Fifth Dimension Biography
The Fifth Dimension is an American popular music vocal group, whose repertoire also includes R&B, Soul, and Jazz.
The Fifth Dimension were best-known during the late 1960s and 1970s for popularizing the hits "Up, Up And Away" and "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In." 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 career. 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 popularised by The Fifth Dimension later 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 in the cases of "Wedding Bell Blues," "Stoned Soul Picnic," and "Save The Country".
In the early ’60’s, Lamonte McLemore and Marilyn McCoo, an ex-beauty pageant winner, got together with two other friends from Los Angeles, Harry Elston and Floyd Butler to form a group called the Hi-Fis. 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 Butler and Elston to go their own way, eventually leading to their organizing the Friends of Distinction.
Lamonte and Marilyn sought to build a new group. One of their friends was Florence LaRue, who had received training as a youngster in singing, dancing and violin, and who also won a beauty pageant award from Arthur Godfrey’s show in her teens. About the same time she was approached to join the group, Lamonte 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 considerable 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.
Lamonte’s cousin, 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 he was asked to join his cousin’s new group, he immediately said yes.
The members began rehearsing in early 1966 and took the name of the Versatiles. They auditioned for Marc Gordon, who headed Motown’s Los Angeles office. Although their demo tape was rejected by Motown, he agreed to manage them and brought them to the attention of Johnny Rivers, who’d just started his own label, Soul City Records. 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 and the Papas’ “Go Where You Wanna Go” climbed into the top 20 on both R & B and pop stations.
Budding young songwriter Jimmy Webb supplied the group with their breakthrough hit, “Up, Up and Away,” a top 10 hit in mid-1967, which won five Grammy Awards. The following year, the group scored major hit singles with Laura Nyro’s “Stoned Soul Picnic” and “Sweet Blindness” and received a gold record for their album 'Stoned Soul Picnic', which also included the Ashford & Simpson written “California Soul”. In 1969, they had two number one singles: “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” from the musical Hair and the Nyro composition “Wedding Bell Blues.” Later hits included “One Less Bell To Answer” (1970), “Love’s Lines, Angles and Rhymes,” “Never My Love” (1971) and “(Last Night) I Didn’t Get To Sleep At All” (1972).
In 1975, McCoo and Davis, who became husband and wife while with the group, left the group to do both collective and individual projects. They went on to have success singing as a duo after leaving the group in 1975, including "I Hope You Get To Love In Time" and the chart topper "You Don't Have To Be A Star (To Be In My Show)." McCoo also served a 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"; 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 group signed with Motown not long after, releasing two albums in 1978. R'n'B singer Lou Courtney was in the group briefly between 1978 and 1979 and Phyllis Battle joined in the mid-'80s. The original quintet reunited in 1990 for a tour. Townson briefly left the group to try a solo career, but soon returned, as the group 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 kidney failure, due to complications related to his diabetic condition. Battle departed in 2002, to be replaced by Van Jewel.
The group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002.
Sources: The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul ( Revised Edition ) - Irwin Stambler ©1989 St. Martin’s Press, New York and All Music Guide to Soul ( article by Steve Huey ) ©2003 Backbeat Books San Francisco