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The 5th Dimension



The Fifth Dimension's unique sound lay somewhere between smooth, elegant soul and straightforward, adult-oriented pop, often with a distinct flower-power vibe. Although they appealed more to mainstream listeners than to a hip, hardcore R&B audience, they had a definite ear for contemporary trends; their selection of material helped kickstart the notable songwriting careers of Jimmy Webb and Laura Nyro, and their biggest hit was a medley from the hippie musical Hair, "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In." The group's soaring, seamless harmonies were given appropriately sweeping, orchestrated period production by Bones Howe, which often placed their records closer to California-style sunshine pop. That's actually part of the reason why the best singles from the Fifth Dimension's heyday of the late '60s and early '70s still evoke their era with uncanny precision. The Fifth Dimension began life in Los Angeles in 1965 as the Versatiles. Lamonte McLemore, Ron Townson, and Billy Davis, Jr. all grew up in St. Louis, and moved to Los Angeles independently of one another; each was trained in a different area -- jazz, opera, and gospel/R&B, respectively. Marilyn McCoo was the first female singer to join, and she was soon augmented by Florence LaRue; both were ex-beauty pageant winners who'd attended college in the L.A. area. Their demo tape was rejected by Motown, but after a one-off single for Bronco, they caught the attention of singer Johnny Rivers, who'd just set up his own label, Soul City. Rivers signed the group in 1966 on the condition that they update their name and image, and thus the Fifth Dimension was born. Their first Soul City single, "I'll Be Lovin' You Forever," was a flop, but a cover of the Mamas & the Papas' "Go Where You Wanna Go" climbed into the Top 20. Budding young songwriter Jimmy Webb ("Macarthur Park," "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," etc.) supplied the Fifth Dimension with their breakthrough hit, 1967's "Up, Up and Away." An ode to the pleasures of flying in a beautiful balloon, the song became the group's first Top Ten hit, peaking at number seven, and went on to sweep the Grammy Awards, taking home five total (including Record of the Year and Song of the Year). Its success pushed the Fifth Dimension's first album, also titled Up, Up and Away, to gold sales status. The group stuck with Webb for its second album, The Magic Garden, which featured only one non-Webb composition; it produced a couple of minor hits in "Paper Cup" and "Carpet Man," but nothing on the level of "Up, Up and Away." Their third LP was thus more diverse, featuring several compositions by another up-and-coming songwriter, Laura Nyro. The title cut, Nyro's "Stoned Soul Picnic," went all the way to number three in the spring of 1968, selling over a million copies and putting Nyro on the map. The Nyro-penned follow-up single, "Sweet Blindness," also reached the Top 20. The Fifth Dimension's success peaked in 1969 when the group caught a Broadway production of Hair, and immediately decided to cut a medley of two songs from the show. "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" was a monster hit and grew to become one of the era's defining pop records; it spent six weeks at number one, sold a whopping three million copies, and won the group its second Record of the Year Grammy. Accompanying LP The Age of Aquarius went gold and nearly hit number one, and their Nyro-penned follow-up single, "Wedding Bell Blues," followed its predecessor to number one as well. The song was something of a mirror of real life; Billy Davis and Marilyn McCoo were married that year, and Florence LaRue also married group manager Marc Gordon. Johnny Rivers sold Soul City to the Bell label in 1970, and the first Fifth Dimension LP on Bell was that year's Portrait, which spawned several minor hits and the Top Five smash "One Less Bell to Answer," a Burt Bacharach composition. 1970 also brought a controversial performance at the White House; although the group sang "The Declaration," a socially conscious critique, the simple act of appearing before President Nixon further alienated the Fifth Dimension from the black wing of their fan base, at a time when their releases had already begun to peak higher on the pop charts than on the R&B side. Indeed, their Bell recordings moved farther into soft pop and away from R&B and the gently trippy vibes of their late-'60s material. Their album sales began to taper off, and their vocal arrangements now tended to spotlight soloists rather than unified harmonies. McCoo emerged as a focal point, singing lead on the 1972 Top Ten hits "(Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep at All" and "If I Could Reach You." They proved to be the group's last major successes; another Bacharach tune, 1973's "Living Together, Growing Together," barely made the Top 40, and the following year's Soul & Inspiration LP marked the end of their relationship with producer Bones Howe. 1975's Earthbound was another full-length collaboration with Jimmy Webb, and much like The Magic Garden, its thematic unity failed to produce a significant hit single. It was also the last album by the original lineup; McCoo and Davis left the group to form a duo, and scored a big hit in 1976 with "You Don't Have to Be a Star." The remaining trio carried on with new members, and nearly had a hit in 1976 with the LaRue-sung "Love Hangover"; unfortunately, Motown issued Diana Ross' own version shortly after the Fifth Dimension's hit the charts, and hers proved far more popular. Strangely enough, the Fifth Dimension signed with Motown not long after, releasing two albums in 1978. Townson briefly left the group to try a solo career, but soon returned, as the group resigned itself to the nostalgia circuit; meanwhile, McCoo served a stint as the host of Solid Gold. Phyllis Battle joined in the mid-'80s, and the original quintet reunited in 1990 for a tour. 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 passed away in 2001 due to kidney failure. Battle departed in 2002, to be replaced by Van Jewel. ~ Steve Huey
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Top Tracks

  1.   Track
  2.   (Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep at All
  3.   Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)
