‘Do You Want To Dance’

Last week, the Texas Gal and I were watching the reality show So You Think You Can Dance, which is – as I mentioned about a year-and-a-half ago – one of our favorite television shows. (For those unfamiliar with the show, as I said then, it’s basically American Idol for dancers.) The audition tour was underway, visiting Atlanta, and a young lady named Audrey Case took the stage.

The music started:  bongo drums (I think) and then a woman’s voice crooning, “Do you want to dance,” and the sorting mechanism in my brain kicked in. I thought of the recently departed Donna Summer. Nope. And then Bette Midler’s name popped up, and I had faint memories that she’d released “Do You Want To Dance” as a single. I kept nodding as the audition went on, and immediately after the judges handed the young Ms. Case an airline ticket to Las Vegas and the next stage of the competition, I headed into the study and pulled Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles from the shelf.

And I saw that Bette Midler had indeed released “Do You Want To Dance” as a single in late 1972. Early in 1973, it went to No. 17.

The song has been around for a while. It was one of those that popped up occasionally as an oldie during my prime Top 40 years, and it probably got a bit more attention in the early 1970s when George Lucas selected the original version of the tune as one of the vintage records for the soundtrack of his 1973 movie, American Graffiti. That original version – far more sprightly than Midler’s 1972 cover version – came from Bobby Freeman, who also wrote the song and then saw his recording of it go to No. 5 in 1958.

There have been other covers besides Midler’s, of course. Whitburn lists five more that have hit the charts: Del Shannon (No. 43 in 1964), the Beach Boys (No. 12, 1965), the Mamas & the Papas (No. 76, 1968), the Love Society (No. 108, 1968) and the Ramones (No. 110, 1978). The website Second Hand Songs list a total of thirty-seven covers of the song, and that list includes more familiar names – Johnny Rivers, Kim Carnes, Cliff Richard, Dave Edmunds and others – and some names that are not so familiar, like Susan Wong, the Raimundos and most recently (in 2008), Energy. (I noted the presence on the list of a few Danish artists, like Jørgen Krabbenhøft and the Brødrene Olsen. I may have to do some digging, just because.)

One of the familiar names on the list – with a version that ranks a close second behind Midler’s as I sort out my favorite version of the song – is John Lennon, who added an island sound to the song when he recorded it for his 1975 album Rock ’N’ Roll. And that’s a good place to stop this morning.

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2 Responses to “‘Do You Want To Dance’”

  1. Paco Malo says:

    I had Bette’s first two albums, one of which contain this track, from her “before I quite drinking” years. And they were both superb; those early albums, and her ’72 tour, with backup singers “The Harlettes”, were as hot as any rock show of the era. And the guy I loathe most vehemently in all of ’70s and 80s pop music, Barry Manilow — get this — was her musical director on that tour. And it worked; it rocked the house. Both her straight and gay following had a night to remember forever.

    Her cover was “Do You Want to Dance” was the single that drew me in. And those first two albums, before she was a star, before she quit drinking and reinvented herself, stand as much under-appreciated pop crossover classics. Now, like Rod Stewart, she’s just another lounge singer. But she and I had our moments together, and I will always preach the merits of those first two albums.

  2. porky says:

    great, great song (Bette can do with it what she wants). There was an urban tale that Jerry Garcia played the guitar solo on Freeman’s version. Apparently not true. Shannon’s version just explodes with energy, the keyboard solo going up into the stratosphere. Love it.

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