"Dancing in the Street" is a 1964 song first recorded by Martha and the Vandellas. It is one of Motown's signature songs and is the group's premier signature song.

Martha and the Vandellas original[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Produced by William "Mickey" Stevenson and written by Stevenson, Ivy Jo Hunter and Marvin Gaye, the song highlighted the concept of having a good time in whatever city the listener lived. The idea for dancing came to Stevenson from watching people on the streets of Detroit cool off in the summer in water from opened fire hydrants. They appeared to be dancing in the water.[1] The song was conceived by Stevenson who was showing a rough draft of the lyrics to Gaye disguised as a ballad. When Gaye read the original lyrics, however, he said the song sounded more danceable. With Gaye and Stevenson collaborating, the duo composed the single with Kim Weston in mind to record the song. Weston passed on the song and when Martha Reeves came to Motown's Hitsville USA studios, the duo presented the song to Reeves. Hearing Gaye's demo of it, Reeves asked if she could arrange her own vocals to fit the song's message.[citation needed] Reeves recounted that she initially regarded the song as too repetitive.[2]

Gaye and Stevenson agreed and including new Motown songwriter Ivy Jo Hunter adding in musical composition, the song was recorded in two takes. The interesting loud beat of the drums in its instrumentation can be attributed to Hunter, who banged on a crowbar to add to the drum beat led by Gaye, who was often a drummer on many of Motown's earliest hits.

While produced as an innocent dance single (it became the precursor to the disco movement of the 1970s), the song took on a different meaning when riots in inner-city America led to many young black demonstrators citing the song as a civil rights anthem to social change which also led to some radio stations taking the song off its play list because certain black advocates such as H. Rap Brown began playing the song while organizing demonstrations.

Dancing in the street had two meanings. The first is the one Martha Reeves asserted to reporters in England. "The British press aggravated Reeves when someone put a microphone in her face and asked her if she was a militant leader. The British journalist wanted to know if Reeves agreed, as many people had claimed, that "Dancing in the Street" was a call to riot. To Reeves, the query was patently absurd. 'My Lord, it was a party song,' she remarked in retrospect" (Smith 221). While Berry Gordy had created the Black Forum label to preserve black thought and creative writing, he kept the Motown record label and the popular hits it produced from being too political. "Berry Gordy Jr. was extremely wary about affiliating his business with any organization of movement that might negatively influence his company's commercial success" (Smith 230). The central tenet of Motown records was to produce a sound that was genteel enough to appeal to white audiences across the country while still wholly African American and reflective of the African Diaspora in America. This song is suave and melodious, while still percussive, repetitive, and danceable. The primary meaning was innocent enough to allow national audiences to accept and enjoy the song, if only at first.

"Motown records had a distinct role to play in the city's black community, and that community—as diverse as it was—articulated and promoted its own social, cultural, and political agendas. These local agendas, which reflected the unique concerns of African Americans living in the urban north, both responded to and reconfigured the national civil rights campaign" (Smith 227). The movement lent the song its secondary meaning and the song with its second meaning fanned the flames of unrest. This song (and others like it) and its associated political meanings did not exist in a vacuum. It was a partner with its social environment and they both played upon each other creating meaning that could not have been brought on by one or the other alone. The song therefore became a call to reject peace for the chance that unified unrest could bring about the freedom that suppressed minorities all across the United States so craved.

"Dancing in the Street" peaked at number two on the U.S. Billboard Pop Singles chart when it was originally released as the group's third album Dance Party's first single in 1964 (see 1964 in music), with "There He Is (at My Door)" included as a B-side. The song also reached the top 5 on the UK pop charts peaking at #4 in a 1969 release after initially peaking at #28 on the chart and helped to revive the Vandellas' success in England.

On April 12, 2006, it was announced that Martha and the Vandellas' version of "Dancing in the Street" would be one of 50 sound recordings preserved by the Library of Congress to the National Recording Registry. Lead singer Martha Reeves said she was thrilled about the song's perseverance, saying "It's a song that just makes you want to get up and dance".

In 2013, the original Motown recording was remixed for club and summer celebration airplay by Minneapolis' Billboard charting producer/remixer Joel Dickinson as well as Danny Shaffer.

Van Halen version[edit source | editbeta]Edit

"Dancing in the Street"
Single by Van Halen
from the album Diver Down
B-side "Where Have All the Good Times Gone" and "The Full Bug"
Released 1982
Format 7"
Recorded 1982
Genre SynthrockNew Wave
Length 3:43
Label Warner Bros.
Writer(s) Marvin Gaye, Ivy Hunter, William Stevenson
Producer Ted Templeman
Van Halen singles chronology
"(Oh) Pretty Woman"


"Dancing in the Street"




American rock band Van Halen performed a cover of "Dancing in the Street", and released it as the second single from their 1982 album Diver Down. This version features heavy use of a synthesizer, played by Eddie Van Halen. Their version attracted decent commercial success, reaching the top 40 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart and becoming a top 15 hit on the Canadian Singles Chart.

Speaking about the cover, group member David Lee Roth said: "It sounds like more than four people are playing, when in actuality there are almost zero overdubs — that's why it takes us such a short amount of time [to record]."

Group member Eddie van Halen, discussing the cover and discussing his synthesizer part in the track, said: "It takes almost as much time to make a cover song sound original as it does writing a song. I spent a lot of time arranging and playing synthesizer on 'Dancing in the Streets,' and they [critics] just wrote it off as, 'Oh, it's just like the original.' So forget the critics! These are good songs. Why shouldn't we redo them for the new generation of people?"

