Monday, November 5, 2007
Platters That Matter: Dancing in the Streets
Was Motown Soul? Sho 'nuff it was!!!! Motown was the embodiment of Black economic power. Hitsville U.S.A. was built on the sweat and tears of Black Detroit. Yet somewhere down the line Motown came to signify the selling out of Black culture. No matter that Motown's charts storming hits were written, played, sang and produced by all Black talent, no matter it was build on Black capital, no matter it was the embodiment of the Black civil rights movement at the time, Motown came to signify "too White" over the years. Memphis, with its integrated Soul these days stands as the affirmation of Black culture, real down home Funk. It's the world turned upside down. If there ever was a Black economical, cultural and political force in the record biz, it was Motown! The embodiment of that economical power, of that cultural significance or that political force weren't the late sixties, early seventies albums either. No, what Motown was is most perfectly reflected in one single and one single only, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Streets".
Dancing in the Streets was penned by William "Mickey " Stevenson and the late Marvin Gaye. Released in the not summer of '64 it shot up the charts all the way to #2 on the American Billboard pop chart. What sounded as a pop dance record became one of the most memorable and important Soul singles of Soul's golden age. From that first thundering drum beat, to the raving horns, through James Jamerson's plucking base, through it's jerking beat, it's uninhibited joy, through the nations airwaves and jukeboxes, "Dancing in the Street" was the sound of liberation, of protest, riots and freedom, it was the sound of segregation crumbling down. "Dancing in the Streets" was one of those records that transcended it's lyrics and soared to higher grounds. The record spoke out to the civil rights marchers, picketing for equality, it spoke out to the flower children, loving freedom, it spoke out to every teenager in the land, just wanting to dance.
"Dancing in the Streets" fitted perfectly in that tradition of Black music that said one thing but signified something else. From way back to the plantations Black Americans had learned to communicate in song, to cloud and mystify their message for their White slave owners. Gospel was filled with double meanings and so would Soul. The difference was that Soul had a wild violent fire that fitted the young protest generation better. Although performer Martha Reeves insists its a party song, author Marvin Gaye might have had something else in mind. To him Martha Reeves & the Vandellas captured a spirit that felt political to him. Black activist H. Rap Brown tapped into to that, playing the song in political rallies. Soon the song would be the soundtrack to the Watts riots in '65, to the freedom marches of Martin Luther King, to the kids crossing the lines of segregation at the dances, to the flower children protesting Vietnam. Dancing cut through the barrier of race, unifying all in protest.