Bobby Freeman

Do You Want to Dance?

Composed by Bobby Freeman

Song Review by

Bobby Freeman's "Do You Want to Dance" has been performed in a variety of different styles (and listed under several slightly different titles) since 1958, thus proving that a great song can be interpreted many ways. Freeman was a teenager when he wrote and recorded "Do You Want to Dance," which hit the pop and R&B Top Ten in 1958. "Do you want to dance?" is perhaps the basic boy-meets-girl question of romance, and Freeman elaborated on it in his lyrics while setting his tune to a gentle Latin beat. The arrangement was spare, with echoed bongos at the start, a piano leading the rhythm section, and a brief guitar break. Freeman's tenor vocal made the lyrics seem nearly improvised, but the tune was irresistible. In 1964, Del Shannon covered it for a chart entry, but the first significant recasting of the song came with the Beach Boys' Top 20 1965 version, which began the name changes by retitling it, "Do You Wanna Dance?" Brian Wilson, the group's resident songwriter, may not have felt up to writing another hit for them following his December 1964 nervous breakdown, and when the Beach Boys went into the studio in January 1965 to record a new single, for the first time they cut a cover song for an A-side 45. Also new was the use of Dennis Wilson as lead singer; maybe the song was his idea. Anyway, "Do You Wanna Dance?" is a typical Brian Wilson production of the day, with a Phil Spector-like Wall of Sound that makes poor Bobby Freeman's spare original sound like the merest of demos and the usual oceans of Beach Boys harmonies on the choruses. Wilson realizes the potential excitement of the original, using the ascending scale of the bridge to build to the choruses. It's a masterful recording, and you'd hardly know it's the same song. Going in the opposite direction was the 1966 version of what was called "Do You Wanna Dance" released on the first album by the Mamas and the Papas, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears. The bongo was back in the introduction, though an acoustic guitar replaced Freeman's piano. Denny Doherty sang the opening lyrics calmly, leading into a string arrangement with the group's trademark airy harmonies carrying the rest of the track. In 1968, with the Mamas and the Papas broken up, their label, Dunhill, released the nearly three-year-old track as a single, giving the song its fourth pop chart showing. Reverting to the original the title, Jack Reno scored a Top 40 country hit with "Do You Want to Dance" in 1972. The same year, it underwent another drastic re-interpretation in the hands of Bette Midler, who kept the original form of "want," but added the question mark. Her "Do You Want to Dance?" was a lush ballad that became a showcase for her sensitive, fluttery, and mannered singing; it returned the song to the pop Top 20 and put it in the Top Ten of the easy listening charts. Freeman's original recording gained renewed exposure by being used in the 1973 film American Graffiti and appearing on the multi-platinum soundtrack album. Though not released as a single, John Lennon's cover of "Do You Want to Dance" (he, of course, got the title right) from his 1975 Rock 'n ' Roll album is notable for restoring some of the ramshackle feel of the original, despite the use of horns. It might have seemed that the only style the song hadn't been done in was punk rock, but the Ramones took care of that in 1977, putting "Do You Wanna Dance" (can't expect proper grammar from the Ramones, after all) on their Rocket to Russia album and releasing it as a single that made the charts. The Ramones seemed most familiar with the Beach Boys version, which they simplified, of course, stripping it to its basic chords and an unrelenting drum beat. It was exhilarating, but a far cry from Bobby Freeman. One can only hope he still has a least a piece of the publishing.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Do You Wanna Dance? 1958 Collectables 2:35
Grease and Other Golden Oldies 2001
Various Artists
Flashback Records / Rhino Flashback 2:36
100 Hits: Rock 'n' Roll Love Songs
Various Artists
100 Hits 2:33
No Image
Various Artists
Roulette Records 2:32
blue highlight denotes editor's pick