The evolution of summer classic Dancing In The Street

On this week's edition of his summer music series on CBC Radio One's Calgary Eyeopener, Chris dela Torre explores the story behind the popular Motown tune Dancing In The Street recorded in 1964 by Martha and The Vandellas.

Chris dela Torre delves into the back stories of iconic summer songs

Martha and the Vandellas perform in 2011 at Berns in Stockholm, Sweden. What's your favourite summer song? Share it in the comment section below. (Bengt Nyman/WikiCommons)

The popular Motown tune Dancing In The Street recorded in 1964 by Martha and The Vandellas can still be heard across the airwaves these days.

  • Listen to CBC's Chris dela Torre as he explores the story behind the song:

The group performed live last night at the Calgary International Blues Festival at Shaw Millennium Park.

Dancing In The Street is sure to be among the hits the group performed, but they have basically have a whole disc of summer classics.

Summer anthems

Every Thursday this season, Chris dela Torre will look at the history behind a summer song.

It was originally written by Motown producer William (Mickey) Stevenson, who got the inspiration for the song from watching kids on the street in Detroit having water fights in the summer.

He thought the song would be more of a ballad.

But when he showed it to Marvin Gaye it was turned it into an upbeat dance song.

The two of them reworked the song with a fellow Motown writer Ivy Jo Hunter, and the plan was to give it to singer Mary Weston to record.

But one day at the studio, Marvin Gaye was testing out the song by singing it himself when he looked across the room and saw Martha Reeves standing there watching him. 

"He looked over and saw me standing there and said to William Stevenson and Ivy Hunter, the co-writers of Dancing In The Street, he said, 'Try this song on Martha,'" said Reeves in an interview.

"Why? I don't know. But I just feel like it's one of the best gifts I have ever been given."

So she recorded it after getting permission to sing it her way. 

"I added a new flavour to it," said Reeves. 

"When I finished singing it all the way through without a mistake and not stopping, the guys in the sound booth were applauding and hitting each other's hands and congratulating each other saying, 'We got a hit, we got a hit.'"

But the engineer looked up and said the system wasn't recording. So she had to record it again, but said the second take had a bit more spirit.

"It was really a good thing," she said.

It turned out to be a great thing as Dancing In The Street peaked at No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard in 1964, and it had an enduring legacy ever since with many artists covering it over the decades.