Sunday, February 4, 2018
The 5th Dimension Song Facts
AQUARIUS/LET THE SUNSHINE IN by THE 5TH DIMENSION
This was written for the rock opera Hair, where it became an anthem for young people who grew their hair out and protested the US government. In the book By the Time We Got to Woodstock: The Great Rock 'n' Roll Revolution of 1969, Bruce Pollock writes:
Among the many people calling the publisher in 1968 for a lock of Hair's mystique was the L.A. producer Bones Howe, who'd been working with the 5th Dimension since engineering "Up-Up and Away" for their first album in 1967. He'd produced hits for the Turtles ("It Ain't Me Babe") and the Association ("Windy"); he'd been a personal guest of Lou Adler at the Monterey Pop Festival where he was perhaps the only West Coast guy in attendance to appreciate Laura Nyro's gruesome performance. Later he delivered Laura's "Stoned Soul Picnic" to the 5th Dimension, for which it was their biggest R&B hit. He was shuttling back and forth between his home in L.A. and the studio in New York working on the vocals for the Stoned Soul Picnic album when the group told him they wanted to do "Aquarius."
"The thing that bothered me about it was that there'd been other releases of 'Aquarius,'" said Bones, "and none had done anything, so I was concerned about what we would do that would be any different. I went to see the show and there's a place where they do "The Flesh Failures" and at the end of the song is just a three bar repeated thing of 'Let the sunshine in' where Ragni was swinging across the stage on a chandelier and there was all kinds of craziness going on. That really stayed with me and I came out of the theater saying, I wonder if I could stick that on the end of 'Aquarius' and make that the ending. So I went back to the hotel and I called the publisher. I mean you don't mess with the music from a Broadway show. I started my professional career in 1956 and I knew a lot about what you can and what you can't do with songs. I said, look the 5th Dimension would like to record 'Aquarius,' but I'd like to make it a medley and I'd like to use the last three bars of 'The Flesh Failures' and I don't want to do it without permission. So he said okay, you can go ahead and do it."
The next problem was to go ahead and do it. "The record was plotted in the fall of '68 and more or less finished in January of '69," Bones said. "I had to do a lot of work with my vocal arranger, Bob Alsivar. Because they couldn't sing both songs in the same key, we had to do a modulation; we figured out how I was going to do the instrumental arrangement so we could change keys. The record itself is the result of a conglomeration of things. I began as a jazz musician and I know the standard repertoire pretty well. I kept thinking about a song called 'Lost in the Stars' and trying to find something to give you that kind of impression. I described it to Bill Holman and he wrote that beautiful woodwinds and strings part that's in the intro. We did the track in L.A. and the vocals in Las Vegas where the 5th Dimension were opening for Frank Sinatra. We were working in that studio in Las Vegas where you used to have to stop when the train went by. Once when we were doing practice runs while the train passed Billy started that riff at the end 'oh let the sunshine…' so I said, wait, let me put that on a separate track at the end. There were a lot of happy accidents making the record."
That the Age of Aquarius (harmony, understanding, sympathy, trust, mystic crystals, revelations) announced to mainstream America by the song had already irrevocably given way to Richard Nixon's vision of law and order troubled Bones Howe not in the least. "I was in my thirties then; I was never part of that culture," he said. "But I made records they liked. I spent my life in the studio. Sometimes I went to the Trip and the Crescendo and all of those places on Sunset Strip because I worked with so many of those people. I was the engineer on 'Eve of Destruction' when the Mamas and Papas came to sing backup vocals. I was there the first night they were there and did their first three albums."
The 5th Dimension was a highly popular ensemble group during the late '60s and early '70s. It originally consisted of Billy Davis, Jr., Marilyn McCoo, Lamonte McLemore, and Ron Townson, who were quickly joined by Florence LaRue. They at first called themselves the Versatiles, and owed their rise to Motown Records and Johnny Rivers, who had just started his own record company. This song turned out to be their biggest hit, staying at #1 for six weeks. The 5th Dimension performed several more hits over the years until 1975, when Davis and McCoo got married and left the group. The original group reunited in 1990 for a tour, capitalizing on the growing nostalgia for the music of its era.
The Age of Aquarius is when the sun is in the constellation Aquarius during the springtime. The next time that this will happen is 2448. We are currently in the age of Pisces.
This song won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1970. It was the second time the group won the Record of the Year, two years previously they won the award for "Up-Up and Away."
This appeared in the movie Forrest Gump, and has a big part in the movie The 40 Year Old Virgin, where at the end of the movie the cast performs the song in Hippie costumes to celebrate the de-flowering of the virgin.
In he movie Apollo 13, there are some scenes where the astronauts are filming live feeds from space from inside the spaceship for viewing on television (the live feeds were commonly featured on network TV in the early days of space flight). In the movie, the astronauts play Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit In The Sky" as the background music and theme song for the TV appearances. Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell has since stated that the real song used as the "Theme Song" was "Aquarius," as Aquarius was the name of the Lunar Landing Module that ultimately served as the crew's lifeboat when the mission went awry.
Ex-Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty used the "Let the sunshine in" refrain as the chorus for "Fort Hood," a song from his 2008 album Golden Delicious.
ONE LESS BELL TO ANSWER by THE 5TH DIMENSION
This Burt Bacharach/Hal David song was originally written for Keely Smith (Louis Prima's ex-singing partner) but she never recorded it.
Hal David on how he came up with the lyrics for this song: "I paid attention to what people said. One time I was at a dinner party when it was announced someone wasn't turning up, and the hostess said: 'that's one less bell to answer'. I went home and wrote 'One Less Bell To Answer' - 'one less spells the answer. One less egg to fry.'" (From the Independent newspaper May 9, 2008)
This song is about losing your love, and the sadness that follows the loss. The lead vocals were by Marilyn McCoo, who was the 5th Dimension's featured vocalist at the time. She sings that she should be happy that her man is gone but all she does is cry - no more laughter.
In November of 1970, the group were guests on the television series with Robert Wagner called It Takes A Thief and performed both "Puppet Man" and "One Less Bell to Answer" on the show.
UP-UP AND AWAY by THE 5TH DIMENSION
Jimmy Webb wrote this song. He was a prolific songwriter who wrote "MacArthur Park," as well as many of Glen Campbell's hits. In our interview with Jimmy Webb, he said of recording this song, "It was the greatest experience of my life in a way, because it was the first time I had been really set free. I had been working in the studio with Johnny Rivers and Mark Gordon co-producing, and I was just kind of a gopher. I went around and did everything. I did rhythm parts for my songs. But I had a good friend in Marty Paich, and he was teaching me the basics - I guess you would say the fundamentals of orchestration. And finally when we got in to do (second album) Magic Garden with Bones Howe that was the first album that I was ever given complete freedom to do my own orchestration. And it turned out great."
Webb was inspired by a balloon that his friend William F. Williams flew on promotions for radio station KMEN. Both men thought the song could be used in a planned documentary, which never panned out. This song, more than any other, is associated with hot air ballooning.
This song was first released by a Los Angeles Pop group called The Sunshine Company (best known for their #36 charting "Back On The Street Again"), who included it on their 1967 debut album in a version that used the "Up, Up and Away" saying from a Superman broadcast at the end. Around this time, the song was also recorded by Linda Kaye Henning, star of the TV show Petticoat Junction, with The Sunshine Company singing backup. This version was not released until November 2011 when it appeared on the album The Girls From Petticoat Junction. Later that year The 5th Dimension issued the song as a single, and it became their second Top 40 hit after the #16 "Go Where You Wanna Go."
This won four Grammy awards: Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal, Other Pop/Rock&Roll/ Contemporary Awards or Instrumental, Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoo of The 5th Dimension got married in 1969. In 2004, they released a book called Up, Up, and Away: How We Found Love, Faith, and Lasting Marriage in the Entertainment World.
Bones Howe was the engineer on this track. Over the next few years, he produced most of their hits.
According to the Grammy Foundation's January 23, 2014 A Song is Born show, the tune initially met some resistance at radio, especially in Jimmy Webb's hometown of Oklahoma City, as programmers thought it was about drugs.
Desmond Carrington presented a music programme on BBC Radio for 36 years.
When Desmond Carrington launched his BBC Radio music program All Time Greats (later re-named Desmond Carrington: The Music Goes Round) on October 4, 1981, the first song he played was "Up-Up and Away." It was also the first song he played on October 28, 2016, the last time he presented the show before retiring at the age of 90.
SWEET BLINDNESS by THE 5TH DIMENSION
This is another one of the 5th Dimension's hits that was written and originally performed by Laura Nyro. When she sang it in concert, Nyro would introduce it as "A little drinking song I wrote."
The 5th Dimension sang an abridged version of this song with Frank Sinatra on one of his television specials in the 1960's. Marilyn and Florence looked right at Sinatra and smiled during the line "You're a good lookin' riverboat."
STONED SOUL PICNIC by THE 5TH DIMENSION
The members of the 5th Dimension loved this song and were shocked to find out it was written by a Caucasian 20-year-old girl from New York City named Laura Nyro. After this song became a hit, they recorded several other Nyro songs, including "Sweet Blindness," "Blowin' Away" and "Save The Country."
Bones Howe, who engineered the 5th Dimension track "Up-Up and Away," became the group's producer and introduced them to this song. Howe explained in the book By the Time We Got to Woodstock: The Great Rock 'n' Roll Revolution of 1969: "Laura (Nyro) was a good friend and I used to visit her in New York whenever I was there and she made me tuna fish sandwiches. She was great and I was a huge fan and I recorded enough of her songs so that there could be a 5th Dimension album of all Laura Nyro songs. I believe she was really an important songwriter and brought poetry to her work that kept it from being just pop. But she went where she went and the world didn't follow."
"Stoned" doesn't always mean getting high on marijuana. In this case, it refers to drinking alcohol and having a good time at a glorious picnic - Nyro mentions wine and moonshine in the lyrics as the beverages of choice. Two years earlier, Ray Charles released "Let's Go Get Stoned," which was also about alcohol.