Friday, August 22, 2014

50 years ago: Martha & the Vandellas chart with “Dancing in the Street”

Dancing in the Street

Martha & the Vandellas

Writer(s): William Stevenson/Ivy Hunter/Marvin Gaye (see lyrics here)

Released: July 31, 1964

First Charted: August 22, 1964

Peak: 2 US, 4 CB, 8 GR, 2 HR, 2 RB, 4 UK, 3 CN, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, 0.2 UK, 1.21 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 3.0 radio, 12.89 video, 170.01 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Martha Reeves was a secretary at Motown who had sung backup on Marvin Gaye’s hits “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” and “Hitch Hike” SS when she got the opportunity of a lifetime – she was given the chance to record a demo. RS500 The song, “Dancing in the Street,” was originally offered to Kim Weston, who would later marry William Stevenson, RS500 one of the writers, but she turned it down. NRR As Stevenson says, though, “When Martha got into the song…that was the end of the conversation!” RS500 She said, it “was Mickey’s greatest gift to me.” SS

Stevenson says the inspiration for the song came from riding through Detroit during the summer with Marvin Gaye, another of the song’s writers. To let the kids cool off, the city would open up the fire hydrants to release the water into the streets. Stevenson says, “They appeared to be dancing in the water.” SF In an amusing twist, Gaye sang backup on the song for the singer who used to sing backup for him. SS

Writer Paul Williams called it “the quintessential hymn of revolution.” PW Indeed, the song came at the peak of the civil rights movement which could lead one to interpret the song as a call to “mobilize for freedom. But even if taken on its own terms as intended by its creators – just a joyous celebration of music and dancing – this is a classic.” SS

Of all the dance songs ever written, none come as close as this one to “conveying not only the physical experience but the emotional tenor of what it means to dance publicly.” MA The song’s “primal rhythms [are]…so simple anyone can groove to it and so infectious everyone does.” AMG As “the quintessential hymn of revolution, riot, and rapture” it makes everyone want to join the party. PW Music historian Steve Sullivan says “no record exemplified the mergence of rhythm & blues’ new golden age like ‘Dancing in the Street.’” SS


First posted 8/22/2011; last updated 2/3/2023.

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