  4.   Wedding Bell Blues
  5.   Up, Up and Away
  6.   One Less Bell to Answer
  7.   Stoned Soul Picnic
  8.   Go Where You Wanna Go
  9.   Sweet Blindness
  10.   Workin' on a Groovy Thing
  11.   If I Could Reach You
  12.   Love's Lines, Angles and Rhymes
  13.   Blowing Away
  14.   Ticket to Ride
  15.   Hair
  16.   Use Your Head
  17.   Rosecrans Blvd.
  18.   Which Way to Nowhere
  19.   Dreams/Pax/Nepenthe
  20.   Orange Air
  21.   Prologue
  22.   I'll Be Lovin' You Forever
  23.   Monday Monday
  24.   Never My Love
  25.   Epilogue
  26.   Medley: The Worst That Could Happen/Wedding Bell Blues
  27.   California My Way
  28.   The Way I Feel About You
  29.   If That's the Way You Want It
  30.   What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)?
  31.   Don't Stop for Nothing
  32.   Border Song
  33.   Turn Around to Me
  34.   Better Use Your Head
  35.   Know It Like Your Name
  36.   Everybody Wants to Call You Sweetheart
  37.   Respect
  38.   The Beat Goes On
  39.   Shake Your Tambourine
  40.   Requiem: 820 Latham
  41.   Let It Be Me
  42.   Don'tcha Hear Me Callin' to Ya
  43.   Feelin' Alright
  44.   Bobbie's Blues (Who Do You Think Of?)
  45.   The Worst That Could Happen
  46.   Black Patch
  47.   Goin' out of My Head
  48.   Changed
  49.   Every Night
  50.   Misty Roses
  51.   Lamonte's Group Introductions
  52.   Guess Who?
  53.   Lamonte's Intro
  54.   He's a Runner
  55.   A Love Like Ours
  56.   Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye
  57.   It'll Never Be the Same Again
  58.   Florence's Greeting
  59.   A New Direction by The Fairviews
  60.   Ode to Billie Joe
  61.   Be Good to One Another
  62.   Goin' Through the Motions
  63.   Dimension 5ive
  64.   Broken Wing Bird
  65.   Lovin' Stew
  66.   Save the Country
  67.   Viva Tirado
  68.   Jimmy Webb Medley
  69.   Moonlight Mile
  70.   Speaking with My Heart
  71.   Lean on Me Always
  72.   I've Got a Feeling
  73.   Earthbound: Prologue/Be Here Now
  74.   Band of Gold
  75.   Half Moon
  76.   Tomorrow Belongs to the Children
  77.   Sky & Sea
  78.   All Kinds of People
  79.   Leave a Little Room
  80.   You Never Cry Like a Lover
  81.   Here We Are Falling in Love Again
  82.   Pattern People
  83.   Hurry Sundown
  84.   The Winds of Heaven
  85.   This Is Your Life
  86.   The Eleventh Song (What a Groovy Day!)
  87.   It's a Great Life
  88.   The Sailboat Song
  89.   The Magic Garden
  90.   More Love
  91.   Medley: The Declaration/A Change Is Gonna Come/People Gotta Be Free
  92.   The Girl's Song
  93.   California Soul
  94.   Carpet Man
  95.   Paper Cup
  96.   No Love in the Room
  97.   Everything's Been Changed
  98.   Together Let's Find Love
  99.   On the Beach (In the Summertime)
  100.   Love Hangover
  101.   Woyaya
  102.   Let Me Be Lonely by Burt Bacharach
  103.   There Never Was a Day
  104.   What Do I Need to Be Me
  105.   There's Nothin' Like Music
  106.   Day by Day
  107.   Living Together, Growing Together
  108.   The Riverwitch
  109.   Open Your Window
  110.   Puppet Man
  111.   The Singer
  112.   Light Sings
  113.   Chissa Se Tornera (Who Knows If He Will Return)
  114.   Learn How to Fly
  115.   Flashback
  116.   Walk Your Feet in the Sunshine
  117.   Time and Love
  118.   Eli's Coming
  119.   Skinny Man
  120.   I Want to Take You Higher
  121.   Laura Nyro Medley
  122.   I Just Wanta Be Your Friend
  123.   Go Where You Want to Go
  124.   When Did I Lose Your Love
  125.   Too Poor to Die
  126.   Never Gonna Be the Same
  127.   Summer's Daughter
  128.   Those Were the Days
  129.   Sunshine of Your Love
  130.   East of Java
  131.   Good News
  132.   Another Day, Another Heartache
  133.   Ashes to Ashes
  134.   The Rainmaker
  135.   Poor Side of Town
  136.   Love Medley
  137.   Earthbound/Epilogue
  138.   Magic in My Life
  139.   The Hideaway
  140.   Dimension 5ive
  141.   Acuario - Deja Que el Sol Entre
  142.   How Insensitive
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