movies which were banned in the past have become more liberal.

As long as they are not within the social and culture so-called “Out-of-Bound” markers or OB Markers defined by the authorities in their respective countries.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks James.

I agree. It all depends on the environment and situation.

Matter of adapting and adjusting

Victor said...

Me oh my! I think only twisted minds would ban a dance like the twist.

We certainly have come a long way, didn't we, Andy? In modern Singapore, even bar top dancing is allowed.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Yes, I wonder how the system worked in the 60s.

Was it a one man show for decision making or were safety nets in place with committee meetings and mutual agreement.

From the newspaper comments made, the movies were only shown after a group of ST readers called TEEN TWISTERS wrote in to question the ban. They had waited for months to see the three particular movies.

Also the government, according to the writers, "has not given any reason for the suppression of this lively dance."

The letter suggested that, "people must discard their inherent narrow minded outlook and learn to tolerate The Twist even if they don't like it. ST: 8/12/1962)."

irememberSG: said...

Andy takes us back to a time when "doing the twist" was disallowed in the 60's.

I wonder if "Mambo" would pass the test back then :p

dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie, Mr. Andy what a great post...thanks ever so much for sharin'...just glad that our Dino was never banned...keeps lovin' our Dino!

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hey DMP pallie,
Thanks for writing again. My group of music makers jammed a few nights ago and I tried, "Walking My Baby Back Home", a personal favourite.

We'd probably be trying, "Memories Are Made Of This" soon. Or perhaps, "Let's Twist Again" (not a Dino song).

Dino Martin Peters has a great blog and it's all about Dean Martin. He writes using a special Dean Martin lingo.

Check him out by clicking on his name in the letter above this one.

"Eyes exciting very amoroso, Lips inviting real delicioso..."

Dr. Lee said...

Dear Andy,
Sure remember the twist era. Many ended up with knee injuries!

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hey, here's a twisty anecdote about The Twist from the good doctor in Penang.

I think our readers would never have thought this far Dr. Lee.

Thanks for the information and memory. What a change from the norm!

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Extracted from 'irememberSG'. By Rosie Wee.

I don't know if it's a reaction to my post but it came after mine was posted on the SG blog and the theme is relevant.

"The dance floor was packed, the atmosphere sultry, music from the band was blasting and the singer was belting out 'Come On Let’s Twist'.

Bums started gyrating. And then it happened. Her boyfriend was twisting so vigorously his denture popped out and landed on the floor!

Stopping abruptly and picking up the obnoxious object would have drawn attention and subsequent embarrassment..."

To read some more check out the blog. said...

Jan 12, 2012
The immorality of twisting!
Posted by 'noelbynature' under Lifestyle

It seems comical, definitely archaic now, but there was once a time when The Twist was banned in Singapore.

Andy shares this bit of censorship history from 1960s Singapore.

dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie, likes thanks ever so much Mr. Andy for 'nother great shout out for is pallies likes you that makes ilovedinomartin the swingin' Dino-pad it is! Keeps lovin' our Dino!

Anonymous said...

From email:

Thank you Larry and Andy,

We banned 'the twist' back in the 60's... must be the joke of the century.


ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Yes we did.

And books too, so many. Never on the library shelves, even today.

Thanks for visiting.

ARDMORE said...

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