60s Music

The Music and Harmonies of the 5th Dimension

5th Dimension
Publicity photo of the music group The Fifth Dimension. (Source: Wikipedia)

 

Introduction of the 5th Dimension

The 5th Dimension are an American vocal group, formed in Los Angeles, California in 1966. They best-known for their songs “Aquarius” and “Let The Sunshine In” – anthems of the counterculture in the late 1960s. The most famous lineup consisted of Billy Davis, Jr., Marilyn Coco, Lamonte McLemore, Florence LaRue and Ron Townson. The band’s first hit single was their cover of a John Phillips number “Go Where You Wanna Go,” which broke into the Top 20 in 1967; later that year another single “Up, Up and Away” put the band more on the spotlight. Their reputation was ultimately cemented with the a medley of two songs “Aquarius” and “Let The Sunshine In.” Their fame didn’t last long though, as disco soon began to overtake in the 1970s. In the mid-1970s the band drifted apart, with Davis and McCoo (who have been married since 1969) began to explore other projects outside the group. The original lineup got together for a 1990-1991 reunion tour. Now with much of the original quintet have departed and parading with new members, the 5th Dimension still performs especially for the nostalgia circuit.

 

The band’s early years

The 5th Dimension is an American pop, R&B, soul and jazz music vocal group They are famed for their unique, five-part layered harmonies that are especially heard in their best-known songs “Aquarius” and “Let The Sunshine In” – anthems of the counterculture in the late 1960s.

The 5th Dimension were formed in Los Angeles, California in 1966. Lamonte McLemore and ex-beauty pageant winner Marilyn McCoo formed a band with two other friends which they called the Hi-Fis. They began to sing at local clubs. McLemore and McCoo began to look for other people for their new group. One of the people they found was Florence LaRue, another former beauty pageant contestant; LaRue had also been musically trained. McLemore also recruited a new member in the person of his childhood friend Ron Townson, who had also sang in choirs and gospel groups. McLemore and Townson both hailed from St. Louis, Missouri, but came to Los Angeles independently of one another. McLemore also persuaded his cousin Billy Davis Jr., to join a new band, to which Davis willingly agreed.

When McLemore, McCoo, LaRue, Townson and Davis got together, they performed initially as the Versatiles. They recorded a demo tape to be sent to Motown, but the label rejected the demo. But another opportunity came their way. Then the group released a one-off single on Bronco label.

 

Becoming the 5th Dimension

Singer-songwriter-turned-producer Johnny Rivers had just established a new label Soul City. Along the way, he discovered the band and signed them in 1966 on the condition that they revamp their image. The band agreed, and thus The 5th Dimension was born. Their first single on Soul City “I’ll Be Lovin’ Your Forever” flopped. The follow up was their rendition of the Mamas and the Papas’ “Go Where You Wanna Go” became their first charting single, and a Top 20 pop hit at that (#16 in 1967).

Speaking of the Mamas and the Papas, Rivers was set to mold the band as the “black” answer to the most popular vocal group at that time.

 

 

The 5th Dimension’s peak years

Fledgling songwriter Jimmy Webb (who wrote the epic hit “MacArthur Park” wrote the group’s first big hit “Up, Up and Away” which was a top ten smash on both pop and adult contemporary singles charts in 1967. An ode to a “beautiful balloon” the hit single also won the group their first Grammys – for Song of the Year and for Record of the Yar in 1968.

It also pushed the group’s first album, also titled Up, Up and Away to the higher position of the Billboard 200 at #8. The LP also peaked at #10 on the R&B singles chart.

The 5th Dimension released their second album The Magic Garden in 1967 which featured two Top 40 hits “Paper Cup” and “Carpet Man,” both written by Webb. None of them quite matched the success of “Up, Up and Away.”

 

The group’s third LP Stoned Soul Picnic (1968) showed off more of the group’s diversity. It also featured songs written by a budding songwriter Laura Nyro. The album’s title track gave the 5th Dimension their second Top 10 pop hit at #3 (#2 R&B). Antother song written by Nyro, “Sweet Blindness” was a Top 20 hit, and “California Soul” (written by Nickolas Ackford and Valerie Simpson) was a Top 40 smash.

 

 

“Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” — the defining song for the group and for the counter-culture period

The group’s success peaked in 1969 when the group saw a Broadway production of Hair, and they immediately contributed a medley composed of two songs from the play. The medley was “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” whose original writers were Galt MacDermot, James Redo and Gerome Ragni. When it was released on Soul City in 1969, it grew to be a monster hit and became the pop song the defined the counterculture era of the late 1960s. It went to #1 on both Billboard pop and adult contemporary singles chart, and #6 on the R&B singles chart that year. The song also won the group their third Grammy award for Record of the Year in 1970.

The single’s LP The Age of Aquarius went gold and almost topped both the Billboard 200 and R&B albums charts. The album’s third single “Wedding Bell Blues” also went to #1 on both pop and R&B singles charts in 1969. The song might probably have to do with Davis and McCoo, who got married that year. LaRue, on the other hand, got hitched to their own manager Marc Gordon.

 

 

Still making some hits

Soul City was sold to Bell label in 1970, and their fifth album Portrait was their first Bell LP. It spawned several minor hits except fot the Bacharach-David penned “One Less Bell to Answer,” which went to #2 pop, #1 adult contemporary and #4 R&B. In 1972 they achieved other few memorable hits such as “(Last Night) I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All” (#8 pop, #2 adult contemporary), and “If I Could Reach You” (#10 pop, #1 adult contemporary). They also scored several Top 40 pop smashes such as “Love’s Lines, Angles and Rhymes,” “Never My Love,” “Together Let’s Find Love,” and “Living Together, Growing Together.”

 

Falling apart

The band’s sound moved obviously farther from their trippy late 60s sound and settled into a soft pop territory. Their hits had become minor, and album sales began to taper. It is seen from many of their later records that their vocal performances tended to focus on soloists than the harmonies that they used to do before, which was evidenced by as “(Last Night) I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All” and “If I Could Reach You,” which were both sung by McCoo.

The 5th Dimension had begun to fall apart. In 1975, the original lineup ended when the married couple Davis and McCoo left the group to pursue collborative and individual projects. Together they scored a huge hit with “You Don’t Have to Be a Star” in 1976.

 

Later reincarnations of the 5th Dimension

The remaining members tried to carry on. One time in 1976 they released a single called “Love Hangover,” which was sung by LaRue. Unfortunately, Motown later released Diana Ross’ version of the song which became a big hit. The group themselves signed with Motown and released a couple of LP’s there.

The original 5th Dimension lineup reunited in 1990 and 1991 to do a tour. Townson attempted briefly to pursue a solo career, but returned to the group. Since then the 5th Dimension was consigned to the oldies circuit. The group welcomed new members such as Phyllis Battle (who was with the group from 1988 to 2002) and Greg Walker, who recorded with the group for their 1995 album In the House.

Townson died in 2001 due to diabetes-related kidney failure, and he was replaced by Willie Williams. McLemore retire from the group in 2006, while McCoo and Davis to tour seperately from the group.

The 5th Dimension is still stouring, but now called “The 5th Dimension featuring Florence LaRue,” with LaRue, Williams and newer members Leonard Tucker, Patrice Morris, and Floyd Smith.

As a recognition of their contributions to the music industry the 5th Dimension was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002.

 

 

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