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The 5th Dimension: In the Spotlight

By

The 5th Dimension: In the Spotlight

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Formed:

1966 (Los Angeles, CA)

Styles:

Sunshine pop, Pop-soul, Pop

Claims to fame:

  • Broke down color lines between white and black pop
  • Their unique, layered five-part harmonies were a staple of AM radio
  • Were an acceptable and nonthreatening representation of '60s counterculture ideals
  • Along with the Mamas and the Papas, embodied California pop of the late '60s
  • Helped bring songwriters Jimmy Webb and Laura Nyro to national attention

Principal Members:

Billy Davis, Jr. (born June 26, 1938, St. Louis, MO): lead and backing vocals (baritone)
Marilyn McCoo (born September 30, 1943, Jersey City, NJ): lead and backing vocals (soprano)
Lamonte McLemore (born September 17, 1939, St. Louis, MO): vocals (bass)
Florence LaRue (born February 4, 1944, Philadelphia, PA): vocals (soprano)
Ron Townson (born Ronald Townson, January 20, 1933, St. Louis, MO; died August 2, 2001, Las Vegas, NV): vocals (tenor)

Early years:

The story of the 5th Dimension begins not with the famous couple who led the group, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr., but rather with member Lamonte McLemore, a St. Louis native who had migrated to Los Angeles in the early '60s and founded a jazz-pop vocal group called the Hi-Fi's with McCoo, a friend and student at UCLA. Though Ray Charles was impressed enough with the group to take them on tour as a backup group, they soon fractured, leaving McLemore and McCoo to form a group called the Versatiles with Marilyn's friend Florence LaRue, Lamonte's friend Ron Townson, and Townson's cousin, Billy Davis, Jr., a talented vocalist who had caught the interest of Motown.

Success:

Motown didn't care much for the group or their material, but Johnny Rivers, who'd recently become famous for his stints at the Whisky a Go-Go, took an interest in the quintet and signed them to his new Soul City label, grooming them as a black soul answer to the Mamas and the Papa's California pop. In fact, the song that made their name was their second single, "Go Where You Wanna Go," a John Phillips number which had flopped in attempting to establish his band; the 5th Dimension's cover was nevertheless a national hit. Producer Bones Howe stepped in and introduced the group to the songs of Jimmy Webb ("Up, Up and Away") and Laura Nyro ("Stoned Soul Picnic," "Wedding Bell Blues"), but it was their medley of two songs from the hippie musical Hair -- "Aquarius" and "Let the Sunshine in" -- that cemented their rep for all time.

Later years:

As disco and funk began to overtake soul music as the R&B sounds of choice, the Dimension's hits began to dwindle, leading McCoo and Davis, by now married, to leave the group for a solo career as a duo. (Their biggest hit was 1976's soft-rock smash "You Don't Have to Be a Star.") All the members save LaRue eventually drifted off, though the group soldiered on. McCoo, who also tried her hand at acting, still tours with her husband to this day; LaRue continues to tour with her version of the group; McLemore eventually quit in 2006 to become a photographer. Townson, who rejoined the group in 1980, died in 2001 from renal failure.

The 5th Dimension awards and honors:

  • GRAMMY Awards (1967, 1969)
  • Vocal Group Hall of Fame (2002)

The 5th Dimension facts and trivia:

  • Other members have included Eloise Laws, Danny Beard, Marjorie Barnes, Terri Bryant, Mic Bell, and Lou Courtney
  • The group often multitracked its five-part harmonies to achieve an even richer sound
  • "Aquarius" only happened because producer Howe found Hair's writer's wallet left behind in a cab
  • The band's three male members were all coincidentally from St. Louis, while its two females won the same L.A. beauty contest in successive years
  • The Hi-Fi's other two members went on to form a similar pop-soul group called The Friends of Distinction
  • McCoo was well-known in the early '80s for hosting the US musical countdown TV show Solid Gold
  • The group almost had a comeback hit with "Love Hangover" until Diana Ross' version was released simultaneously

The 5th Dimension hit singles and albums:

#1 hits
Pop:
  • "Aquarius / Let the Sunshine In" (1969)
  • "Wedding Bell Blues" (1969)
Adult Contemporary:
  • "Aquarius / Let the Sunshine In" (1969)
  • "Wedding Bell Blues" (1969)
  • "One Less Bell to Answer" (1970)
  • "Never My Love" (live) (1971)
  • "If I Could Reach You" (1972)
Top 10 hits
Pop:
  • "Up, Up and Away" (1967)
  • "Stoned Soul Picnic" (1968)
  • "One Less Bell to Answer" (1970)
  • "(Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep at All" (1972)
Adult Contemporary:
  • "Up, Up and Away" (1967)
  • "Stoned Soul Picnic" (1968)
  • "Workin' On a Groovy Thing" (1969)
  • "Blowing Away" (1969)
  • "The Girls' Song" (1970)
  • "Save the Country" (1970)
  • "Love's Lines, Angles and Rhymes" (1971)
  • "Together Let's Find Love" (live) (1971)
  • "(Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep at All" (1972)
  • "Living Together, Growing Together" (1973)
  • "Ashes to Ashes" (1973)
R&B:
  • "Stoned Soul Picnic" (1968)
  • "Aquarius / Let the Sunshine In" (1969)
  • "One Less Bell to Answer" (1970)
Top 10 albums
Pop:
  • Up, Up and Away (1967)
  • The Age of Aquarius (1969)
  • Greatest Hits (1970)
R&B:
  • Up, Up and Away (1967)
  • Stoned Soul Picnic (1968)
  • The Age of Aquarius (1969)
  • Greatest Hits (1970)
  • Portrait (1971)
  • Love's Lines, Angles And Rhymes (1971)
  • Greatest Hits on Earth (1972)
Other notable recordings: "Go Where You Wanna Go," "Too Poor to Die," "Another Day, Another Heartache," "Paper Cup," "Carpet Man," "The Magic Garden," "Sweet Blindness," "California Soul," "Skinny Man," "A Change Is Gonna Come / People Got to be Free," "The Declaration," "Puppet Man," "On the Beach (In the Summertime)," "Light Sings," "The River Witch," "What Do I Need to be Me," "Everything's Been Changed," "Flashback," "No Love In the Room," "Love Hangover"

Movie and TV appearances (movies in italics): A Spy is a Peeping Tom on Salary (1967), "The Red Skelton Hour" (1967), "The Steve Allen Comedy Hour" (1967), "The Ed Sullivan Show" (1968, 1969), "The Kraft Music Hall" (1968, 1969), "Francis Albert Sinatra Does His Thing" (1968), "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1970, 1971, 1973), "The David Frost Show" (1971), "The 5th Dimension Traveling Sunshine Show" (1971), "Dinah!" (1974), "The Mike Douglas Show" (1975), "Dolly" (1976), "American Bandstand" (1976), "Sha Na Na" (1979)

Covered by: Diana Ross and the Supremes, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Cilla Black, Glee, The Impressions, Rosemary Clooney, Barbra Streisand, Dionne Warwick, Vikki Carr, Vanessa Williams, Sheryl Crow, The Osmonds, Engelbert Humperdinck, Andy Williams, The Ventures, The Dells, The Undisputed Truth, Stanley Jordan, George Shearing, Party Animals, Army of Lovers, Lightspeed Champion, Jeronimo, Steps, Hans Zimmer, Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll and the Trinity, Mrs. Miller

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