QUESTION: Was the Summer Song “Dancing in the Street” Supposed to Be a Call for Violence?
Thanks for the question!
Q: Someone told me the song DANCING IN THE STREET was supposed to be a call to riot in Detroit. True or false?
A: The song was written after Motown producer/songwriter William Stevenson observed kids cooling off in opened fire hydrants during the hot summer of 1964; he thought the frolicking kids looked as if they were dancing in the water...and the street. Originally conceived as a slow ballad, it was Marvin Gaye that convinced Stevenson it should be an up-tempo, danceable song (a crowbar was used as a percussion instrument to intensify the drums). It was first offered to Motown songstress Kim Weston who rejected it; it was then grabbed up by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas. Later in the 60's after the song became a hit and riots were occurring in American cities, the song became kind of an anthem to some of the rioters; in particular, black advocate H. Rap Brown, who used to play the song during demonstrations. When an idiot reporter asked Martha Reeves if she was a militant leader by claiming the hit DANCING IN THE STREET was a call to riot, Reeves snapped back, “My Lord, it was (just) a party song!” So, to answer your question in a nutshell, NO; the song was meant as a party song but was used for different means in the next few years that followed.