The 5th Dimension
(Read all about the 5th Dimension after the videos)
The 5th Dimension is an American popular music vocal group, whose repertoire includes pop, R&B, soul, jazz, light opera and Broadway—the melange was coined as "Champagne Soul."
Formed as The Versatiles in late 1965, the group changed its name to the hipper The 5th Dimension, by 1966 and became well-known during the late 1960s and early 1970s for their populat hits "Up, Up and Away", "Stoned Soul Picnic", "Medley: Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)", "Wedding Bell Blues", "One Less Bell to Answer", "(Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep at All", and The Magic Garden LP.
The five original members were Billy Davis, Jr., Florence LaRue, Marilyn McCoo, LaMonte McLemore, and Ron Townson. They have recorded for several different labels over their long careers. Their first work appeared on the Soul City label, which was started by Imperial Records/United Artists Records recording artist Johnny Rivers. The group would later record for Bell/Arista Records, ABC Records, and Motown Records.
Some of the songwriters popularized by The 5th Dimension went on to careers of their own, especially Ashford & Simpson, who wrote "California Soul". The group is also notable for having more success with the songs of Laura Nyro than Nyro did herself, particularly with "Stoned Soul Picnic", "Sweet Blindness", "Wedding Bell Blues", "Blowin' Away", and "Save the Country". The group also covered music by well known songwriters such as the song "One Less Bell to Answer", written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David and the songs and music of Jimmy Webb, who penned their hit "Up, Up and Away", including an entire recording of Webb songs called The Magic Garden. The 5th Dimension's famed producer, Bones Howe, utilized Bob Alcivar as the singers' vocal arranger, as well as The Wrecking Crew, a renowned group of studio musicians including drummer Hal Blaine, for their recording sessions.
In the early 1960s, LaMonte McLemore and Marilyn McCoo got together with three other friends from Los Angeles, Harry Elston, Lawrence Summers and Fritz Baskett, to form a group called the Hi-Fis (which later became the Vocals). In 1963, they sang at local clubs while taking lessons from a vocal coach. In 1964, they came to the attention of Ray Charles, who took them on tour with him the following year. He produced a single by the group, "Lonesome Mood", a jazz-type song that gained local attention. However, internal disagreements caused Elston to go his way, eventually leading to his forming the Friends of Distinction, along with latter day Hi-Fis member, Floyd Butler.
McLemore sought to form another group and started looking for members to join him and McCoo, who had studied with the respected vocal coach Eddie Beal, appeared in high school and college musical productions, and was known for her way with a torch song. McLemore found Florence LaRue, who had received training as a youngster in singing, dancing, and violin; and who also won the talent portion at the Miss Bronze California contest, which LaMonte was assigned to photograph. (McCoo had won the contest the year prior). About the same time LaRue was approached to join the group, McLemore recruited an old friend of his, Ron Townson, who at age six had started singing in choirs and gospel groups in his hometown of St. Louis. His grandmother fostered his career by arranging for private voice and acting lessons as he grew up. In his teens, he toured with Dorothy Dandridge and Nat King Cole, joined the Wings Over Jordan Gospel Singers for a while, and also played a small part in the film Porgy and Bess. He demonstrated his skill as a classical artist by placing third in the Metropolitan Opera auditions held in St. Louis. After finishing high school, he worked his way through Lincoln University by conducting the school and church choir. After graduating, he organized his own 25-member gospel choir.
Another of McLemore's friends from St. Louis days, Billy Davis, Jr., started singing in gospel choirs at an early age. He later saved enough money to buy a cocktail lounge in St. Louis, which he used as a base for experimenting with various musical groups. When asked to join McLemore's new group, he said yes, while hoping for a solo contract from the preeminent Motown.
The members began rehearsing as the Versatiles in late 1965 and auditioned for Marc Gordon, who headed Motown's Los Angeles office. Although the group's demo tape was rejected by Motown, Gordon agreed to manage them and brought them to the attention of Johnny Rivers, who had just started his own label, Soul City Records. Their first Soul City single, "I'll Be Lovin' You Forever", was a flop.
In 1965 The Mamas & the Papas' first single, lead member John Phillips' "Go Where You Wanna Go", failed to open the foursome's chart career. At the suggestion of Rivers and their manager Marc Gordon, The 5th Dimension covered the same song virtually note-for-note (except for the last verse's upward modulation), and their early 1967 version climbed into the top 20 on both R&B and pop stations and peaked at #16 on the Hot 100, opening the quintet's chart career.
The budding young songwriter Jimmy Webb supplied the group with their breakthrough hit, "Up, Up and Away", a mid-1967 #7 hit that won five Grammy Awards. The following year, the group scored major hit singles with Laura Nyro's songs "Stoned Soul Picnic" (U.S. #3) and "Sweet Blindness" (U.S. #13). The group received a gold record for their album Stoned Soul Picnic.
