"Dancing in the Street" is a 1964 song first recorded by Martha and the Vandellas. It is one of Motown's signature songs and is the group's premier signature song.
Produced by William "Mickey" Stevenson and written by Stevenson, Ivy Jo Hunter and Marvin Gaye, the song highlighted the concept of having a good time in whatever city the listener lived. The idea for dancing came to Stevenson from watching people on the streets of Detroit cool off in the summer in water from opened fire hydrants. They appeared to be dancing in the water. The song was conceived by Stevenson who was showing a rough draft of the lyrics to Gaye disguised as a ballad. When Gaye read the original lyrics, however, he said the song sounded more danceable. With Gaye and Stevenson collaborating, the duo composed the single with Kim Weston in mind to record the song. Weston passed on the song and when Martha Reeves came to Motown's Hitsville USA studios, the duo presented the song to Reeves. Hearing Gaye's demo of it, Reeves asked if she could arrange her own vocals to fit the song's message. Reeves recounted that she initially regarded the song as too repetitive.
Gaye and Stevenson agreed and including new Motown songwriter Ivy Jo Hunter adding in musical composition, the song was recorded in two takes. The interesting loud beat of the drums in its instrumentation can be attributed to Hunter, who banged on a crowbar to add to the drum beat led by Gaye, who was often a drummer on many of Motown's earliest hits.
While produced as an innocent dance single (it became the precursor to the disco movement of the 1970s), the song took on a different meaning when riots in inner-city America led to many young black demonstrators citing the song as a civil rights anthem to social change which also led to some radio stations taking the song off its play list because certain black advocates such as H. Rap Brown began playing the song while organizing demonstrations.
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