Ready for a Brand New Beat: How ‘Dancing in the Street’ Became the Anthem for a Changing America

Mark Kurlansky. Riverhead, $27.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-59448-722-4
In 1964, Motown, a little record label from Detroit, grew into a voice for a generation, releasing, according to Kurlansky, “60 singles, of which 70% hit the Top 100 chart and 19 were #1 hits.” Kurlansky (Salt) deftly chronicles the story of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street, ”a Motown song that made the transition from the early to late 1960s—from hope and idealism to urban riots and the escalation of war in Vietnam. In meticulous detail, he tells the story of the song itself: Ivy Jo Hunter, Mickey Stevenson, and Marvin Gaye wrote a new track that Stevenson had promised to his wife, Kim Weston. Released in August 1964, “Dancing in the Street” climbed up the Billboard charts to reach the #2 spot by October. The song’s lyrics had different meanings for different audiences—many white listeners heard it as a party song, while many black listeners embraced it as a song of liberation and revolution. Enduringly popular, “Dancing in the Street” has been covered at least 35 times, by musicians from the Grateful Dead and Van Halen to Ramsey Lewis and Laura Nyro, and its opening riffs inspired the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” (July)
Reviewed on: 06/03/2013
Release date: 07/11/2013
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