Inspiration: Celebrating 40 Years Of Terrapin Station – ‘Dancin’ In The Streets’
In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the release of the landmark Grateful Dead album Terrapin Station, this week JamBase presents the Inspiration: Celebrating 40 Years Of Terrapin Station video series featuring covers of each of the songs originally issued on July 27, 1977. JamBase hosted a High Sierra Music Festival Terrapin Station 40th Anniversary Playshop featuring a band made up of guitarists Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz and Stu Allen, bassist Murph Murphy, keyboardist Jordan Feinstein and drummer Ezra Lipp. Footage of the collective’s cover of the album’s second song “Dancin’ In The Streets,” featuring vocalist Paige Clem, as well as background on the writing and recording of the song follows below.
On July 3, 1966 the Grateful Dead covered the Motown hit “Dancing In The Street” for the first time in front of a live audience. Appearing in setlists regularly through 1970, the Marvin Gaye/William Stevenson/Ivy Jo Hunter-credited composition was played just once the following year, during the band’s December 31, 1971 concert.
Resurrected in 1976 as part of their “Disco Dead” era, the ever-evolving arrangement of the Bob Weir-led cover returned to the band’s live rotation throughout the rest of the decade. By the mid-1980s despite more than 100 performances, “Dancin’ In The Streets” had become a rarity at their shows. Weir last fronted the Dead on the tune that often served as a funky improvisational launching pad on April 6, 1987 at the Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Titled “Dancin’ In The Streets” by the Dead on Terrapin Station, the tracklisting on the 1977 album’s original back cover wrongly swapped “Samson And Delilah” with the record’s lone other cover song. Recorded by numerous musicians, in 2006 the original 1964 hit recording by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas was entered into the Library Of Congress’ National Recording Registry.
According to Stevenson, who not only co-wrote the song but produced the Martha & The Vandellas hit, on a hot summer day while he and Gaye were driving through Detroit they saw children playing together in the water coming from a fire hydrant. The diverse group of kids inspired Stevenson’s lyrics which shaped the track into both a party tune and a Civil Rights Era anthem.
“Kids have no color,” Stevenson told The New Yorker. “They would play out there as if they were brothers and sisters of every creed. So the song comes from that idea.”
Gaye conceived the song as a slow ballad but was prompted by Reeves’ to change to an upbeat rhythm. Gaye can be heard playing drums on the 1964 recording, which also features Hunter banging a crowbar on the studio floor while augmenting his co-writer’s beat.
Shortly after the Grateful Dead’s debut performance at the Fillmore in San Francisco, “Dancing in the Street” was issued as a single on The Mamas & The Papas’ 1966 self-titled sophomore LP. Prior to that, both The Kinks and The Everly Brothers had released versions of “Dancing In The Street” on their respective 1965 albums Kinda Kinks and Rock’n Soul. The song has also been covered by David Bowie & Mick Jagger, Van Halen, Dusty Springfield, Phil Collins, Carpenters and many others.
Selected by Arista Records head Clive Davis as the first single off Terrapin Station, producer Keith Olsen added uncredited horns to the “Dancin’ In The Streets” radio edit. Subsequent digital releases of Terrapin Station swapped the original LP version with the horn-aided single mix. The track’s disco-groove was propelled by the Rhythm Devils’ combination of a four-on-the-floor drum pattern and a rumbling bongo beat, while vocals were shared by Weir and Donna Jean Godchaux. Davis and Olsen were unable to achieve the radio success they hoped for from the Dead’s “Dancin’ In The Streets” single, which failed to make a dent on the charts.
Watch the previously shared Inspiration: Celebrating 40 Years Of Terrapin Station cover of “Estimated Prophet” here: