The 5th Dimension

Pop-Soul's Counterculture Vocal Group

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The 5th Dimension was a 1960s pop-soul vocal group led by famous couple Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. that notably broke down color lines between black and white pop. Their unique, layered five-part harmonies were a staple of AM radio and the group's aesthetic served as an acceptable and non-threatening representation of '60s counterculture ideals. Along with the Mamas and the Papas, The 5th Dimension embodied California pop of the late '60s and helped bring songwriters Jimmy Webb and Laura Nyro to national attention.

Forming a New Dimension

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.

Fame

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.

Their first single "I'll Be Loving You Forever" was a marked success, but it wasn't until their second single, "Go Where You Wanna Go" — a John Phillips number which he'd flopped in an attempt to start his band — that The 5th Dimension achieved commercial success.

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 reputation for all time.

Legacy

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. The duo went on to produce an even bigger hit with their 1976s soft-rock smash "You Don't Have to Be a Star." All the other original members save LaRue eventually drifted off, though the group soldiered on. McCoo, who also tried her hand at acting, still tours with her husband; LaRue continues to tour with her version of the group and McLemore eventually quit in 2006 to become a photographer. Townson, who rejoined the group in 1980, died in 2001 from renal failure.

Their music has been covered by a number of famous artists, most notably Diana Ross and the Supremes (who essentially stole a comeback from them by simultaneously releasing her version of "Love Hangover) as well as Gladys Knight and the Pips and The Impressions. In 2002, The 5th Dimension was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. Still to this day acts like Pentatonix use methods developed by such acts as The 5th Dimension to create a new sound using mankind's oldest instrument: its voice.