Friday song: "Dancing in the Street"
A cover by the Struts is pure fun — for a song with a rich personal and social history
Winter has arrived, so how about a song to remind you of summer?
The Struts — a newish band from the UK — are hot, with songs like “Body Talks” bringing pure rock attitude and energy to the popular music landscape. And, thank the heavens, because if I hear another mid-tempo singer’s song with fingersnaps and lounge bass lines, I might just curl up and die. Their lyrics are sharp and funny, like the line, “Don’t you know who I think I am?” from their song “Primadonna Like Me.” (Your head might explode from the catchiness of the chorus in this one.)
The band has fun performing, with a charismatic lead singer with powerful vocals and a band exhibiting great musicianship.
Their cover of “Dancing in the Street” is a good example of what they bring to music.
“Dancing in the Street” was first recorded in 1964 by Martha & the Vandellas. Written by Marvin Gaye, Ivy Jo Hunter, and William Stevenson, the idea for the song occurred to Stevenson driving around Detroit with Gaye, watching kids open fire hydrants on streets in the summer and dancing in the water to cool off.
Written at the peak of the civil rights movement in the US, the song was interpreted by many in the black community as a call to demonstrate in the streets of the cities mentioned in the song — Chicago, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Detroit.
Martha Reeves was a secretary at Motown Records, having been unable to land a job as a singer. Over time, her singing ability became more apparent, so when Gaye played a demo of the song in her boss’ office with his smooth vocals over it, and she glanced over, Gaye said, “Let’s try this song on Martha.” Reeves couldn’t sing it like Gaye, so asked permission to sing it as she felt it. The session went great, but the engineer confessed after she’d finished that he’d forgotten to turn on the recording machinery. Reeves credits this mistake with little edge of anger in the version that was recorded immediately afterwards.
Whatever the path and process, the result was pop music gold.
David Bowie and Mick Jagger covered the song for the “Live Aid” charity in 1985, and did their version in two takes. The video of their version is infamous for its cheesy choreography.
Now, in 2019, the Struts have updated this classic once again. Get ready to dance!