Sunday, February 21, 2010

February 21: Martha & The Vandellas, "Dancing In The Street"

Artist: Martha & The Vandellas
Song: "Dancing In The Street"
Album: Dancing In The Street (single)
Year: 1964

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

One thing that can be counted on, and has been proven time and time again throughout history, is the fact that a truly great song will overcome all obstacles, whether they be language, trends, or even societal constructs. It is moments within this later category that show the true power of music, and often times, the music is so fantastic, that one barely realizes the statements being made within. There is perhaps no better an example of this than when one looks deeper into one of the most defining songs on history, Martha & The Vandellas' 1964 classic, "Dancing In The Street." Over the decades, the song has come to define only only the sound of the trio, but in many ways, it is one of the "essential" songs of the Motown sound, and it is largely due to the amazing musical composition that this song remains a classic so many years later. Yet while this song is known for its upbeat, grooving call to a world-wide party, many people miss the fact that it is also one of the strongest cries for equality that came out of the civil rights movement. Filled with countless, iconic lines, and having been covered a number of times over the years, "Dancing In The Street" remains one of the most pivotal songs in history, and it is almost impossible to think of a world of music where the song did not exist.

"Dancing In The Street" is a truly iconic song on so many levels, from the brilliant music from The Funk Brothers to the fact that the primary writers for the lyrics were William "Mickey" Stevenson, alongside none other than Marvin Gaye. Strangely enough, the song was actually written to be performed by Kim Weston, but she passed on the song, and after asking if she could re-arrange the vocals, Martha & The Vandellas were more than happy to record the song. On this song, The Funk Brothers bring what is now one of the most famous musical progressions in history, yet when compared to their other work, this is unquestionably one of their most simply, most primal musical efforts. It is perhaps intentional, as it makes the rhythm, much like the lyrics, easy for anyone to duplicate, and helps to give the song a completely universal appeal. The bright horns alongside the deep, grooving bass epitomizes the sound and spirit of Motown Records, and yet many also see the horn progression as almost a rallying call not only for a world-wide party, but also for change. One of the most interesting aspects of the music is that, while Gaye himself is playing drums, IvyJo Hunter is banging on a crowbar, helping to accentuate the downbeat. The song reached the top five on the singles' charts in both the U.S. and the U.K., and it remains one of the most instantly recognizable songs in music history.

Yet as extraordinary as the music is here, there are few songs anywhere in history that can even remotely compare to the vocals found on "Dancing In The Street." The trio, led by Martha Reeves, were perhaps only second to The Supremes when it came to defining the female sound of Motown, and Rosalind Ashford, along with somewhat new member, Betty Kelly, have a sound that is unquestionably all their own. As Reeves opens the song with her "call around the world," it is impossible not to listen, as there is an amazing combination of joy and urgency within her voice. Throughout the entire song, the trio's voices are absolutely perfect, and the emotion and spirit within their singing remains largely unparalleled to this day. Though the lyrics to "Dancing In The Street" have become so iconic in modern times that people often overlook them, the truth of the matter is, they remain one of the most brilliantly written calls for universal acceptance that has ever been penned. Imagining a world in which differences and disputes are overcome by the beauty of song, Reeves soulfully sings, "...this is an invitation across the nation, a chance for the folks to meet..." Furthering this call for cities to come together as one, Reeves makes a simple point by saying the solution is, "...all we need is music, sweet music..." It is within these now iconic words that one can clearly see the deeper meaning of this legendary song, yet at its core, it remains one of the most upbeat and truly joyous recordings in music history.

During times of great social change, an overwhelming majority of the art of the time is, in some way, connected to that change. Though many times, the connection between the two is either quite buried or blatant, but overlooked, the fact remains that it is still present. Throughout the 1960's, the civil rights movement dominated the social landscape of the United States, and there is an endless list of songs that addressed this struggle for change. Perfectly exemplifying the songs in which the "deeper" meaning has become lost over the decades, one would be hard pressed to find a more genuine call for universal acceptance than is found in the legendary song, "Dancing In The Street." Solidifying this deeper meaning, in 1985, David Bowie and Mick Jagger, remade the song as part of the "Live Aid" charity efforts. Slightly altering the lyrics to address more modern global concerns, the single cracked the top ten in nearly a dozen countries, and again bringing the deeper meaning of the original to light. Though the Bowie/Jagger version is quite good, the fact of the matter is, nothing can compare to the original, as it is one of the most defining songs of the generation, though over the decades, the powerful message behind the music has become somewhat lost. Proving that one can balance deep, strong meaning into a pop-friendly dance song, there are very few recordings that can compare to the amazing mood and universal appeal of Martha & The Vandellas 1964 hit, "Dancing In The Street."

No comments: