Billy Davis Jr., Ron Townson and Lamonte McLemore grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, each with the hopes of success in show business. Marilyn McCoo was born in Jersey City, New Jersey
and Florence LaRue was born in Plainsfield, New Jersey, but both grew up in Los Angeles. Billy sang in several gospel and soul groups, ending up in Los Angeles hoping to sign with Motown’s
West Coast company. Ron sang opera at an early age and upon graduating from Lincoln University, he left for Los Angeles with aspirations of a singing career. Lamonte went into professional
baseball as well as photography only to discover his love for singing while in the Navy. Lamonte met beauty contest winner Marilyn McCoo while photographing her during the
"Miss Bronze
Talent Award."
She always had a desire to go into the entertainment business, but her parents wanted her to finish school. She graduated from U.C.L.A. and accepted Lamonte’s offer to
join a group he was forming. While photographing Florence LaRue, the winner of the
"Miss Bronze Talent Award" the year after Marilyn won, McLemore decided to ask her to join the group
he was forming. At first she didn’t accept the offer because she had graduated from Cal State University in Los Angeles and had just started teaching. Both she and Marilyn joined the group
initially as a hobby, with McCoo wanting a solo singing career and LaRue still dreaming of a career in acting.
   In 1965, the quintet, with their varied vocal backgrounds, named their group
The Versatiles. They put together a demo tape and sent Lamonte to Detroit to see Berry Gordy at Motown
Records. Gordy listened to the demo tape and was impressed with their sound but didn’t hear chart hits with the songs. He asked McLemore to return with more songs for him to hear.
Lamonte returned home and the group continued singing at local Los Angeles clubs.
   Their future manager, Marc Gordon, was a director of West Coast Operations at Motown Records. Gordon was in the process of leaving Motown when he heard
The Versatiles and offered
to manage them. They recorded
"You’re Good Enough For Me" and "Bye Bye Baby," both co-written by Marc Gordon for the Bronco label. It wasn’t until Gordon introduced the group to
Johnny Rivers, who was starting his Soul City Records, that things began to happen.
   Rivers instantly liked their sound and decided to produce them personally. He wanted them to change their outdated group name and look, so The 5th Dimension became their new name and with some new "mod"
outfits, they were ready. The first single Rivers produced,
"I’ll Be Lovin’ You Forever" and "Train Keep On Movin’," in 1966, didn’t create much excitement with radio listeners. The follow-up single the next year,
written by John Phillips was
"Go Where You Wanna Go." Phillips' group, The Mamas and The Papas, had also released a single of their version. But it was The 5th Dimension who took the song up Billboard’s Top 20,
peaking at #16.
   A new songwriter, Jimmy Webb, who was under contract with Rivers was asked to provide the group with material. Webb, at the piano, played them a song he had written about a beautiful balloon. The group loved
the song,
"Up, Up & Away," and it was released in February of 1967. An album with the same title was released later in the year. The song entered the Top 10 and peaked at #7, staying on the Top 40 for 10 weeks,
bringing this quintet to international fame. The song was awarded
Best Performance By A Vocal Group, Best Contemporary Group Performance, Best Contemporary Single, Song Of The Year and Record Of The Year at
the Grammy Awards. The album which went Gold also featured
"Go Where You Wanna Go," a cover of River's "Poor Side Of Town," "California My Way" and "Rosencrans Blvd." The compact disc re-issue features three
previously unreleased tracks from the same sessions.
   With the popularity of Webb’s
"Up, Up & Away," the group eagerly agreed to team with him on their second album, "The Magic Garden," later retitled and re-issued as "The Worst That Could Happen." Jimmy wrote all
but one song on the album. Webb was going through a tough period in his personal life and his girlfriend at the time, Susan, was the inspiration for these songs. It was almost like a storybook as one song was beautifully
connected to the next. Although none of these songs topped the charts, it is considered to be one of the finest of all their albums.
"Paper Cup" (1967) and "Carpet Man" (1968) both entered the Top 40.
   Their third album was written in part by the late Laura Nyro. It was actually Bones Howe, their producer, who heard a hit with Laura’s song,
"Stoned Soul Picnic." Howe said, "After "The Magic Garden" we were looking
for a piece of material that would reflect what The 5th Dimension was. I came across a song on a demo tape that David Geffen had taken to RCA, a song written by Laura Nyro called "Stoned Soul Picnic." I told David
that I wanted to cut it with The 5th, but he said we couldn’t because Nyro was going to cut it on her album. But if they didn’t release it as a single, he said it’s fair game. So the album came out, and the company
chose "Eli’s Coming" as the single. I had a test pressing of the album and rushed it to the group and said, 'This is gonna be your first million-selling single. ' They loved the song, and we went in and did the record in
three days. And of course, it was their first million-selling single."
It was in May 1968 when "Stoned Soul Picnic" was released and entered the Top 10, arriving at #3 on Billboard and remaining on the Top 40 for 12
weeks. Frank Sinatra presented the group with a million-selling award for
"Stoned Soul Picnic" at Caesar’s Palace. The single eventually sold over two million copies. Another Nyro composition, "Sweet Blindness," was
released a few months later, peaking at #13 and staying on the Top 40 for 6 weeks. At the beginning of 1969,
"California Soul" entered the top 40 reaching #25 on Billboard's Top 40.
   In 1969 the musical
"Hair" was a smash on Broadway. It was interesting how they ended up recording "Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In." Florence said, "It was a real fluke. We were performing in New York City and Billy
lost his wallet in a taxi. The man who returned it invited us to see a play he had produced. The play of course was "Hair." Well we heard 'Aquarius' and we all just looked at each other and said ‘We’ve got to sing this
song. It’s great."
It was producer Howe who suggested splicing Aquarius together with lyrics from another number in the musical which became Let The Sunshine In. He got together with arranger Bob Alcivar and put the
two songs together, making them work as one single.
"We recorded that song in Las Vegas, in this small studio," says LaRue. "Our voices were all tired, we’d been performing there for over a month. It was the quickest
thing we ever recorded and it was one of our biggest hits."
They were very close to railroad tracks, and while they were singing the final chorus, a train rumbled by. You can still hear the locomotive, though, just barely,
on the final master.
"Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In" remained in the #1 spot on Billboard for 6 straight weeks and remained on the Top 40 for 16 weeks. Both the single and album "Age Of Aquarius" went Gold and
received two Grammy Awards for
Record Of The Year and Best Contemporary Vocal By A Group. The song eventually sold over three million copies, making it the biggest selling single that year. The original song was over
7 minutes long and it was Bill Drake a Los Angeles radio station disc jockey who suggested the song needed to be shortened to about 3 minutes; so Howe released 2 versions, one just over 3 minutes and one under 3
minutes.
"Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In" was only the beginning of their album "Age Of Aquarius." Bones Howe told Marilyn about this song that went, "Bill, I love you so, I always will. Won’t you marry me, Bill, etc." So
Howe told Marilyn,
'It’d be really funny if you did this song as a joke on the album." "Marilyn and Billy were still courting; she wanted to get married and Billy was dragging his feet. So she did it, and after the album
came out I got a call from a guy at a record company who said that a station in San Diego had jumped on the song and that we should release it as a single."
In September 1969, "Wedding Bell Blues," a Nyro
composition, was released and soared to the top of the charts, remaining in the Top 40 for 14 weeks.
"Workin’ On A Groovy Thing" co-written by Neil Sedaka peaked at #20 in 1969 and "Blowing Away," another Laura
Nyro composition, peaked at #21 in 1970.
   In 1969, Florence LaRue married their manager, Marc Gordon, high above the Century Plaza Hotel in a hot air balloon. That same year Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. married. Two more hit albums were released in
1969. The single,
"The Girl’s Song" which featured Florence and Marilyn on lead was climbing the charts and was included on the "Greatest Hits" album. This album went Gold.  And another compilation LP was released
after that entitled
"The July 5th Album."
  
 In 1970 Rivers sold his Soul City catalog to Larry Utal of Bell Records. Their first single for their new label was the controversial "The Declaration." The album, "Portrait," had 3 singles which entered the Top 40. The
first one was
"Puppet Man," released in May of 1970 it peaked at #24. At this time, three of their albums were on Billboard's Top 50 LP's, at the same time. The following month they released another Nyro tune, "Save The
Country,"
which peaked at #27. Next they released "On The Beach (In The Summertime)" in August 1970. In the meantime, a Los Angeles radio station called up Bell Records and said that people were calling the station
when they played
"One Less Bell To Answer" and they should really release it as a single. In October of 1970, "One Less Bell To Answer," written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, was released and flew up to #2,
eventually selling over two million copies. Their brilliant debut release for Bell Records remains one of their best sellers.
   In March of 1971, they released the single
"Love’s Lines, Angles & Rhymes" which peaked at #19. It was also the title of their album that year which went Gold. That same year the group had their second television
special,
"The 5th Dimensions Traveling Sunshine Show." Later that year they released their double "Live!" LP which was taped in Las Vegas. With McCoo’s success with lead vocals, they released "Never My Love" in
October 1971 which went to #12. In early 1972 they released the McCoo-Davis duet
"Together Let’s Find Love," peaking at #37. This album also went Gold. Another compilation LP followed, "Reflections."
   By 1972 the group was singing more solo vocals than the harmonies they were initially known for. The best description of the direction of the group was the album, "Individually & Collectively." Marilyn’s solo, "(Last
Night) I Didn’t Get To Sleep At All,"
was released in March and hit the Top 10 arriving at #8 and eventually selling over two million singles. Five months later another McCoo solo, "If I Could Reach You," was released
reaching #10 on Billboard. Later that year
"Greatest Hits On Earth" was released which too went Gold.
   The album
"Living Together, Growing Together" was released in 1973. The title track was released as a single in February of 1973. It entered the Top 40 arriving at #32. Two other singles were released but failed to
chart well. That same year, they decided to release
"Flashback" and the flip side "Diggin’ For A Livin’" neither song was on the album. "Flashback" was also recorded by Cher but neither charted with the song. In 1974,
"Soul & Inspiration" was released. The album, by producers Howe, Richard Carson, H.B. Barnum, and John Florez marked Bones Howe’s departure from producing the group. This was also the final album the group did for
Bell Records. The final album with the original members,
"Earthbound," was released in 1975 on ABC Records. They began their career with composer Jimmy Webb on their first album and ended with him on their last. As
on the
"Magic Garden" album, "Earthbound" flowed beautifully from song to song. Even with strong singles, "Magic In My Life" and "Walk Your Feet In The Sunshine," the album didn’t chart.
   Marilyn and Billy left the group after
"Earthbound" and with several replacements the group continued on. A final single-only was released for ABC Records. "Love Hangover," which featured Florence on lead, was
already gaining chart action both on AM radio and in the discos, when Motown Records decided to quickly release Diana Ross’ version. It was clearly a race between The 5th Dimension and Diana Ross. Even the sheet music
featured both The 5th Dimension and Diana Ross on the cover. In my opinion The 5th Dimension's version was far superior to Diana's. In fact I remember dancing to their version before even hearing hers. As we all know
Motown and it's powerful promotion machine helped Ross have the biggest club hit of her career while one is hard pressed to find a copy of The 5th Dimension's version.
   Florence LaRue and Lamonte McLemore never left the group. Ron Townson left for a while to sing as a solo artist, and to form
Ron Townson and Wild Honey, but later returned to the group. And now with McCoo and
Davis gone and two new members in the group, they ironically signed with Motown Records in 1978. Their first album for Motown,
"Star Dancing," was an obvious ploy at cashing in on the current disco trend. Naturally the
group had all the makings of a successful disco act. With material like the title track and
"You Are The Reason I Feel Like Dancing" the album should have done better than it did, sadly it hit the cut-out bins rather
quickly. One final forgettable album for Motown, 1978's
"High On Sunshine" failed to spawn any  hits or ignite any fires and the group seemed to be history.
   In November 1975, husband and wife, McCoo & Davis, took a step they had been thinking about for several years, they left the 5th Dimension for solo careers. It was a decision they were able to make after taking the
EST training.
"through EST I was able to strip away most of my negative feelings about myself and understand how I used them to keep me down or safe or inactive," Marilyn told Alan Ebert in Essence magazine. "I began
to understand me, that I was unique and not part of a mold and that I had every right to seek my own fulfillment. That freed me to do what I really wanted, to leave the group. Like Billy I wanted to try new things."
Billy had his own reasons for leaving: "Singing background parts is fun, and an occasional solo is fine, but I have certain goals for myself that I cannot expect three or four other members to have for themselves. I also
feel that I haven't had the chance to touch half the talent I've got."
The original intention was for Marilyn and Billy to have separate, solo careers. Otis Smith of ABC Records arranged for Marilyn to fly to Detroit and meet
producer Don Davis, who had success at both Motown and Stax Records. Most recently Don had produced the Johnnie Taylor #-1 hit
"Disco Lady." Don Davis and McCoo recorded a half dozen tracks when Billy decided that
their first project should be an album of duets. The first single was the title track from their first album,
"I Hope We Get To Love In Time." The single, a pleasant if unremarkable song only went to #-91 on the charts, not
exactly the smash they were hoping for. In an effort to bolster sales and radio play the
"I Hope We Get To Love In Time" single was released with two different flip sides, "I'm So Glad I Found You" and "There's Got To
Be A Happy Ending."
Though it didn't really help. The second single released however did help, in fact it propelled the album to Gold status. "You Don't Have To Be A Star (To Be In My Show)" was pure pop confection.
With it's catchy lyrics and it's Motown-ish groove it was destined to be a hit. In fact the actual musicians were Motown veterans led by James Jamerson. The record broke on black radio before it crossed over to pop, and
although it was #-1 on the Hot 100, it won a Grammy in the category of
Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus. The success of the song led to a summer variety show on CBS, "The Marilyn McCoo & Billy
Davis Jr. Show."
It ran for six weeks beginning on June 15th, 1977. One more single, "Your Love" went to #-15.
   
"The Two Of Us" released in 1977 was a suitable follow up to their debut album. Once again a potpourri of R&B, pop and easy listening material. Three singles were released, "Look What You've Done To My Heart,"
"Wonderful"
and "My Reason To Be Is You." Unfortunately only the first one charted and it only made it to #-51. Still the album was well done and considered a success.
   By 1978 they had changed labels, from ABC to Columbia, and had established themselves as performers in their own rights, apart from their association with The 5th Dimension. Already known to television audiences
and R&B fans, the duo had also conquered Las Vegas with their glitzy nightclub act. Now it seemed that the only crowd they had not appealed to was the currently vogue disco crowd. Columbia was unsure of their
marketability, in fact the first 12" released was the album version of
"Shine On Silver Moon." Quickly going nowhere it was suggested that a re-mix might help it's chart action. After a thorough overhauling and a
commercial release it steadily but surely climbed the club charts. Eventually it achieved top ten club status. The album
"Marilyn & Billy" was re-released to include the newer remixed version. Oddly enough despite a
wealth of quality material such as a revival of Sam & Dave's
"I Thank You," and "Carry On," a deep soul drama, the Diana Ross ballad "I Thought It Took A Little Time" and the original rendition of "Saving All My Love For
You,"
which Whitney Houston elevated to new heights years later, or the bouncy "I Got The Music, You Got The Words" the album failed to have another single release or hit. The duo, although still married, didn't
recorded another album together until October 2008 when the pair released
"The Many Faces of Love," a collection of hit songs from the 1960's and 1970's. Marilyn went on to host the television show "Solid Gold," to
become an annual emcee for the
Children's Miracle Network Telethon, star in a revival of "Showboat" and record five solo albums. The first album, 1983's "Solid Gold" was compiled of mainly cover versions of current hit
songs. The hit
"Heart  Stop Beating In Time" was her best charting as a soloist. Switching to gospel music she released 1991's "The Me Nobody Knows" and 1994's "Warrior For The Lord." Then two Christmas albums
1996's
"White Christmas" and 2000's "Marilyn McCoo Christmas." As of January 2010 she is Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Mission. Billy had a solo single for ABC in 1975 with "Three Steps From
True Love,"
a song that Margaret Reynolds would score a disco hit with in 1985. Then in 1982 he preceded Marilyn into the gospel field with his release "Let Me Have A Dream." In the 1980's he branched out into the
construction business, became a pharmaceutical company owner and producer of other artists music. In the 1990's he toured in productions of
"Dreamgirls" and "Blues In The Night." He still performs concerts with Marilyn as
well as appearing as a solo act.
   Lou Courtney (Buffalo Smoke) was in the group briefly between 1978 and 1979, Joyce Wright joined in 1979, and Phyllis Battle joined in 1988. 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," the
album featured some re-recorded hits and a chest full of funky contemporary tracks. A splendid cover of Earth, Wind & Fire's
"Fantasy" was recorded but was unreleased until it appeared on a 1995 "Best Of Venture
Records"
compilation. A one-shot 12" single for Sutra Records in 1983 produced the late night classic "Surrender." In 1990 they became part of Ian Levine's massive attempt to re-record anyone who even came in contact
with Motown. They released two 12" singles on his Motorcity label. A fantastic re-recording of their original song
"Love Hangover" and a sultry cover of the Smokey Robinson classic "More Love." As of April 2009, the group
is actively touring as
"Florence LaRue &  The Fifth Dimension" led by LaRue with Willie Williams, Leonard Tucker, Patrice Morris, and Floyd Smith. In 1992, Townson appeared in the Warner Brothers film The Mambo Kings.
Townson left The 5th Dimension for good in 1997. He involved himself with other business ventures and served on the board of directors of the Cambridge Kilpatrick Acting School. He was honored at Lincoln University
with the school's
Distinguished Alumni Award. Ron moved to Las Vegas in 1999 and died in his home there on August 2nd, 2001. He died of renal failure, after a four-year battle with kidney disease. A service for him was
held on August 11, 2001 at the Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall. Lamonte left in 1997 to pursue his first love of photography and has won numerous awards for his work. The group was inducted into the
Vocal Group Hall
of Fame
in 2002.
    Though best remembered as R&B and pop song stylists they deserve an exhibit in
The DiscoMuseum for their few disco offerings, only a handful but truly classics.
Ron Townson
Born: 1-20-1941
Died: 8-2-2001
(
kidney failure)