Ready for a Brand New Beat
How "Dancing in the Street" Became the Anthem for a Changing America
By Mark Kurlansky
(Riverhead Books, Hardcover, 9781594487224, 288pp.)
Publication Date: July 11, 2013
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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 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.
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.
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