That album also included "California Soul", which peaked at #25 in February 1969. Weeks later the group's success broke wide open, with "Medley: Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)" from the musical Hair topping the Hot 100 for six straight weeks in April and May, and another Nyro song, "Wedding Bell Blues", doing the same for the first three full weeks in November. Their cover of Neil Sedaka's "Workin' On a Groovy Thing" went to #20 in-between. Those four singles kept the group on the Hot 100 all but four weeks in 1969.
Later top 20 hits included 1970's "One Less Bell to Answer" (U.S. #2), 1971's "Love's Lines, Angles and Rhymes" (U.S. #19) and "Never My Love" (U.S. #12), 1972's "(Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep at All" (U.S. #8) and "If I Could Reach You" (U.S. #10). The group also had seven other top 40 hits, the last being 1973's "Living Together, Growing Together" (U.S. #32) from the film Lost Horizon.
The 5th Dimension performed "Sweet Blindness" on Frank Sinatra's 1968 TV special Francis Albert Sinatra Does His Thing and sang "Workin' On a Groovy Thing" and "Wedding Bell Blues" on Woody Allen's The Woody Allen Special in 1969. They introduced "Puppet Man" and "One Less Bell To Answer" as guests in the It Takes a Thief episode "To Sing a Song of Murder" in 1970; the latter song used as a plot device in which the song's closing notes were to activate a bomb in an assassination attempt of the head of a fictitious country.
The 5th Dimension appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show twice in 1969. The group performed and sang a medley consisting of "What the World Needs Now Is Love" and the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" on February 23, 1969 and performed and sang "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" on May 18, 1969, the day after the medley fell from the Hot 100 summit. That same year the group appeared on the British show This Is Tom Jones, singing "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" and "Got My Mojo Workin' ".
The 5th Dimension: An Odyssey in the Cosmic Universe of Peter Max, a television special, aired on CBS on May 21, 1970.
During the last season of The Ed Sullivan Show, Sullivan dedicated the entire February 21, 1971 episode to the fifth anniversary of The 5th Dimension. The group opened the show with "Love's Lines, Angles and Rhymes" and later joined Connie Stevens for "Puppet Man". The group came back for the last 15 minutes of the show and sang their hits "Up, Up and Away", "One Less Bell to Answer", "Stoned Soul Picnic", "Wedding Bell Blues", and finished up with "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In". This appearance would be the group's last on Sullivan.
The 5th Dimension Traveling Sunshine Show, a television special, aired on August 18, 1971.
The 5th Dimension also made memorable appearances on Soul Train, American Bandstand, The Flip Wilson Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
In 1975, McCoo and Davis, who had married on 26 July 1969, left the group to do both collective and individual projects. They went on to have success as a duo with "Your Love" and the chart topper "You Don't Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)" which won them their seventh Grammy award. McCoo also served a lengthy '80's stint as the host of the TV show Solid Gold. The remaining trio carried on with new members, and nearly had a hit in 1976 with the LaRue-sung "Love Hangover"; however, Motown issued Diana Ross' original version shortly after the 5th Dimension's hit the charts, and hers soared to the top of the charts. The group signed with Motown not long after, releasing two albums in 1978. R&B singer Lou Courtney was in the group briefly in 1978 and 1979, Joyce Wright joined in 1979, and Phyllis Battle joined in 1988.
Reunion and departure
The original quintet reunited in 1990 and 1991 for a tour. Townson briefly left the group to try a solo career, but soon returned, as the group eventually resigned itself to the nostalgia circuit. In 1995, the quintet of LaRue, Townson, McLemore, Battle, and Greg Walker recorded a new album, In the House, for Click Records. In 1998, Willie Williams replaced Townson, who died in 2001 due to diabetes-related kidney failure. Battle departed in 2002, to be replaced by Van Jewell. McLemore left from the group in March 2006.
As of April 2009, the group is actively touring as "The 5th Dimension featuring Florence LaRue", led by LaRue, with Willie Williams, Leonard Tucker, Patrice Morris, and Floyd Smith.
Celebrating 45 years of marriage, McCoo and Davis continue to tour separately from the 5th Dimension as their own act: "Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr." In October 2011, McCoo and Davis were featured on the Cliff Richard album Soulicious, also appearing live on stage in the tour of the same name, reprising several of their hits as well as dueting with Richard. In 2013, McCoo and Davis released their own double-CD project: "Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. Live".
On February 14, 2015, McLemore released his autobiographical memoir, "From Hobo Flats to The 5th Dimension: A Life Fulfilled in Baseball, Photography and Music".