Ready For a Brand New Beat: How

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

by Mark Kurlansky
     
 

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Can a song change a nation? In 1964, Marvin Gaye, record producer William “Mickey” Stevenson, and Motown songwriter Ivy Jo Hunter wrote “Dancing in the Street.” The song was recorded at Motown’s Hitsville USA Studio by Martha and the Vandellas, with lead singer Martha Reeves arranging her own vocals. Released on July 31, the song was

Overview

Can a song change a nation? In 1964, Marvin Gaye, record producer William “Mickey” Stevenson, and Motown songwriter Ivy Jo Hunter wrote “Dancing in the Street.” The song was recorded at Motown’s Hitsville USA Studio by Martha and the Vandellas, with lead singer Martha Reeves arranging her own vocals. Released on July 31, the song was supposed to be an upbeat dance recording—a precursor to disco, and a song about the joyousness of dance. But events overtook it, and the song became one of the icons of American pop culture.

The Beatles had landed in the U.S. in early 1964. By the summer, the sixties were in full swing. The summer of 1964 was the Mississippi Freedom Summer, the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, the beginning of the Vietnam War, the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and the lead-up to a dramatic election. As the country grew more radicalized in those few months, “Dancing in the Street” gained currency as an activist anthem. The song took on new meanings, multiple meanings, for many different groups that were all changing as the country changed.

Told by the writer who is legendary for finding the big story in unlikely places, Ready for a Brand New Beat chronicles that extraordinary summer of 1964 and showcases the momentous role that a simple song about dancing played in history.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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)
From the Publisher
Praise for Ready for a Brand New Beat
 
“Historians and music lovers alike will be grateful for Mr. Kurlansky’s thorough appreciation of this iconic song.” —The Wall Street Journal
 
“Mr. Kurlansky has come up with a book that will make you hum its theme song.” —The New York Times
 
“A fun and informative read about a cool song.” —The Cleveland Plain Dealer
 
“Comprehensive…effective…a strong case for why ‘Dancing in the Street’ would be widely interpreted as a call to action.” —The New Yorker
 
Praise for Mark Kurlansky

"Every once in a while a writer of particular skill takes a fresh, seemingly improbable idea and turns out a book of pure delight." -- David McCullough

“Fascinating stuff . . . [Kurlansky] has a keen eye for odd facts and natural detail.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Kurlansky continues to prove himself remarkably adept at taking a most unlikely candidate and telling its tale with epic grandeur.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Brilliant… Journalistic skills might be part of a writer’s survival kit, but they infrequently prove to be the foundation for literary success, as they have here. …. Kurlansky has a wonderful ear for the syntax and rhythm of the vernacular… For all the seriousness of Kurlansky’s cultural entanglements, it is nevertheless a delight to experience his sophisticated sense of play and, at times, his outright wicked sense of humor.” —The New York Times Book Review
 

Praise for Ready for a Brand New Beat
 
“Historians and music lovers alike will be grateful for Mr. Kurlansky’s thorough appreciation of this iconic song.” —The Wall Street Journal
 
“Mr. Kurlansky has come up with a book that will make you hum its theme song.” —The New York Times
 
“A fun and informative read about a cool song.” —The Cleveland Plain Dealer
 
“Comprehensive…effective…a strong case for why ‘Dancing in the Street’ would be widely interpreted as a call to action.” —The New Yorker
 
Praise for Mark Kurlansky

"Every once in a while a writer of particular skill takes a fresh, seemingly improbable idea and turns out a book of pure delight." -- David McCullough

“Fascinating stuff . . . [Kurlansky] has a keen eye for odd facts and natural detail.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Kurlansky continues to prove himself remarkably adept at taking a most unlikely candidate and telling its tale with epic grandeur.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Brilliant… Journalistic skills might be part of a writer’s survival kit, but they infrequently prove to be the foundation for literary success, as they have here. …. Kurlansky has a wonderful ear for the syntax and rhythm of the vernacular… For all the seriousness of Kurlansky’s cultural entanglements, it is nevertheless a delight to experience his sophisticated sense of play and, at times, his outright wicked sense of humor.” —The New York Times Book Review

Library Journal
As written by Marvin Gaye, record producer William "Mickey" Stevenson, Motown songwriter Ivy Jo Hunter, and others and recorded by Martha and the Vandellas, "Dancing in the Street" had an infectiousness that really did make you want to dance. (I can sing every word.) But upon its release in July 1964, with Mississippi Freedom Summer, the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, and the Civil Rights Act in the forefront and escalation of the Vietnam War in the offing, it took on deeper meaning and became a true American icon. So argues Kurlansky, who can give real dimension to things like cod and salt and also wrote 1968: The Year That Rocked the World.
Kirkus Reviews
Fascinating but flawed, the latest from Kurlansky (Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man, 2012 etc.) suggests that not only was the Martha and the Vandellas' hit the anthem for a time of profound change, but a call to arms for rioting militants in its "invitation across the nation." The author is on solid ground when he keeps a tight focus on Motown, Berry Gordy and the hit machine the mogul established in Detroit along the lines of the city's automobile industry: "A bare frame of a street singer could go through the Motown plant and come out a Cadillac of a performer." He shows how Gordy got rich, his artists got famous, and his studio musicians and some of his songwriters got shafted. He explains how Motown's changes reflected a changing America, as dreams of integration shattered with the King assassination, the rise of Black Power and the rioting in the streets. "It was also suggested that the popularity of the song ‘Dancing in the Street' had encouraged people to take to the streets," writes Kurlansky in an oddly passive construction that proceeds to cite a "rumor" that the hit was banned from the airwaves. Plainly, change was in the air, and to overload this one hit with too much revolutionary significance in a 1964 that also gave the world "The Times They Are A-Changin" and "A Change Is Gonna Come" blurs cause and effect. And then there are all the nit-picky errors: that "(Michael) Bolton achieved stardom in the 1980s with his hard rock band Black Jack [sic]," that the sophisticated, debonair Chuck Berry was "a wild-looking black man…who hopped around the stage madly," that Elvis Presley's "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" was "swing." Perhaps the book's biggest howler lies in the understatement that "many people were affected by the King murder." An ambitious thematic arc, but the devil's in the details.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101616260
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
07/11/2013
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
768,508
File size:
6 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Praise for Ready for a Brand New Beat
 
“Historians and music lovers alike will be grateful for Mr. Kurlansky’s thorough appreciation of this iconic song.” —The Wall Street Journal
 
“Mr. Kurlansky has come up with a book that will make you hum its theme song.” —The New York Times
 
“A fun and informative read about a cool song.” —The Cleveland Plain Dealer
 
“Comprehensive…effective…a strong case for why ‘Dancing in the Street’ would be widely interpreted as a call to action.” —The New Yorker
 
Praise for Mark Kurlansky

"Every once in a while a writer of particular skill takes a fresh, seemingly improbable idea and turns out a book of pure delight." — David McCullough

“Fascinating stuff . . . [Kurlansky] has a keen eye for odd facts and natural detail.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Kurlansky continues to prove himself remarkably adept at taking a most unlikely candidate and telling its tale with epic grandeur.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Brilliant… Journalistic skills might be part of a writer’s survival kit, but they infrequently prove to be the foundation for literary success, as they have here. …. Kurlansky has a wonderful ear for the syntax and rhythm of the vernacular… For all the seriousness of Kurlansky’s cultural entanglements, it is nevertheless a delight to experience his sophisticated sense of play and, at times, his outright wicked sense of humor.” —The New York Times Book Review
 

Meet the Author

Mark Kurlansky is the New York Times–bestselling author of twenty-four books, including Cod, Salt, 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, The Big Oyster, The Last Fish Tale, The Food of a Younger Land, The Eastern Stars, and Edible Stories. He lives in New York City.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
New York, NY
Date of Birth:
December 7, 1948
Place of Birth:
Hartford, CT
Education:
Butler University, B.A. in Theater, 1970

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