The song was written by shapers of the Mowton sound Marvin Gaye, William”Mickey” Stevenson, and Ivy Jo Hunter. Martha and the Vandellas recorded it on the Gordy label , and in 1964 it went to #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and #4 in the U.K. It was released on their 15 album titled Dance Party. “Dancing in the Street” was preserved by the Library of Congress in the National Recording Registry. The song took on double meanings during those turbulent 60s, as it was just a simple “let’s get up and dance” song as well as a civil rights anthem with a call to protest. For example, H.Rap Brown would play the song while organizing demonstrations.
On the track were Martha Reeves (lead vocals) with background vocals by Betty Kelly, Rosalind Ashford, Williams “Mickey” Stevenson, and Ivy Jo Hunger. Instrumentation was provided by the fabulous Motown Funk Brothers, which in this case were Marvin Gaye (drums); James Jamerson (bass guitar); Jack Ashford and Ivy Jo Hunter (percussion); Henry Cosby and Thomas “Beans” Bowles (sax); Russ Conway and Herbert Williams (trumpet); Paul Riser and George Bohannon (trombone); and Robert White, Eddie “Chank” Willis, and Joe Messina (guitar).
The song has been covered by numerous artists, including The Mamas & The Papas, Van Halen, “David Bowie and Mick Jagger (duet), The Kinks, The Everly Brothers, The Graeful Dead, and Black Oak Arkansas, among others.