July 18 is a good day to have a birthday. Nelson Mandela, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Hunter S. Thompson, Richard Branson, Vin Diesel, are just some examples of individuals who blo(e)w at the candles on the hot mid-summer date. It’s an odd grouping of individuals, but days are not subjective. I am also a part of the July 18 b-day club. Yesterday, I turned 23, and celebrated it with Korean food with my girlfriend. I am back today, a full year older and wiser, to bring you the biggest hit recorded by Martha and the Vandellas, “Dancing in the Streets.” But why pick such a completely random song? It probably has something to do with July 18, right?
Martha Reeves, the Martha to our Vandellas, celebrated her 71st birthday yesterday, and we are going to celebrate a day later and wish her a belated birthday because we were too busy dancing in the streets yesterday. Actually, the song was first conceived by producer Mickey Stevenson after watching people cool off from open fire hydrants. He thought they looked like they were dancing. Such dancing did occur yesterday in New York, but, it was not only because of 100 degree temperatures early in the day, but also a hail storm in the afternoon that caused some cool duck-and-cover dance moves.
Stevenson wrote the song and showed the rough draft to Marvin Gaye who thought it sounded like it would be a great upbeat piece. Hence:
Martha Reeves was the second choice for the song. Kim Weston was originally proposed the song but declined it. Reeves arranged her own vocals and Motown songwriter Ivy Hunter was brought in to add a composition. The drum beat was added by Hunter. The song quickly became popular. It peaked at number two on the Billboard Singles charts, and was one of the fifty sound recordings preserved by the Library of Congress in 2006.
The song also represented more than the initial authors bargained for. While it was certainly a party song, many individuals construed it to echo the message of the burgeoning Civil Rights movement. The song took on a second meaning that it still carries today.