Behind the Band Name: The 5th Dimension

The 1960s soul group The 5th Dimension remains beloved to this day. In fact, the group was recently featured in the Oscar-winning documentary, The Summer of Soul, directed by The Roots’ legendary drummer, Questlove.

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But where did the group get its name? And did it always go by The 5th Dimension? We will dive into those questions and more.

The Group’s Origins and Original Name

The group first came to be in the mid-1960s as the Versatiles. Why? Likely because they were capable of singing and performing any number of song styles, from pop to gospel to R&B and even Broadway tunes. The group’s original members include Lamonte McLemore, Marilyn McCoo, Florence LaRue, Ronald Townson, and Billy Davis Jr. 

[RELATED: The 5th Dimension’s Florence LaRue Talks New Memoir, Band History, and Eartha Kitt]

But after that original formation in 1965, the group changed its name officially to The 5th Dimension by 1966. the name change worked in their favor. From 1967 to 1973, the collection of artists charted with 20 Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. “Up, Up and Away” hit No. 7 in 1967 and the band’s most famous song was the 1969 single, “Medley: Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures).”

Both of the songs won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year.

Other hits from the group include “Stoned Soul Picnic,” which hit No. 3, “One Less Bell to Answer,” which hit no. 2 and “Wedding Bell Blues,” which hit No. 1.

The 5th Dimension Name

McCoo and Davis Jr. told CBS about the name change. “We needed something that’s more up-to-date [than the Versatiles],” said Davis. “So, Ron Townson and his wife came up with The 5th Dimension.”

“It was, like, five people, and dimension was about music,” said McCoo. “And nobody had a name like that out there.”

Boom, simple as that.

More From LaRue

The beauty queen and musician previously told American Songwriter that, at first, she didn’t want to be an artist.

She’d just won a beauty pageant—the Miss Bronze California contest—and McLemore had approached her but she declined, thinking McLemore would have asked anyone who’d won the contest. So, she sloughed him off.

So, she told McLemore that she wouldn’t even be able to make many rehearsals. But he persisted and eventually, LaRue acquiesced. 

“I owe my career to Eartha Kitt,” LaRue told American Songwriter. “I met a gentleman years after 5th Dimension began performing and he said, ‘You don’t know me, but I was a judge when you won the Miss Bronze California contest. And all the young ladies came out in their gowns and sang. But when you came out in a white suit with a white hat, holding the hatbox, Eartha Kitt looked at the rest of us and said, ‘There’s your winner!’”

“The moment I got into the group,” LaRue says, “I believed there was hope and promise. I didn’t want to be a part of anything that was just a hobby or there for fun.”

As the band quickly rose to popularity, its members enjoyed success. But there wasn’t exactly a ton of time to bask in it, LaRue explains.

[RELATED: Behind The Song: “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” by The 5th Dimension]

“It was very exciting,” she says. “But I didn’t really have time to realize the extent of our popularity until after when I was sitting back and reflecting. Like, ‘Wow, we went to the White House, we toured with Frank Sinatra!’ When you’re in the process of doing something, I don’t think you realize the impact while you’re doing it. It’s just what you do. When you look back, it’s like, ‘oh wow, I did that. I’m very proud of that.’”

“Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In”

LaRue told American Songwriter the origin story of the group’s hit song.

She said, “One of the gentlemen in the 5th Dimension lost his wallet. We were in New York City at the Americana Hotel, performing and another gentleman found his wallet and brought it to the Americana and returned it. So, we invited him to the show and he invited us to his show. That gentleman was the producer of [the musical] Hair! So, when we went to see Hair and we heard the song, we said, ‘Wow, we’ve got to do that!’

“And we suggested it to our producer. He said, ‘No, I don’t think it’s such a good idea. Because, first of all, the cast album’s out and it’s not really selling a lot.’ But he came back to us and said, ‘Let’s record ‘Aquarius’ with ‘Let the Sunshine In’”—they’re actually two different songs—and that’s how it came about.”

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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