12 May 2011

"... Can't Forget the Motor City ...": Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, "Dancing in the Streets" (1964)

For my money, there are two rock 'n' roll performances by women that go straight straight to my heart just thinking about them. One is Merry Clayton's duet vocals with Mick Jagger on the Stones' Gimme Shelter (1969, album version), but that's another story for another time. The other is Martha Reeves and the Vandellas 1964 international hit and signature song Dancing in the Street.

I'd encourage anyone interested in early Motown history to check out some of the background information on this song's development at Wikipedia or the Songfacts website. Here's one little tidbit. One of the mega-talents at Berry Gordy's "Hitsville, U.S.A." studios in Detroit, Marvin Gaye, was a co-writer and drummer on this track. Co-writer Ivory Joe Hunter -- well, let me quote Songfacts on this one:
Ivory Joe Hunter had a few hits of his own but felt more at home producing records. Hunter liked everything about the song except the drum track - it needed more "bump and grind." An idea hit him and he excused himself, went to his car, and brought back a crow bar. He sat on a concrete floor and said: "Roll tape." They went through the song one more time while Ivory Joe Hunter slammed the tire tool against the concrete floor on the downbeat ...
And there you have it: one of the most danceable percussion tracks in '60s rock 'n' roll gets its "bump and grind" from a crowbar.

Let me close by giving Martha Reeves herself -- still recording and performing all these years later -- the last word, "I’m going to sing as long as I’m able; I’m going to dance as long as I can. And age 69 feels real good." You go girl!

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