556. ‘Dancing in the Street’, by David Bowie & Mick Jagger

At the end of my last post I promised you an all-star duet at #1. Well, has there ever been a more all-star duet atop the charts than this? It’s only David Bowie and Mick Jagger…

Dancing in the Street, by David Bowie (his 5th and final #1) & Mick Jagger (his only solo #1)

4 weeks, from 1st – 29th September 1985

I also promised that this wouldn’t be underwhelming. And this record may be many things, but underwhelming it is not. It starts with a giant whistle, the sort shepherds use to summon their dogs from three fields away, and a rollcall of cities and continents. OK! Toky-oh…! Jagger bellows. South Ameriiiiicaaaa…! Bowie replies.

It sets the tone for the entire song. Every dial here is set to eleven: the horns, the handclaps, the riff… But nothing more so than its two stars. This should have been listed as David Bowie Vs Mick Jagger, as they spend the entire three and a half minutes trying to outdo one another for sheer ridiculousness. It makes for a tremendously fun listen.

Bowie does his best, sounding all white soul on the they’ll be swinging, swaying, records playing line, and doing his best Noel Coward with on the streets of Brazil…  But Bowie, even David Bowie, cannot compete with Mick Jagger when he’s in the mood. The way he soars through just as long as you are there…, the way he makes Philadelphia PA sound like a sexual position, and the piece de resistance: his ridiculously aggressive Back! In! The! USSR! It’s good to hear his voice again, sixteen years on from the Stones’ last chart-topper. It’s great to hear him on such fine form.

The video is even more extra. The two middle aged men (Jagger was forty-two, Bowie thirty-eight) prance and flounce around like the campest of pantomime dames. At one point they appear on the verge of a proper smoochy kiss. Again Bowie tries his best, again he is blown away by the force of nature that is Sir Michael of Jagger. The boy was unplayable, as they say on Match of the Day. On YouTube some wag has made a music-less version of the video, and it is as hilarious/terrifying as you’d imagine. It is a completely random, and yet somehow perfect, way for both of these stars to bow out from the top of the charts. And this curio, this borderline novelty single, ends up being one of the biggest hits either man ever had…

But why? I hear you asking. Why now? Why ‘Dancing in the Street?’, which was originally a #4 for Martha Reeves & the Vandellas in 1969. Well, why did most records make #1 in 1985…? For charity, of course. It was for Live Aid, and therefore for those affected by famine in Africa, like Band Aid and USA for Africa before it. The pair were originally meant to perform the song via video-link during the Live Aid concerts, but that would have involved one of them miming to a backing track. Neither was willing to do that, so they went to Abbey Road studios and recorded it instead.

In many way this is the template for how to do a charity record. Don’t bother writing some overblown twaddle about how we’re all God’s children, don’t bother getting everyone from Bobby Davro to Engelbert Humperdinck in the same room… Just get two genuine icons of popular music singing along to a well-loved classic, having the time of their lives. Sadly, very few future charity records will actually take this advice. This is a decent pop record, but I think it might actually be the pinnacle of its particular genre: the greatest charity single of all time…

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42 thoughts on “556. ‘Dancing in the Street’, by David Bowie & Mick Jagger

  1. For me…this is more Mick’s territory than Bowies… these old soul/R&B songs are right up Micks alley. Bowie was still using a little of his “Let’s Dance” voice.

  2. Yayyyyy to all of this, not least the last paragraph. I was rather surprised after Bowie died in 2016 to read a number of appreciations, comments on forums and so on, nearly all dismissing this as probably his worst single ever (well, perhaps excepting ‘The Laughing Gnome’). Far too many of his records sounded like he was trying to be so artistic, so experimental, so ahead of his time… and so boring. But this was sheer fun. Mick doubtless made him lighten up and stop taking himself so flippin’ seriously. It’s a cheery romp through a much-loved classic that doesn’t destroy it in the process, and the way they send themselves and each other up in the video is priceless. Proof indeed, as you say, that you CAN make a charity record, enjoy yourself, give your audience a broad grin, and make a cracker of a record for the dance floor as well. A bit of a laff that doesn’t rapidly wear off after the second listen. How many times can you listen to the average Comic Relief demolition job on something like ‘Help!’, or Cliff and the Young Ones taking the gypsy’s kiss out of ‘Livin’ Doll’, without wanting to drop a very large brick on it?

