Meaning of Dancing in the Street by Martha and the Vandellas & Story

Almost every artist or musical group has a song that critics call his hallmark. Major artists have several such compositions. On the other hand, many singers were remembered by the public for a single track.

It is much less common to talk about songs that are iconic for entire record companies. In the case of the legendary Motown studio, one of these works was the track Dancing in the Street performed by Martha and the Vandellas.

It climbed to number two on the US charts. Over the years it has been performed by famous singers. Moreover, unexpectedly for the authors of the song, the fighters for civil rights chose it as their anthem.

Story of creation and meaning of Dancing in the Street

Martha Reeves sang the blues at the Twenty Grand in Detroit. She was heard by Mikey Stevenson (Mickey Stevenson), manager of Motown. He gave Marta his business card and asked her to audition. For some time the girl worked as a secretary in the studio, and then she got a lucky ticket.

Reeves later recalled:

…they needed someone to sing for the demo, so I offered myself. Berry [Berry Gordy] liked my voice, and Mikey said, “This is Martha, my secretary.”

And now I was on the background vocals in Marvin’s Stubborn Kind of Fellow [Гэя] with his former girl group The Del-Phis, who would become The Vandellas. A little later, Marvin saw that I was devouring him with my eyes – he was such a handsome man – and he said: “What if we try Martha in this song.” That song was Dancing in the Street, and it became the Motown anthem.

Hereinafter The Guardian

Marta told how the composition aroused her feelings:

At first I didn’t like her. But then I remembered my neighborhood, how we stayed up all night dancing in the street. The vocals are the second take. The first time I sang it, they didn’t play the record.

Songwriter Ivy Jo Hunter also talked about the origins of Dancing in the Street:

In those days it was easier to rob a bank than break into the record business. I wanted to be a singer, but they needed writers.

I started composing Dancing in the Street on a small piano. It stood at the top, and anyone could use it. I didn’t know how to play really, but I had a bass part and I picked some chords for it. Later, James Jamerson, the legendary Motown bassist, said that he never felt so good playing one note.

I wanted to write a melancholic song, but when Marvin heard it, he said: “This is not a sad song. It sounds more like dancing in the street.” This became the title, and within half an hour the song was completed.

Mikey Stevenson recalled that the idea for the track came about while driving cars around Detroit with Marvin Gaye. It was hot, and the city authorities allowed fire hydrants to be opened to cool the hot asphalt and concrete. It seemed that jets of water were dancing in the streets.

Release and achievements

The single Dancing in the Street by Martha and the Vandellas was released on July 31, 1964 by Gordy Records. It peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at number four on the UK charts.

The composition has received numerous awards and is in several ratings:

  • “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” – Rolling Stone
  • “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” – NME
  • “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll” – Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,
  • Grammy Hall of Fame,
  • Library of Congress National Recording Registry,
  • “100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time” – Billboard.

Check out the music video for Dancing in the Street by Martha and the Vandellas.

Civil rights anthem

Although Dancing in the Street was intended as a dance track, it sounded new when protest movements intensified in the poor areas of American cities. The song began to be played at demonstrations for the rights of African Americans. Because of this, many radio stations refused to let it air.

Listen to Martha Reeves:

The song gave me a lot of problems. It was a civil rights era and there were riots in Detroit, so the British press thought it was about riots. How can the phrase “all the boys grab a girl” be about something other than dancing in the streets?

However, this only added to the popularity of the track.

Cover versions

In 1966, folk rock band The Mamas & the Papas recorded Dancing in the Street for their second studio album, The Mamas and the Papas. The single peaked at number 73 on the Billboard Hot 100.

With this track, the musicians completed their program at the Monterey Rock Festival, which was their last live performance.

The Grateful Dead have been playing the song in concert since 1966. In 1977, she released a cover single from the Terrapin Station album. Her version is called Dancin’ in the Streets.

Van Halen recorded Dancing in the Street in 1982. The track was included in the album Diver Down and was released as a single.

The song was recorded in 1985 by Mick Jagger and David Bowie. It was supposed that the musicians would perform it at the Live Aid festival, being on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, but the technical possibilities did not allow the idea to be realized. As a result, they sang in the studio, released a single on the EMI label and gave the proceeds to charity.

The song topped the charts in several countries including the UK, Australia, Finland and the Netherlands.

Ivy Hunter recalled:

When Bowie and Jagger did the cover, I made more money in two years than I had in the previous twenty. I would kiss their asses in the middle of Broadway.

The video for Dancing in the Street – David Bowie & Mick Jagger was directed by David Mallet.

Interesting Facts

  • Martha Reeves’ autobiography is called Dancing in the Street.
  • In Jagger and Bowie’s version, the song Back in the USSR by The Beatles is quoted.

Martha and the Vandellas Dancing in the Street Lyrics

Calling out around the world
Are you ready for a brand new beat?
Summer’s here and the time is right
For dancing in the street
They’re dancing in Chicago
Down in New Orleans
In New York City

All we need is music, sweet music
There’ll be music everywhere
There’ll be swinging and swaying and records playing
Dancing in the street
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
They’ll be dancing
They’re dancing in the street

It’s an invitation across the nation
A chance for folks to meet
There’ll be laughing, singing, and music swinging
Dancing in the street
Philadelphia, PA
Baltimore and DC now
Can’t forget the Motor City


Way down in LA every day
They’re dancing in the street
(Dancing in the street)
Let’s form a big, strong line, get in time
We’re dancing in the street
(Dancing in the street)
Across the ocean blue, me and you
We’re dancing in the street

Martha and the Vandellas Dancing in the Street Lyrics Alternative

We’re shouting all over the world
Are you ready for a brand new beat?
It’s summer now and it’s the right time
For dancing in the street.
Dancing in Chicago
In New Orleans
In New York.

All we need is music, nice music.
Music will be everywhere.
Everyone around will spin and sway to the playing records,
Dancing in the street
Oh, it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing
While you are here.
So come on guys, grab a girl.
Everything in the world –
They are dancing,
They dance in the street.

It’s an invitation across the country
Chance to meet people.
There will be laughter, singing and music,
Dancing in the street
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
Baltimore, Columbia right now.
Don’t forget Motor City.


In Los Angeles every day
They dance in the street.
(Dancing in the street)
Let’s line up in a long, tight chain, keep the rhythm
We are dancing in the street.
(dancing in the street)
On the other side of the blue ocean, me and you
We are dancing in the street.

Quote about Dancing in the Street

The Rolling Stones hinted at the song’s lyrics in Street Fighting Man but changed the line to “Summer’s here and the time is right for fighting in the street”. Mick Jagger should be ashamed!

Martha Reeves, The Guardian

We recorded the drumbeat, bashing a tambourine with a stick and echoing through the bathroom. Soon everyone in the industry went crazy trying to achieve this sound with expensive equipment, but they never succeeded.

Ivy Jo Hunter, The Guardian

This is a song that just makes you get up and dance.

Martha Reeves

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