The Bowie/Jagger version was recorded to benefit the Live Aid charity and was shown on July 13, 1985 at the two Live Aid concerts – London’s Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia’s John F. Kennedy Stadium.
Originally, Bowie and Jagger intended to sing a duet by satellite link with Bowie in London and Jagger in Philadelphia. However, that was not technically possible with 1985 technology and the decision was made to record a single and video instead.
At Bob Geldof’s suggestion, the pair had rehearsed Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’, but as Geldof said in his autobiography, a night of clubbing “trying to outdo each other on the dance floor … gave them an idea”. They decided to perform ‘Dancing In The Street’, originally a hit for Martha And The Vandellas and one of the most beloved Motown songs of the Sixties.
It was also important to the Rolling Stones. Keith Richards believed that ‘Dancing In The Street’ had subconsciously inspired the Stones’ ‘Satisfaction’ riff. Jagger used a variant of one lyric line from ‘Dancing In The Street’ in the Stones’ ‘Street Fightin’ Man’.
Although it is true that the Bowie/Jagger version is weaker than the masterful original, it is still remarkable how much the Bowie/Jagger version is hated by the critics.
Truly a keg party song, it seems to have enjoyed some enduring popularity, at least in Britain, despite being recorded very quickly, virtually as a by-product of the video. By Bowie’s account, the basic song track and video were completed in thirteen hours. (Although Jagger afterwards over-dubbed the track with other musicians.)
The accompanying video is one of the few times that major rock stars have sent themselves up. When Jagger first appears in the video, he raises his hands to his mouth as though shouting when he sings “Calling out around the world”. That is, he announces at the start that the video is a joke, not to be taken seriously. (But it must also be said that the video is the only time David Bowie has lost his fashion sense.) The video also attracted some notoriety unrelated to the music.
Currently, a new Jagger biography revives the claim that Mick and David slept with each other in the Seventies. Angie Bowie made this claim on the Joan Rivers show talk show in 1990. Just one week later, she retracted it, telling Geraldo Rivera, “I certainly didn’t catch anyone in the act.” Then she implied it again and has occasionally revived it. I note that she is currently promoting her latest book. The ‘Dancing In The Street’ video may even be one of the reasons why the claim is taken seriously.
In the video, the two try to out-camp each other, with Bowie probably succeeding while Jagger is the funnier of the two. Bowie and Jagger thoroughly mock themselves, including almost pushing each other out of the way to jostle for the camera’s attention. The video was very, very cheaply made, giving it even more of a joke vibe.
It is surely the campest video ever made! My favorite moments include the utterly ridiculous way in which David sways while singing the line, ‘And the streets of Brazil’ (at 1:51) and the hilarious end of the video when they shake their butts at the camera.
This self-parody and fun was for a very serious cause. Despite the bleating of the critics, the single raised significant funds for the Live Aid charity set up to help victims of a devastating famine in Ethiopia. Estimates of the total number of people who died in that famine range as high as one million.
The Live Aid idea had originated the previous year when Bob Geldof had seen a distressing TV documentary on the situation in Ethiopia and arranged a charity single performed by (mostly) British stars. ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ sold twelve million copies and also inspired the twenty million selling USA For Africa’s ‘We Are The World’.
David Bowie was to have sung the first two lines of the song, but was away from London at the time of the recording sessions. He instead contributed a spoken message to accompany the instrumental B-side of the single.
Earlier that day, he had begun his set with ‘TVC15’ from Station To Station. A great song, but an odd choice as it was a deep album cut, unknown to nonfans. After excellent versions of ‘Rebel Rebel’ and ‘Modern Love’, his final song was ‘Heroes’, which he dedicated to his son and “the children of the world”. It was an incredible version, the best I have ever seen. (Clip at bottom of article.)
Originally, David was to have concluded with ‘Five Years’. However, before the event Geldof showed some of the Live Aid participants a short, powerful Canadian Broadcasting Corporation film on the famine, which left Bowie in tears. In his autobiography, Geldof related that Bowie insisted on dropping one of his songs to show the film.
Bowie told British radio:
“I thought it was a very important piece of footage … the point (of Live Aid) wasn’t to promote singles, the point was to bring awareness to the situation.”
Ultimately, the concerts raised over $200 million for famine relief.
And the video which left David in tears when he first saw it.