    • I think most of the time Bowie seemed so other-wordly, as if he were actually Ziggy Stardust, that seeing him do something so down to earth as a Motown charity cover might seem a bit disconcerting. And yes, watching him in the video you wonder if he himself wasn’t a bit unsure of how to pitch this. Luckily, Jagger was there to give a masterclass in, well, being Mick Jagger, and maybe took the pressure off him

  3. I got this idea from reading your posts and I am going to use it as a prompt for my Song Lyric Sunday challenge this weekend, July 24, 2022 – Feature a song by a group or an artist that surprisingly never reached #1 on the charts – Idea taken from UK #1s blog, The UK Number Ones Blog

    • Glad to have inspired your prompt! And thanks for the shout-out too. In UK chart terms, the band that always get mentioned first when talking about not having a number one single are The Who. The most famous #2 song is probably ‘Penny Lane’ / ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’

      • Over here, Creedence Clearwater Revival holds a record here for the most #2s without a #1. ‘Proud Mary’ was kept from being a #1 by ‘Everyday People’ Sly and the Family Stone and ‘Dizzy’ Tommy Roe. ‘Bad Moon Rising’ by ‘Love Theme From Romeo & Juliet’ Henry Mancini and His Orchestra. ‘Green River’ by ‘Sugar, Sugar’ The Archies. Double A-side single ‘Travelin’ Band’ / ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain’ by ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ Simon & Garfunkel. Double A-side single ‘Lookin’ Out My Back Door’ / ‘Long As I Can See The Light’ by ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ Diana Ross.

      • That’s pretty unlucky…. I think the UK record for #2s without a #1 is a 90s dance act called Sash. Some might say it’s for the best they never made the top….

  4. Frankly, I was going to say the fact they recorded this for Live Aid was the best thing about it. But now that I listened to it again, it’s not a terrible rendition. That video is kind of hilarious. There are moments when Messrs. Jagger and Bowie get very close hey could almost kiss each other on their mouths! 🙂

  5. This version always seems to be an easy target for jokes considering my first exposure to the Bowie/Jagger “Dancing In The Street” was when the video played on Family Guy when Peter made a point of it being the gayest music video ever made. But all in all, it’s a fun cover though not as great as the Martha & The Vandellas original from 1964 which in the US is the biggest version peaking at #2 while Bowie & Jagger’s version peaked at #7. The original is legitimately awesome with the classic ‘60s Motown production that this version was obviously never going to emulate. It almost feels like Bowie and Jagger know this isn’t one of their strongest songs but have a lot of fun with it regardless.

    • Yes, I think that’s what sells this. The fact that they’re having a ball, not taking themselves too seriously, is fun. Though I think Mick is ever so slightly more into it than David…

  6. Agree about the format being a good one, 2 stars together, and I bought this one, a decent version of a classic Martha & Vandellas original. I’d still rather hear Martha though, and one of the problems with the Wikipedia way of listing historical chart positions is the year is sometimes not correct for peak chart positions: Dancing In The Street hit 4 in the UK n 1969 when Bowie arrived, and Honky Tonk Women topped the chart. My fave charity records though are Big Fun & Sonia’s Youve Got A Friend (new song sounding like a 1969 Junior Walker classic) and Bananarama & French & Saunders & Kathy Burke having a right old laugh on Help! They did 2 versions – just the nana’s in full on Stock Aitken Waterman heyday doing a cover of The Beatles classic, and the other side you got the funny version (see video for 2 sets of Bananarama singers in the studio with SAW, supposedly) 🙂 enjoy the holiday you missed the heatwave!

    • Ah, thanks for pointing that out – I will change it on the post. I’d never suggest that this was better than the original… but then its job isn’t to be ‘better’, just to entertain and raise money. My favourite charity record… It’s hard to see past this or Band Aid, or any of LadBaby’s classics (joking!!) At the time I remember enjoying the all-star version of ‘Perfect Day’ for Children in Need. Haven’t listened to it in twenty odd years, though, so no idea if it holds up… And thanks! HK in summer is just one constant heatwave, so I’m quite happy to have missed the UK version!

  7. I remember when this came out. I was in college and it was mildly interesting, just because of the two icons. Some time later, I remember the scandalous reports of the suggestion that the two men were in bed together. 😆

  8. Pingback: Recap: #541 – #570 | The UK Number Ones Blog

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