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Last modified 6/18/17

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Get Ready / Dancing in the Streets--The Temptations / Martha and the Vandellas:

Dancing in the Street was written by Motown songwriters and session players William “Mickey” Stevenson, Ivy Jo Hunter and Marvin Gaye in June of 1964.  Recorded by Martha and the Vandellas, it became one of the biggest hits from the recording label of founder Berry Gordy, peaking at number 2 on the Billboard charts in September of that year and remaining in the top 40 for 11 weeks.  

According to Stevenson, the inspiration for the song arose when he and Gaye were driving around the streets of Detroit on a hot summer evening, and came across a group of multi-racial kids playing together.  Back then, the city would open up fire hydrants during the summer and let the water spray into the streets so kids could cool off.  To Stevenson, the children seemed to be “dancing in the water”.  Later, he added that despite “all the hatred and prejudice in the world, these kids had no concept of it”.

Originally, the writers of Dancing in the Street had another singer in mind for the song, Kim Weston, but she decided to pass on it. When Martha Reeves, the lead singer for Martha and the Vandellas heard the first demo, she asked if her group could sing it.  Stevenson and Gaye agreed after deciding to include a new Motown songwriter, Ivy Jo Hunter, to help with the arrangement and production. The song was then recorded in just two takes on 19 June 1964 at the “Hitsville, USA” studio in Detroit, MI.

All three writers ended up playing on the track with Stevenson on bass, Gaye on drums, and Hunter adding additional percussion.  Feeling the song needed something extra from the rhythm section, Hunter went out to his car during the recording session, pulled out a tire iron from the trunk, brought it back into the studio, and pounded it on the cement floor on the downbeat to create the unique “bump and grind” sound.

Dancing in the Street was released at the height of the civil rights movement in the U.S., so almost immediately, the song was misinterpreted as a call to “demonstrate in the streets”.  In fact, some radio stations banned the song out of fear of inciting riots, because some African American activists began playing it while organizing.  However, Martha Reeves stated at one point that it was nothing more than “a party song.”

The actual meaning of the song however, became even more blurred in 1968, when the Rolling Stones released their political anthem, Street Fighting Man.  In the second line of that song, they sang “summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the street”, an almost word for word tribute to the second line of Dancing in the Street.  The Stones simply replaced the word “dancing” with the word “fighting”.

Dancing in the Street has been covered numerous times, and by such diverse artists as The Mamas and the Papas, The Kinks, The Everly Brothers, The Grateful Dead, Black Oak Arkansas, and Van Halen.  Mick Jagger (of The Rolling Stones) and David Bowie even had a hit with the song as a duo in 1985.

In 2006, it was announced that the version of the song by Martha and the Vandellas would be one of just 50 sound recordings preserved by the Library of Congress to the National Recording Registry.  

Get Ready / Dancing in the Streets

9GetReady (1).mp3