For a song that’s over 50 years old, “Dancing In The Moonlight” is an enduringly popular dreamy tune that’s hard not to like.
It’s currently undergoing yet another revival with a cover by Jubel ft. NEIMY all over the UK’s cooler radio stations at the moment. And it’s a great version of the song too, with the hypnotic dreaminess meter turned right up to 11.
When I heard Jubel’s version for the first time a few weeks ago, I instantly thought back to the Toploader version of “Dancing In The Moonlight” which was a pretty sizeable hit for them in the UK 20-odd years ago.
I very much enjoyed Toploader’s version of “Dancing In The Moonlight” too, and vaguely remember being told it was a cover at the time, but I had no recollection of ever hearing the original and, I must admit, in the intervening 20 years it’s never been the number one item on my “to do” list, so I never did get round to tracking down the original.
At least I hadn’t until a couple of hours ago when, inspired by my most recent hearing of Jubel and NEIMY’s lovely version, I decided “Dancing In The Moonlight” was going to be the next song I’d write about.
In my defence, the reason I hadn’t heard the original was firstly because it was never a hit in the UK, and also it was a bit before my time too.
The original hit version was by King Harvest, who took “Dancing In The Moonlight” into the US Top 20 in 1972.
But I’m choosing my words carefully here. Although King Harvest had the original hit version, their version was not actually the original.
King Harvest keyboard player Sherman Kelly had written “Dancing In The Moonlight” back in 1968. At the time he was in his previous band, Boffalongo, who released their version in 1970, but it sadly disappeared without troubling the record charts at the time.
Boffalongo’s original is a bit of a puzzle though. For a song that was written by a keyboard player, and has since gone on to become famous for its keyboard hooks, Boffalongo’s version is much more guitar driven than you might imagine. There are keyboards there, but they’re largely of the muted, background type, with guitars front and centre.
But a couple of years later, Sherman Kelly had moved on from Boffalongo and joined King Harvest who had a decent hit with their cover.
By now the keyboards had firmly moved out from the depths of the mix and become the song’s main feature.
This isn’t as surprising a development as it might sound. At the time of recording “Dancing In The Moonlight” King Harvest boasted no less than three keyboard players…only one of whom was Sherman Kelly.
A bit like those bands with three guitar players, all of whom thought they should be playing lead, I suspect the proposal to make “Dancing In The Moonlight” all about the keyboards went down well in a band which had more keyboard players than some bands have members.
That’s when “Dancing In The Moonlight” really became the song we recognise today.
You can judge for yourself as I’ve linked to all the versions below, but Toploader’s version was just that little bit more polished and just slightly more joyful in spirit than King Harvest’s version.
It was immensely popular in the UK, going platinum in 2000, but Toploader’s version of “Dancing In The Moonlight” didn’t trouble the US charts in the slightest…the mirror image of King Harvest’s version which reached Number 13 in the Billboard charts, but which was completely unknown in the UK.
That’s why if you’re based in the UK, you probably think Jubel and NEIMY covered a 20 year-old song, and if you’re in the US, you probably think they covered a 50 year-old song.
Never mind two countries separated by a common language. In the matter of “Dancing In The Moonlight” the UK and the US are two countries separated by different Top 40 charts…
Sherman Kelly wrote “Dancing In The Moonlight” as a reaction to a difficult situation he found himself in. He got through it by imagining himself in a brighter, happier, carefree place and later turned that feeling into a song.
And if you want a brighter, happier and more carefree spirit, I think it’s fair to say “Dancing In The Moonlight” delivers exactly that…with an added touch of wistfulness.
Dancing in the moonlight
Everybody’s feeling warm and bright
It’s such a fine and natural sight
Everybody’s dancing in the moonlight
While I’ve never been to one of these myself, I always imagine “Dancing In The Moonlight” is the perfect song to play quietly at about 2am on the rooftop of a New York apartment block after a party…
There’s just a handful of couples left, dotted out across the rooftop. Each couple disappears into their own little world, holding each other close and swaying gently to the music as the moon shines down from the clear summer skies.
While physically they’re on a rooftop in one of the world’s busiest cities, in their minds they could be anywhere as all they need to be happy is the person they’re pressed close against at that moment.
It’s a picture-perfect romantic ending to a lovely evening.
We like our fun and we never fight
You can’t dance and stay up-tight
It’s a supernatural delight
Everybody was dancing in the moonlight
Sherman Kelly thought dancing was the cure for being up-tight.
With the greatest of respect to him, I’d venture that it’s impossible to listen to the song he wrote and remain up-tight either.
“Dancing In The Moonlight” is soothing and joyful at the same time. If you’re having a bad day, it’ll put you right in no time. If you’re having a good day, it’ll make it a better day. And if you’re holding someone you love close, it’ll make you love them more.
There’s something about the song that, even before Jubel and NEIMY got involved with it, gives “Dancing In The Moonlight” a very hypnotic quality.
But they really go for it. There’s something in NEIMY’s delivery that’s like having a hypnotherapist whisper directly into your subconscious and instantly make the world feel like a better place. It’s a delicious version, and a real cut above the average “let’s get a new artist to cover an old classic” record company strategy.
The wonderful thing about “Dancing In The Moonlight” is that, for a relatively simple song, covered in mostly very similar ways, each version is very much its own tune, with a different feeling and meaning.
Boffalongo’s version has a jazz fusion sort of feel…you could imagine it being played by the weary house band in a dingy basement club while the slightly disreputable owner worked out how he was going to attract the romantic attention of the good-looking girl who’d just walked in.
King Harvest’s version is a more mainstream performance. It’s a bit like the whole Boffalongo experience had been run through the Hollywood censor machine and the actors now both had to keep one foot on the floor in the bedroom scenes to avoid outraging public morals. They’ve excised the sleaziness in the interests of getting a PG certificate.
Toploader’s version is a joyful celebration of life, but with a restrained British “we’re having a good time, but we’re not going to make too much noise in case we wake up the neighbours” sort of vibe.
And Jubel and NEIMY cap it off with a wonderful hippy-trippy version that takes you on a magic carpet ride to a land far away where eternal happiness awaits.
Take your pick…they’re all great versions, depending on what mood you’re in.
While Toploader’s version is my favourite so far, Jubel and NEIMY are coming up fast on the rails, so I reserve the right to change my opinion on this in a few months’ time.
For now, however, here’s Toploader’s version of Sherman Kelly’s song, “Dancing In The Moonlight”. Keep scrolling for all the other versions in case you’re in a different mood than I am. They’re all wonderful…
If you’ve read this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/3Fzlg5r1IjhLk2qRw667od
So, in chronological order, here’s the original from Boffalongo…
Followed by King Harvest’s version…
Chronologically, Toploader’s version comes next, but that’s already linked to at the end of the article above, so we move on to the currently-fashionable, and extremely good version by Jubel ft. NEIMY…enjoy!