Dancing In The Street

Album: Dance Party (1964)
Charted: 4 2


  • 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Hal - Atlanta, GA
  • This song was written during the height of the civil rights movement in the US, and many African Americans interpreted it as a call to "demonstrate in the streets" of all of the cities mentioned in the song: Chicago, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and Detroit. All of these cities went through periods of civil unrest and riots. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Dennis - Washington, DC
  • 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 bandmates, 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 "(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave."
  • In a Top 2000 a gogo documentary, Martha Reeves told the story behind this song: "Marvin Gaye had recorded 'Dancing in the Street" when I first heard it, and he had put a real smooth vocal on there, sort of like (jazzy singing) 'Calling all around the world, are you ready for a brand new beat baby?' and for some reason, Marvin said, "let's try this song on Martha." I was in the office and they let me hear the song, but I couldn't quite feel it that way. I had been to Rio De Janeiro, I had travelled to New Orleans during Carnival time, so I just knew it had to be somewhere about dancing in the street. I said, 'Can I sing it the way that I feel it?' And they said, 'Go ahead.'

    So, I sang it (singing on the beat) 'calling all around the world are you ready for a brand-new beat,' and, they loved it. There was all kinds of congratulatory hand slaps and 'hey man, we got a hit in that window up there,' and the engineer, Lawrence Horn, looked and said, 'I didn't turn the machine on.'

    I had to sing it again. So, the second time I sang it, there's a little bit of anger there because I had to repeat it. It was a straight performance and that's why it sounds live. I think that's the secret of the success of the hit - the fact that I had to do it again, and I did it without a mistake or without any interruption, and the feeling was just right on that song."

    Regarding the message Marvin Gaye was sending in the song, Reeves said: "The words are very simple: he wanted everybody to dance in the street. Everybody to rejoice and have a very good time. It was a hot, #1 hit, and it spread love all over the world. When you play it today, people get up and do what? Dance!"
  • 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.
  • 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!. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Jerro - New Alexandria, PA

Comments: 17

  • Retro Ray from Los AngelesVery good history about "Hitsville, U.S.A." and this song: "READY FOR A BRAND NEW BEAT: How 'Dancing In The Street' Became The Anthem For A Changing America," by Mark Kurlansky (Riverhead Books, New York (2013), provides the history and context for this iconic song and the times within which it became an anthem of American pop culture. The book is still available!
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 11th 1966, The Mamas and the Papas' covered version of "Dancing in the Street" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #94; and on January 8th, 1967 it peaked at #73 {for 2 weeks} and spent 6 weeks on the Top 100...
    The record's A-side, "Words of Love", peaked at #5 {for 1 week} on January 15th, 1967.
  • Susan from Atlanta, GeorgiaJay from New York, you are so right about the Mamas & Papas doing a great cover of this. It was their version that I heard first and was more familiar with than the original, but I love them both. The Ms & Ps' version seems to me to be more timely, coming out during the year of the Summer of Love -- let's get out there and dance together as one, so to speak -- so I was surprised when I first found out it had come out three years prior to that.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn 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).
  • Olle from Gothenburg, SwedenSwedish 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.
  • Kristin from Bessemer, AlAt 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-
  • Andre from The Bronx, NyMartha 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
  • Colby from Arthur, IlHitsville 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
  • Williamson Henderson from Manhattan, Ny"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.

  • Doug from Oakland, CaI 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.
  • Anonnymous from Nashville, TxVan Halen's cover of this is awesome. Check it out on their Diver Down album.
  • Allen from Dothan, AlMartha Reeves was born in Eufaula, Alabama which is about an hour from my hometown of Dothan, Alabama. She did grow up in Detroit, however.
  • Jay from New York, NyThe Mamas and the Papas did an excellent version of this song.
  • Kyle from Belleville, CanadaBruce Springsteen covered this twice on his 1999 reunion tour with the E street band.
  • Brian from Sydney, AustraliaGravely 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
  • Dave from Cardiff, WalesDavid Bowie and Mick Jagger also covered this song in 1985 for the Live Aid cause!
  • Jonnie from St. Louis, MoIf 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.
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