Track listing[edit source | editbeta]Edit

7" single (Germany)[edit source | editbeta]Edit

  1. "Dancing in the Street" - 3:43
  2. "Where Have All the Good Times Gone" - 3:02

7" single (U.S.)[edit source | editbeta]Edit

  1. "Dancing in the Street" - 3:43
  2. "The Full Bug" - 3:18

Bowie/Jagger version[edit source | editbeta]Edit

"Dancing in the Street"
Single by David Bowie and Mick Jagger
Released August 12, 1985
Format 7"12"
Recorded Abbey Road StudiosLondon; June 1985
Genre Dance-rock
Length 3:14
Label EMI


Writer(s) Marvin GayeWilliam "Mickey" StevensonIvy Jo Hunter
Producer Alan WinstanleyClive Langer
David Bowie singles chronology
"Loving the Alien"


"Dancing in the Street"


"Absolute Beginners"


Mick Jagger singles chronology
"State of Shock"


"Dancing in the Street"


"Let's Work"


A third hit version was done by Mick Jagger and David Bowie as a duo in 1985, as part of the Live Aid charity movement. The original plan was to perform a track together live, with Bowie performing at Wembley Stadium and Jagger at John F. Kennedy Stadium, until it was realized that the satellite link-up would cause a half-second delay that would make this impossible unless either Bowie or Jagger mimed their contribution, something neither artist was willing to do. In 1968 Jagger and Keith Richards had already "borrowed" a line from the song in "Street Fighting Man" - "Cause summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy."

In June 1985, Bowie was recording his contributions to the Absolute Beginners soundtrack at Abbey Road Studios, and so Jagger arranged to fly in to record the track there. A rough mix of the track was completed in just four hours, at which point the pair went straight out to London Docklands to film a video with director David Mallet. Thirteen hours after the start of recording, this also was completed. Jagger arranged for some minor musical overdubs with Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero inNew York.

The video was shown twice at the Live Aid event. Soon afterwards the track was issued as a single, with all profits going to the charity. "Dancing in the Street" topped the UK charts for four weeks, and reached number seven in the United States. Bowie and Jagger would perform the song once more, at the Prince's Trust Concert on June 20, 1986. The song has been featured since on several Bowie compilations.

It was also shown in movie theaters before showings of Ruthless People, for which Jagger had recorded the theme song. It was the first instance in which a promotional clip was used outside of MTV or broadcast television.[citation needed]

In a survey conducted by PRS for Music, the song was voted as the top song the British public would play at street parties in celebration of the 2011 Royal Wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William.[3]

In the May 2011 episode "Foreign Affairs", the nineteenth episode of the ninth season of Family Guy, the music video is played in its entirety as one of the show's trademark cutaway gags.[4]

Track listing[edit source | editbeta]Edit

7": EMI America / EA 204 United Kingdom[edit source | editbeta]Edit

  1. "Dancing in the Street" (Clearmountain Mix) – 3:07
  2. "Dancing in the Street" (instrumental) – 3:17

12": EMI America / 12EA 204 United Kingdom[edit source | editbeta]Edit

  1. "Dancing in the Street" (Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero Mix) – 4:40
  2. "Dancing in the Street" (dub version) – 4:41
  3. "Dancing in the Street" (edit) – 3:24

Chart performance[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Martha and the Vandellas version[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Chart (1964) Peak


UK Singles Chart 4
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 2

Van Halen version[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Chart (1982) Peak


Canadian Singles Chart 15
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 38
U.S. BillboardMainstream Rock Tracks 3

Bowie/Jagger version[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Chart (1985) Peak


Australian Singles Chart 1
Austrian Singles Chart 6
French Singles Chart 34
German Singles Chart 6
Irish Singles Chart 1
Norwegian Singles Chart 3
Swedish Singles Chart 4
Swiss Singles Chart 9
UK Singles Chart 1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 7

Personnel[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Martha and the Vandellas[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Live Aid[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Track listings[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Live Aid version[edit source | editbeta]Edit

7": EMI / EA 204 (UK)[edit source | editbeta]Edit

  1. "Dancing in the Street" (GayeStevensonHunter) — 3:14
  2. "Dancing in the Street" (instrumental) (Gaye, Stevenson, Hunter) — 3:14

12": EMI / EA 204 (UK)[edit source | editbeta]Edit

  1. "Dancing in the Street" (Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero mix) — 4:40
  2. "Dancing in the Street" (dub version) — 4:41
  3. "Dancing in the Street" — 3:14
  • also released on download in 2007

References[edit source | editbeta]Edit

  • Pegg, Nicholas. The Complete David Bowie (2000). Reynolds & Hearn Ltd. ISBN 1-903111-14-5.
  • Smith, Suzanne E. Dancing in the Street (2003). Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-00063-3
  1. ^ Dancing in the Streets Songfacts
  2. ^ Show 26 - The Soul Reformation: Phase two, the Motown story. [Part 5 : UNT Digital Library]
  3. ^ "TDancing in the street for Royal Wedding"ITV Jersey, 22 March 2011, retrieved 22 April 2011
  4. ^ Kaiser, Rowan (May 16, 2011), ""Flirting With Disaster"/"500 Keys"/"Lobsterfest"/"Foreign Affairs"/"Hot Cocoa Bang Bang": S2011 / E18, 21, 12, 17, 21"A.V. Club, retrieved March 14, 2013
Preceded by

"I Got You Babe" by UB40 and Chrissie Hynde

UK number one single (Bowie & Jagger version)

September 7, 1985 - September 28, 1985

Succeeded by

"If I Was" by Midge Ure

Preceded by

"St. Elmo's Fire" by John Parr

Canadian RPM Singles Chart number-one single (Bowie & Jagger version)

October 5, 1985 – October 12, 1985

Succeeded by

"Cherish" by Kool & the Gang

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