Three childhood friends, Billy Davis Junior, Ron Townson and Lamonte McLemore came together in the early 60s in Los Angeles as a singing group called The Versatiles. They were joined by former beauty contestant winners Marilyn McCoo and Florence LaRue.
Gordy listened to the demo and was impressed with their sound but didn’t hear any potential chart hits. He asked that they return when they had more songs for him to listen to.
Meanwhile, the Director of West Coast Operations at Motown (Marc Gordon) heard the group and offered to manage them. They recorded You’re Good Enough For Me and Bye Bye Baby (both co-written by Gordon) on the Bronco label, but it wasn’t until Gordon introduced them to Johnny Rivers, who was starting Soul City Records, that their career began to take off.
Johnny Rivers liked their sound and decided to produce the group, although he insisted on changing their outdated look and name.
Re-christened The Fifth Dimension, and with new “mod” outfits, the group released I’ll Be Lovin’ You Forever in 1966. Their 1967 follow-up single, Go Where You Wanna Go, went Top 20 in the US Charts.
Up, Up & Away was released in February 1967, along with an album of the same name. The single entered the Top 10 and stayed on the Top 40 for 10 weeks.
It also earned the group four Grammy awards – Best performance by a vocal group, Best contemporary group performance, Best contemporary single and Record of the Year.
Stoned Soul Picnic was released in May 1968 and became their first million-seller, remaining in the Top 40 for 12 weeks. Sweet Blindness was released a few months later, peaking at #13, and at the beginning of 1969, California Soul also became a Top 40 hit.
The group decided to splice two songs from Hair – an exciting new Broadway hit show – together (Aquarius and Let The Sunshine In) and the resultant single hit the #1 spot and remained there for six 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.
In September 1969, Wedding Bell Blues soared to the top of the charts, closely followed by Workin’ On A Groovy Thing (co-written by Neil Sedaka) and Blowing Away.
That same year, Marilyn McCoo married Billy Davis Jnr, and Florence LaRue married manager Marc Gordon.
Their singles and LPs continued to sell well, and in October 1970, One Less Bell To Answer (a Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition) hit #2, eventually selling over two million copies.
By 1972 the group began recording tracks with solo vocals, and Marilyn’s solo, (Last Night) I Didn’t Get To Sleep At All, made the Top 10. Five months later another McCoo solo (If I Could Reach You) was released. It also went Top 10.
The final Fifth Dimension album with all five original members was Earthbound, issued in 1975. Marilyn and Billy then left the group to venture in another musical direction.
Despite several subsequent personnel changes in the group, Florence LaRue and Lamonte McLemore never left the group. Ron Townson left for a little while to sing as a solo artist, and to form Ron Townson and Wild Honey, but later returned.
In 1991, The original Fifth Dimension received a star on Hollywood’s Walk Of Fame.
After a four-year battle with kidney disease, Ron Townson died in his home in Las Vegas in 2001 from renal failure. He was 68.
Billy Davis Jr