Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Martha & The Vandellas: Dancing in the Streets



Circa: early 1960s, with Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. There is also a version from their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in December 1965.

**********************
Written by: Marvin Gaye, William "Mickey" Stevenson, Ivy Jo Hunter
Recorded: Detroit, Michigan: Hitsville USA (Studio A): June 19, 1964
Released: July 21, 1964
Album: Dance Party
Label: Motown Records

The song was one of 50 recordings that the U.S. Library of Congress has added to the National Recording Registry, preserving it for posterity. As well, Rolling Stone magazine has ranked it no 40 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of all time. Small wonder, since the song is not only important for historical reasons, recording a part of American history, but also as a song of freedom.

Dancing, after all, is one of the greatest acts of freedom. Just watch any child dancing.


Here are some background historical notes on the song:
Produced by William "Mickey" Stevenson and written by Stevenson 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. 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 demonstratorscivil 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.

Dancing in the Streets: 45 rpm cover: Mowtown, 1964.
Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a6/Martha-vandellas-dancing-street.jpg
Dancing in the Streets
Martha and the Vandellas

Callin' out around the world
Are you ready for a brand new beat?
Summer's here and the time is right
For dancin' in the streets
They're dancin' in Chicago
Down in New Orleans
Up in New York City

All we need is music, sweet music
There'll be music everywhere
There'll be swingin', swayin' and records playin'
And dancin' in the streets

Oh, it doesn't matter what you wear
Just as long as you are there
So come on, every guy grab a girl
Everywhere around the world
There'll be dancin'
They're dancin' in the street

This is an invitation
Across the nation
A chance for the folks to meet
There'll be laughin' and singin' and music swingin'
And dancin' in the streets

Philadelphia, P.A. (dancin' in the street.)
Baltimore and DC now (dancin' in the street)
Yeah don't forget the Motor City (dancin' in the street)

All we need is music, sweet music
There'll be music everywhere
There'll be swingin', swayin' and records playin'
And dancin' in the street, yeah

Oh, it doesn't matter what you wear
Just as long as you are there
So come on, every guy grab a girl
Everywhere around the world
There'll be dancin'
They're dancin' in the streets

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