Martha and The Vandellas’, ‘Dancing In The Street’, co-written by Marvin Gaye, with Mickey Stevenson and Ivy Jo Hunter, it’s the perfect Motown dance record – infectious, great words, great musicians playing their socks off and at 2 minutes 38 seconds it packs the perfect punch. It’s Marvin Gaye playing drums on the record, along with legendary bass player, James Jamerson
‘Dancing In The Street’ demonstrates exactly what it is that makes Motown’s records so great, and it starts with their tried and trusted formula – an attention grabbing first ten seconds. The intro with Martha singing, “Calling out around the world” is irresistible.
And call out she certainly did when this record burst out from our transistor radios i in the summer of 1964, having been recorded on 19 June. It made No.2 on the Billboard Hot 100, staying there for two weeks and kept from the top by Manfred Mann’s ‘DoWah Diddy Diddy’ – there is no justice. Every self-respecting British Mod loved it!. But not everyone else did as it only made No.28 on the UK charts; it was reissued in 1969 and on that occasion made the top 5.
Motown founder, Berry Gordy had a simple strategy; it was to make his records appeal to everyone, lack or white, which is how and why he came up with the slogan – the Sound of Young America. The truth was Britain embraced Motown from the very start and it had a great deal to do with the fact that almost every record was perfect for dancing.
While ‘the sound’ of Motown appeared to be simple, it was pop music of an incredibly sophisticated kind. Some have called it ‘assembly-line pop’, no doubt moved to do so through it’s connection to Detroit – the motor city – Motown. Yet Gordy and his small team managed to make each record sound like it had been hand crafted. ‘Hitsville’, which is what he called the Motown HQ, very soon became a hit-factory.
‘Dancing In The Street ‘ has been covered many times, memorable by Mick Jagger and David Bowie, but did you know that in 1968, Jagger and Keith Richards had already "borrowed" a line from the song that they used in ‘Street Fighting Man’ - "Cause summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy. The Mamas and The Papas did a great version but perhaps less memorable are the versions by The Grateful Dead and Black Oak Arkansas, although in the rock arena, Van Halen had a Top 40 hit on the Hot 100 in 1982. Among the other covers there are versions by Phil Collins, The Kinks, Neil Diamond, Petula Clark, The Walker Brothers, The Who and Atomic Kitten.
But as so often is the case, the original is the best.