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The story of the 5th Dimension in five glorious songs

May it forever be the Age of Aquarius.

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Top image: The 5th Dimension with Walt Frazier (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)

If you had to single out one single act that encapsulated all of pop music of the late-'60s and early-'70s, you'd be hard pressed to find a better option than the 5th Dimension. The Los Angeles–born quintet were a psychedelic soul sensation with adult sophistication. They bridged musical gaps, generational gaps and racial gaps with their baroque, breezy and harmonic songs. It's no wonder the 5th Dimension is a staple of our MeTV FM radio station.

Formed in 1965, the group lasted in its original incarnation until 1975, releasing 10 studio albums in 10 years. Today, the band remains criminally underrated by critics. Here are a handful of key cuts that demonstrate the musical and cultural importance of the 5th Dimension.

1

"Go Where You Wanna Go"

The fivesome originally called itself the Versatiles, which recalled a doo-wop era that was beginning to feel ancient in fast-advancing 1965. They submitted a demo tape to Motown, who swiftly rejected the act. The record label that branded itself "The Sound of Young America" found the band too square — a label it would constantly strive to shake. Johnny Rivers, however, heard promise and signed the Versatiles to his Soul City label, under the condition they change that name. Their first single flopped, but this cover of a tune by the Mamas & The Papas broke into the Top 20 and made the 5th Dimension stars.

Image: Soul City Records / Discogs

2

"Up, Up and Away"

This lush and airy slice of sunshine pop soared with its magic-carpet orchestration and dreamy falsettos. TWA adapted the song to create its memorable jingle and commercial campaign, using session musicians and anonymous singers. Upset at their replacements, the 5th Dimension sued the airline. The band lost the case, as the court noted, "Prior to producing the commercials the defendants acquired a license to use the copyrighted music, lyrics, and arrangement of 'Up, Up and Away' from Johnny Rivers Music." You can't win 'em all.

Image: Liberty Records / Discogs

3

"Stoned Soul Picnic"

One of the 5th Dimension's most fruitful relationships was with budding songwriter Laura Nyro. The group was constantly covering critical darlings and taking others' songs to new popular heights. That probably led to some of the snobbery surrounding the band. 5D covered wonderful Nyro tunes like "Stoned Soul Picnic," "Sweet Blindness," "Wedding Bell Blues," "Blowin' Away" and "Save the Country." The first became the title track of the band's third album, released in 1968. Don't ask what "surry down" means. Nyro herself admits she simply made up the term. The group would also cover notable bards Jimmy Webb and Burt Bacharach.

Image: Liberty Records / Discogs

4

"Medley: Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)"

Now synonymous with the hippie movement, the original "Aquarius" is more legitimately psychedelic than you remember. Just look at that full song title. The two songs were written for the zeitgeisty musical Hair, and together became the song of spring 1969. The musical backing was performed by the famous Wrecking Crew, the same brilliant players on the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. It topped the charts for six straight weeks. Broadway, gospel, rock, funk — it's all in here.

Image: Liberty Records / Discogs

5

"The Declaration"

Throughout its original lifespan, the band struggled to shake its image of being too establishment, too ersatz. Playing a show for Richard Nixon at the White House in 1970 only stoked the band's anti-establishment critics. However, Florence LaRue, the only remaining original member still touring under the name, noted, “It was an honour to perform for the president of the United States, [but he] wasn’t necessarily the president of our choice.” To underline its political stance, the 5th Dimension sang its cry for equality, "The Declaration," for the President. The song features a soulful singing of the Preamble from the Declaration of Independence. As dry as that sounds, it works.

Image: Bell Records / Discogs

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