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Dancing in the Street

by

Martha & the Vandellas



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

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)
Martha & the Vandellas
Martha & the Vandellas Artistfacts
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Comments (14):

On December 5th, 1965 Martha and the Vandellas performed "Dancing In The Street" on the CBS-TV program 'The Ed Sullivan Show'...
Four month earlier on August 22nd it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; eventually it peaked at #2 (for 2 weeks) and spent 14 weeks on the Top 100...
Four other versions have charted; Mamas & Papas (#73 in 1967), Ramsey Lewis (#84 in 1967), Van Halen (#38 in 1982), and Mick Jagger & David Bowie (#7 in 1985).
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
Swedish group TAGES did a great version in 1966. TAGES was by far the most talented popgroup in Sweden the 60's with 14 Top Ten hits between 1964 and 68. You can watch them performing "Dancing in the street" on Youtube.
- Olle, Gothenburg, Sweden
At the time when this song was released, on July 31, 1964, most radio stations were reluctant to play it, because most listeners would take it as an invitation to start rioting - when Martha Reeves learned of this, she was shocked beyond words-
- Kristin, Bessemer, AL
Martha Reeves' close friend Marvin Gaye and her main producer Mickey Stevenson wrote this song with Martha & The Vandellas in mind to perfoirm it. (It was never offered to the sultry Mary Wells and she thus never turned it down.) - Dre
- AnDre, The Bronx, NY
Hitsville USA did not have concrete floors in Studio A. They were mahogany wood floors that helped support the echo. And the clink you hear in the back ground are not tire chains. The sound was dubbed in after the initial recording and is a tire iron hitting an anvil. Slinging chains on a one two beat would be very very difficult, therefore if they had actually done that it would have completely ruined the wood floor
- Colby, Arthur, IL
"Dancing In The Street" was and remains the ultimate composite Motown song! "DITS" literally established "the Motown sound" in the Summer of 1964. Ironically, the Motown theme song was surprisingly not done by Motown's biggest standard bearers -- The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops or The Miracles nor even Stevie Wonder or Mary Wells. Instead, it was the enduring girl group Martha Reeves & The Vandellas (MRV). That fact makes it all the more impressive. Surprising, too, this symbolic Motown song is not one of the compositions by Holland/Dozier/Holland! It was penned by MRV producer Mickey Stevenson and Mr. Marvin Gaye.
- Williamson Henderson, Manhattan, NY
I think the song is a metaphor for escalating the tactics of the civil rights struggle.
"Calling out around the world,are you ready for a brand new beat?"In other words,its time to be more militant.The old non violence bag is dead.
And,of course,during the Summer of 1964,the first ghetto rebellions broke out.
Dancing in the Streets reflected the New Breed mood.
- Doug, Oakland, CA
Van Halen's cover of this is awesome. Check it out on their Diver Down album.
- Anonnymous, Nashville, TX
Martha Reeves was born in Eufaula, Alabama which is about an hour from my hometown of Dothan, Alabama. She did grow up in Detroit, however.
- Allen, Dothan, AL
The Mamas and the Papas did an excellent version of this song.
- Jay, New York, NY
Bruce Springsteen covered this twice on his 1999 reunion tour with the E street band.
- Kyle, Belleville, Canada
Gravely voiced Jimmy Barnes (Australia)lead singer of Cold CHISEL did a pretty good version of this in 2000 on his 2nd Motown album "SOUL DEEPER" also worth checking out his first CD of this series "Sole Deep"

Brian Sydney Australia
- Brian, Sydney, Australia
David Bowie and Mick Jagger also covered this song in 1985 for the Live Aid cause!
- Dave, Cardiff, Wales
If you listen closely to the background "sound
effects" in this song, you will hear the sound of
links of a tire chain being hit on the concrete floor as part of the 'back beat' percussion in this landmark song.
- Jonnie, St. Louis, MO
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