July 25, 2023

Ode to The Fifth Dimension

As a kid growing up in the seventies and eighties, I was exposed to plenty of Baby Boomer music leftovers. More than a few were force-fed to us, hence I had a feeling of indifference to a lot of that music. I didn't love it, nor did I hate it. It just was. Since a lot of music evokes a feeling, or memories for sense of time and place, I was unable to share those. I was just a kid. Much of the music did not have any underlying meaning to me at the time. But with the benefit of time, I can look back at some of the music with a different perspective. And while the song meaning for a 9 year-old child is never going to be the same as it would be for someone who was, say 18 years of age, and the old songs do evoke a sense of recollection now. There are plenty of old acts I'm still indifferent to (for example, I'm not enamored with the Rolling Stones), but there are others which I remember hearing on the AM radio in our kitchen or in my mother's old car and they now bring a smile.

One late 1960's musical which had a very successful run was the group known as the 5th Dimension. The five original members (hence the name 5th) were Billy Davis Jr., Florence La Rue, Marilyn McCoo, Lamonte McLemore, and Ronald Townson. The 5th Dimension came to define a musical genre later dubbed "champagne soul", so named because it was soul music that was more relevant to a pop music audience. The Fifth Dimension was from California, and were popular for the strength of their vocal harmonies. There have been some others known for their terrific vocal harmonies. One that comes to mind was a later group from Sweden which came of age in the seventies: ABBA. In 2018, blogged about ABBA (catch my post HERE for more) about that group's more recent plans. Both couples in ABBA were married, which made them a bit unusual.

The 5th Dimension did (sort-of) have a song about a romance between two of the singers in that group (the other group members had no romantic involvements that were public) entitled "Wedding Bell Blues" released in 1969. The single "Wedding Bell Blues" resonated because at the time, 5th Dimension member Marilyn McCoo was then engaged to another member of the group, Billy Davis Jr., although the couple had not decided on an actual wedding date. "Wedding Bell Blues" was not an original work by the 5th Dimension, but a cover of a release that came out from another artist a few years earlier in 1966, although the 5th Dimension modified it slightly in that Marilyn McCoo ads to the lyrics "Will you marry me, Bill?" to their cover. The 5th Dimension's cover did better than the original, as their version of the single quickly soared to #1 on the U.S. pop singles chart, spending three weeks there in November 1969 and also made one of the group's somewhat rare appearances on the U.S. R&B singles chart, where it peaked at #23. Most of the 5th Dimension's other hits were on the pop charts.

Between 1967 and 1973, 5th dimension charted with 19 Top 40 hits on Billboard's Hot 100, two of which – "Up – Up and Away" (#7, 1967) and the 1969 #1 "Medley: Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)" — won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year. But because the group really hit its success in the late 1960's, their worked and their act successfully carried them into the early-to-mid-1970's where they were contemporaries of the Carpenters, Chicago and the Captain & Tennille. The group's late sixties hits continued to and they received radio airplay into the next decade, but they had a few more chart-toppers then, too, including "One Less Bell to Answer" (#2, 1970), "Never My Love" (#12, 1971), and "(Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep at All" (#8, 1972).

By 1975, McCoo and Davis had left the 5th Dimension and began performing as a duo. McCoo and Davis had married on July 26, 1969, and decided it was time to leave the group to do collective and individual projects. The duo had some early success with "Your Love" and a 1977 chart-topper "You Don't Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)", which won the duo their seventh Grammy award. Both also did solo recordings during that period. Marilyn McCoo was the first artist to record the song "Saving All My Love for You" in 1978, which was later covered by Whitney Houston to considerable success (greater than McCoo's version).

In summer 1977, McCoo and Davis became the first African American married couple to host a network TV series, "The Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. Show" on CBS.

McCoo's "Solid Gold" Gig

But Marilyn McCoo went on to serve a lengthy 1980's stint (she did it from 1981–84, and again from 1986–88; other fill-in hosts of the show included Dionne Warwick, Andy Gibb, a popular syndicated DJ known as Rick Dees [1984–85], original MTV host Nina Blackwood [1986–88], and Arsenio Hall [1986–88]) as host of a syndicated TV show known as "Solid Gold". The show also featured a co-host and puppeteer named Wayland Flowers who joined the series as a secondary comedic act with his puppet "Madame". It is relevant and useful to remember that this was at a time when cable TV had not yet penetrated vast portions of the U.S., so it was pre-MTV.

"Solid Gold" usually aired on Saturday evenings, and "Solid Gold" was one of several shows at the time that focused on the popular music of any given week; others included the long-running "American Bandstand" (hosted by Dick Clark, but the show's popularity was falling by that time) and "Soul Train" which was focused mainly on music from black artists. While "Solid Gold" shared some elements with those two rival programs, such as appearances by performers, it also stood out by including something the others did not: an in-house crew of professional dancers (who became known as the Solid Gold Dancers), and were known for for their disco-inspired outfits which were often metallic with sparkling beads and were sexually risque, that performed routines professionally choreographed to the week's featured songs.

McCoo's gig as host of "Solid Gold" was evidently a lucrative one for her; she hosted the show for 4 years, left the job for 2 years to pursue other solo projects, but returned to the show until it ended in 1988. As a musical performer herself, Marilyn McCoo had a dynamic on-screen presence on the show (frequently performing covers of then-popular songs herself) and came to be closely associated with the show.

By 1988 when "Solid Gold" ended, Marilyn McCoo was age 45, and she pursued acting. She appeared in several movies, including "Grizzly Adams and the Legend of Dark Mountain" (1999), "My Mom's a Werewolf" (1989) and several television movies, often playing herself. She also appeared on stage in productions of "Anything Goes", "A...My Name is Alice", "Man of La Mancha", and the Broadway production of "Show Boat" in 1995 through 1996. McCoo appeared together with husband Billy Davis. Jr. on "The Jamie Foxx Show" as Fancy's parents, the Monroes. Beyond movies and stage, she also appeared on a number of TV shows, including "The Love Boat" (1 episode, 1978), "The Fall Guy" (which was Lee Majors', better known as the "Six Million Dollar Man" follow-up show (1 episode, 1986), soap opera "Days of Our Lives" (various episodes from 1986–1987, and again in 2020), "Punky Brewster" (1 episode, 1988), and "Night Court" (1 episode, 1990).

But the champaign soul genre wasn't the end of the 5th Dimension or Davis/McCoo. They appeared on dozens of TV talk and variety shows of that era, including "Sonny & Cher" and "Donnie & Marie" as well as the daytime talk show circuit including of that era, including the Mike Douglas Show, the Merv Griffin Show and the Dinah! Shore show. I've created the following playlist to give you some idea of their talent.


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