Study Guide

Dancing in the Street

Dancing in the Street Introduction

In a Nutshell

Martha Reeves insisted that "Dancing in the Street" was always meant to be a simple party song. It's a classic Motown hit, cranked out by the iconic Detroit record company that aspired to make music production as much like an assembly line as possible. 

The only problem, though, is that when this song was released and became popular, dancing wasn't what people were doing in the street.

They were rioting. 

Racial tension in cities like Detroit was reaching a breaking point in the late 1960s. Martha & The Vandellas found that because they were African Americans, their hit single was construed by many as a call to action instead of a call to have a good time. 

About the Song

ArtistMartha Reeves & the Vandellas
Year1964 (Single), 1965 (Album)
LabelMotown Records
Writer(s)William "Mickey" Stevenson, Marvin Gaye, Ivy Jo Hunter
Producer(s)William "Mickey" Stevenson
Musician(s)Martha Reeves (lead vocals), Betty Kelly (backup vocals), Rosalind Ashford (backup vocals), The Funk Brothers (instrumentals)
Learn to playGuitar
AlbumDance Party

Music Video

Influences on Martha Reeves & the Vandellas

Benny Reeves and the Motor City Travelers
Dinah Washington
Sarah Vaughn
Della Reese (the "della" in Vandellas; the "Van" comes from Van Dyke Avenue in Detroit)
Lena Horne
Gloria Lynne
Ella Fitzgerald
Yuma Sumac
Morgana King
Marion Anderson
Billy Holiday
Nina Simone
Nancy Wilson
Betty Carter
Aretha Franklin

Influenced by Martha Reeves & the Vandellas

David Bowie
Mick Jagger
The Mamas & the Papas
The Grateful Dead
Van Halen
The Who
The Kinks
Cilla Black
Bruce Springsteen

Dancing in the Street Resources

Books

Suzanne E. Smith, Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit (2001)
Professor Smith explores the rise of Motown and its connections to the local Black community and evolving Civil Rights Movement. Smith paints a critical portrait of Motown founder Gordy, summed up in his 1972 decision to transfer his Detroit enterprise to Hollywood.

Martha Reeves and Mark Bego, Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Motown Diva (1995)
Written by Reeves herself, this book is an open and, in places, painful account of Reeves' career. She explores her early years at Motown, her feelings about Berry Gordy, her rivalry with Diana Ross, and her drug addiction.

Albums

Come and Get These Memories (1963)
Martha Reeves & the Vandellas' debut album was put together in a rush after their single "Come and Get These Memories" climbed toward the top of the charts. It's a typical Motown production, with several songs written and produced by Holland-Dozier-Holland.

Dance Party (1964)
Another album built around a major hit, "Dancing in the Street," this one also contains the successful singles "Nowhere to Run" and "Wild One."  The who's-who of Motown is all over this album: Holland-Dozier-Holland, Marvin Gaye, Mickey Stevenson, and even Stevie Wonder contributed.

Images

"Dancing in the Street" (Single)
Here's the cover for the single, released in July 1964.

Hitsville, U.S.A.
Here's the famous Motown headquarters and studio in Detroit.

Berry Gordy, Jr.
Gordy's the founder and driving force behind Motown, here pictured in 2010.

Movies & TV

Dreamgirls (2006)
The semi-historical piece of fiction is modeled more after the Supremes than Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, but it offers a look at the environment and culture of Motown.

Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002)
This documentary explores the self-named "Funk Brothers," the studio musicians who backed up the artists at Motown, eventually being part of more number one hits than any other musician or band. Archival footage and interviews are interspersed to provide a fascinating portrait of this era in American music.

Websites

Motown's Official Site
The site mostly has news and merchandise, but also offers mini-biographies of some of Motown's biggest stars, including Martha Reeves & the Vandellas.

Motown Historical Museum
The site serves primarily as an introduction to the Motown Historical Museum, but does offer brief biographies of Berry Gordy and other Motown figures.

Video & Audio

"Dancing in the Street" on The Ed Sullivan Show (1965)
An up-tempo version for Ed, and of course, they've got moves.

David Bowie and Mick Jagger's Cover (1985)
If you've ever wanted to see Bowie and Jagger wearing classic '80s getups and acting silly together, boy, do we have the video for you.