When the Mamas and the Papas asked “Do You Wanna Dance,” they were by no means the first to offer the invitation. Everyone from Del Shannon to the Beach Boys had got there before them; everyone from John Lennon to the Ramones would record the song later. But the quartet’s version of the pop staple became their penultimate Hot 100 chart entry on November 23, 1968, more than two and a half years after they released it on their debut album.
The first artist to invite us to the dancefloor with this feelgood tune was the young man who wrote it, San Francisco-born Bobby Freeman. His original for the Josie label, more formally spelt “Do You Want To Dance,” was in the charts before he was even quite 18 years old, debuting in May 1958 on its way to a No.5 US peak.
Freeman’s version went on to feature on the soundtrack of such films as the rock’n’roll revival romp American Graffiti in 1973, Big Wednesday (1978) and Rock’n’Roll High School a year later. By then, several other notable artists had taken a swing at it.
The UK’s most prolific hitmaker, Cliff Richard, recorded “Do You Want To Dance” and, as a double A-side with the ballad “I’m Looking Out The Window,” took it to No.2 in 1962. Back across the Atlantic, the song rose again when Del Shannon took it to No.43 in 1964; that same year, the Four Seasons cut it for their Dawn (Go Away) album.
Then came the Beach Boys’ rendition, styled as “Wanna” rather than “Want To” and released in the US in February 1965, just ahead of their Today! album. It climbed to No.12 and has the distinction of being the group’s most successful single with lead vocals by Dennis Wilson. Other stars to tackle “Do You Wanna Dance” in the 60s included Sonny & Cher (under the guise of Caesar & Cleo), Johnny Rivers and We Five.
The Mamas and the Papas included their interpretation on their debut album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, which also featured such covers as Lennon & McCartney‘s “I Call Your Name,” Leiber & Stoller’s “Spanish Harlem” and Billy Page’s “The ‘In’ Crowd,” best known by Dobie Gray. But the four-piece harmony group had other singles, and other priorities, at the time, and “Do You Wanna Dance” didn’t become a 45 until after their initial split in 1968, when, as something of an afterthought, it climbed only to No.76.
The song resurfaced yet again, now back in its original title, late in 1972 when it became Bette Midler’s first US chart single, climbing to No.17. Lennon, no less, covered it for his 1974 album Rock’n’Roll; Marc Bolan and T. Rex’s version was included as a bonus track on a mid-1990s reissue of their Bolan’s Zip Gun album of 1975 and the Ramones did it for 1977’s Rocket To Russia.
Interpretations of “Do You Wanna Dance” have kept on appearing with incredible regularity, in the 1980s by such names as Jan & Dean and Dave Edmunds; Peter Andre on his debut album in 1993, Swedish star Andreas Johnson in 2008, Juliana Hatfield in 2012, and so on. The dancefloor energy inspired by Bobby Freeman seems to be inexhaustible.
The Mamas and the Papas’ version of “Do You Wanna Dance” is on the album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, which can be bought here.
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