Yesterday, I wrote about “Under Pressure”. Today’s close-up is going to be David Bowie and Mick Jagger’s version of Martha & The Vandella’s “Dancing in the Street”.
The original version of “Dancing in the Street” is one of the defining songs of Motown. And it’s also listed as #40 on Rolling Stones’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. While it originated as a party song and dance-single, it later took on greater meaning when many protesters cited the song as an anthem for civil rights.
What probably started off as a good idea, David Bowie and Mick Jagger decided to record a version of the song as a charity single for Live-Aid in 1985. Two of the greatest singers getting together for a charity single, and covering one of Motown’s greatest songs? What could possibly go wrong?
What could have been a great one -off single, turned into something completely different. (I’ll mention the infamous video later, don’t worry.) Even before the song actually begins, you know it’s going to be the musical equivalent of something like Denny’s Fried Cheese sandwich as Mick Jagger shouts, “Ok!” (followed by something incomprehensible) and Bowie adding, “South America!” Then there’s the horns. And then it’s pure 80’s dance-pop – leaving any shred of the original version’s gusto behind.
It’s not like either Bowie or Jagger didn’t know how to record a soul song. The Rolling Stones covered numerous soul singles before this (including a great version of “Just My Imagination”) and many of the songs on Exile on Main Street found the Stones dabbling in soul among other genres. And many of Jagger’s signature dances movies were ripped off soul-singers (most notably taking cues from James Brown). As for Bowie, he put his stamp on “plastic soul” with “Changes”, “Young Americans” & Golden Years”.
Throughout their career, both Jagger and Bowie took cues from musical genres that preceded them and reinvented them in their own image creating some of the best rock and roll in the process. This was probably their intention when they made “Dancing in the Street”. (I’m hoping.)
Without the video, the song would still be ridiculous. (Especially when Jagger ad-libs, “Back in the USSR!” ). But then there’s the video. Believe what you want to about Jagger & Bowie sleeping together, but there’s no denying the chemistry that they have in this video. (There’s a pretty long article about the “affair” between the two here.) Jagger’s outfit is pretty awful, and what’s up with Bowie wearing what appears to be a lab-coat?
Yet, all the same, as bad as the song and video are, I still find them both extremely hilarious. It makes me laugh every time, and I would definitely rank “Dancing in the Street” as one of the greatest videos ever. Perhaps that was their idea along.
Incidentally, when I was in New York City last year I saw someone with a shirt with Jagger’s face on it that said, “I fucked David Bowie”. I really wanted to get it.
Dancing in the Street: