In 1967, the 5th Dimension (Billy Davis, Jr., Marilyn McCoo, Florence LaRue, Lamonte McLemore, and Ron Townson) was launched into the Top 10 with “Up, Up And Away,” by then-unknown songwriter Jimmy Webb. The Summer Of Love may have been approaching, but this was neither rock nor soul; this was about as pop as you could get.
To say that the Dimension’s delivery could at times be stiff or downright square would be an understatement, and for every inventive piece of songwriting, like “Up,” there was Webb silliness like “Rosecrans Blvd.,” which would be hysterical were it not for the fact that it’s not a parody (“The girl was half crazy, the way she drove her little car, down Sunset Boulevard, at three in the morning, doing 90 miles an hour, in a 30-mile zone”).
The group’s first 10 albums and McCoo and Davis’s first duo album are now available on seven CDs, four of them twofers, beginning with Up, Up And Away paired with the nearly all-Webb concept album, Magic Garden.
What makes these records interesting is Bones Howes’ producing and engineering (following the Johnny Rivers-produced debut, engineered by Howe), utilizing a bevy of L.A.’s A-list session players. Tommy Tedesco’s gut-string flourishes soar over “Up,” backed by Hal Blaine on drums, Larry Knechtel on keyboards, and Joe Osborne’s melodic, grooving bass. Al Casey provides additional guitar and “Eastern sounds” on the first album, while Dennis Budimir plays rhythm, with Mike Deasy sharing solos with Tedesco, on the second.
The material was gathered from several writers for the group’s third LP, Stoned Soul Picnic, whose title track was penned by Laura Nyro, as was “Sweet Blindness.” The same nucleus supplies the backing tracks, with arranger Ray Pohlman adding some guitar. That album is paired on CD with The Age Of Aquarius, for which Nyro supplied another hit with “Wedding Bell Blues.” Additional keyboards beef up the sound (Pete Jolly and Jimmy Rowles joining Knechtel), with the guitar trio of Tedesco-Budimir-Deasy once again joined by Blaine and Osborne, who really gets to strut his stuff on the medley from the musical “Hair” (“Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In”), resembling Motown’s James Jamerson in both technique and feel.
The double Live!! LP, from ’71, was both rousing and slick. Blaine, Knechtel, and Osborne are joined by bassist Andrew “Muff” White and guitarist Rudy Stevenson, veteran of Nina Simone’s band, in a program that included medleys of Nyro and Webb songs, before closing with an eight-minute workout on the “Hair” medley. At a time when singer/songwriters like Carole King and James Taylor were beginning to dominate the airwaves, and Marvin Gaye was pushing the soul envelope with “What’s Going On,” it’s significant that it was recorded at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas, before the older demographic the act appealed to.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Dec. ’07 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.