This sizzling single hit the airwaves and record stores the first week of August back in 1964. Propelled by insistent drumming from co-writer Marvin Gaye, instrumental backing by Motown’s legendary Funk Brothers, vocal backing by the Vandellas, and Martha Reeve’s soaring lead vocal, “Dancing in the Street” seemed to be playing everywhere on portable transistor AM radios, 45 rpm record players and dance parties all over the country.
Although composed as a party anthem, “Dancing in the Street” had a deeper meaning for those involved in the escalating civil rights struggle. During 1964’s Freedom Summer, thousands of activists travelled to Mississippi and southern states to help register African-American voters. When some black advocates started playing the song while organizing civil rights demonstrations, a few radio stations actually stopped playing it, claiming it was an incitement to riot.
“Dancing in the Street” peaked at #2 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart. It’s one of only 50 sound recordings preserved by the Library of Congress in the National Recording Registry.
Available on Time Life’s CD Music Collection ’60s Music Revolution.