This was written by Motown songwriters Marvin Gaye, Ivy Jo Hunter, and William "Mickey" Stevenson. It became the biggest hit and trademark song for Martha & the Vandellas. (thanks, Jerro - New Alexandria, PA)
According to the song's co-writer Mickey Stevenson, the idea for dancing came to him while riding with Marvin Gaye through Detroit. During the summer, the city would open up fire hydrants and let the water out in the streets so they could play in the water to cool off. They appeared to be dancing in the water. (thanks, Hal - Atlanta, GA)
This song was written during the height of the civil rights movement in the US, and many African Americans interpreted the song as a call to "Demonstrate In The Streets" of all of the cities mentioned in the song. Motown wanted DJs to play the song, do the lyrics depicted "Dancing In The Streets." (thanks, Dennis - Washington, DC)
Ivory Joe Hunter had a few hits of his own but felt more at home producing records. Hunter liked everything about the song except the drum track - it needed more "bump and grind." An idea hit him and he excused himself, went to his car, and brought back a crow bar. He sat on a concrete floor and said: "Roll tape." They went through the song one more time while Ivory Joe Hunter slammed the tire tool against the concrete floor on the downbeat to create one of the most defined and distinctive drum beats in Rock And Roll history.
Motown singer Mary Wells was offered this song, but she turned it down.
The group was led by Martha Reeves, who became a secretary at Motown when she couldn't get an audition to sing. One of her duties was singing lyrics to new songs onto tapes so backup singers could learn the words. This led to fill-in work as a backup singer, where she impressed Motown executives with her voice. She convinced them to hire her former band mates, Annette Sterling and Rosalind Ashford, and let them record as a trio. After backing up Marvin Gaye on some of his songs, Motown gave them songs to sing on their own, including the hit "Heat Wave."
Martha Reeves used this song's title for her 1995 autobiography, which chronicled her subsequent breakdown and the tragic collapse of the Vandellas' career.
Van Halen covered this in 1982 for their album Diver Down. Pop singer Mya recorded it for the soundtrack to the 2001 movie Recess: School's Out!. (thanks, claire - Oak Ridge, TN)
When this song was first released in the UK, it reached #28. However, a reissue of this song reached #4 in the UK in 1969. (thanks, Jerro - New Alexandria, PA)