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Song Anniversary: Martha and the Vandellas’ Dancing in the Street

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - APRIL 27: Singer Martha Reeves performs at BH100 Centennial Block Party On Rodeo Drive on April 27, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California.
Photo by Ari Perilstein

In July 1964, Martha and the Vandellas came out with a song that would become a signature hit not only to them, not only to Motown, but a signature hit that would go on to become one of the greatest songs of all time.

The song was “Dancing in the Street”, and it appeared on the Vandellas’ album Dance Party (which was not released until 1965). The song was written by Marvin Gaye, William “Mickey” Stevenson (who also produced the song) and Ivy Jo Hunter. Despite the intention to be nothing more than a party song, it would be known to take on another meaning, that being in response to the political and social climate of the 1960s. This came true when riots in inner-city America were erupting, and young black demonstrators were citing the song as a civil rights anthem for change. As a result, the song was banned from some radio stations.

While both Motown and Martha Reeves denied that “Dancing in the Street” was a call to riot, many have seen the song as a “partner with the social environment”, in which the song would eventually have two meanings; one of being seen a just an innocent record, and the other as a anthem for unity among groups.

And perhaps or because of the two meanings, “Dancing in the Street” became a massive hit, as it peaked at number two on the US pop charts, and number four in the UK. The song has also gone on to become a hit for other acts such as Van Halen, David Bowie and Mick Jagger, and Southern rock band Black Oak Arkansas. In 2006, the song was one of fifty preserved to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.

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