ANOTHER DIMENSION (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #134)

The other night I was listening (as I often do) to Up, Up and Away, the 2-disc 5th Dimension collection from the late nineties that begs the question of how many acts from the rock and roll era can sustain a forty-song comp without breaking a sweat, yielding a single weak cut or ever so much as having been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I don’t know the exact answer, but I’ll bet you don’t need your second hand to count them.

Then, in the middle of the second disc, with the headphones on after midnight, I also realized something else, namely that, if this was indeed done in front of an audience in Las Vegas (hard to tell), it is almost without a doubt the greatest live harmony vocal ever recorded.

And if, by chance, it wasn’t recorded in front of an audience, this was…

Which means the greatest harmony vocal ever recorded in front of a live audience still belongs to black people who have never been given a tenth of the credit they deserve because the crit-illuminati–white to a man–decided they were too white.

That it’s also a master class in stagecraft (carried off–on television, where every mistake is magnified by a power of a thousand–by two people who are now approaching their fiftieth wedding anniversary) is just proof that Keats wasn’t wrong. A thing of beauty really is a joy forever.

That it took me this long to notice it’s a standout is a testimony to how strong their catalog is. Because, honestly, until just the other night, I thought it was just another good record by a group that made too many to count.

And, yes, They’re on the short list for a Track-by-Track….

6 thoughts on “ANOTHER DIMENSION (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #134)

  1. Holy mackerel. I’ve never heard that version of the first tune above. I clearly need to pick up that double disc. My two cents are that the song definitely sounds like it was recorded live (namely, straight off the board, before the signal went out to the house P.A.), as it would otherwise have been given a very wet reverb bath, the effect being ubiquitous in studios at the time — especially when the illusion of a live performance was required.

    The above product of “laziness” on the engineer’s part — dry vocals, straight off the board, little if any post-processing, just right to tape — is now a blessing for us, because we get to hear the performance raw. I’m normally a fan of reverb and / or delay, but some singers reallllllllllllllllllly didn’t need either one, Billy and Marilyn obviously being among them.

    It’s certainly up there among the greatest live harmony vocals ever recorded (I’ve always assumed that none of the Shangs’ “live” tracks actually were), which is fitting, as a top entry on whatever my personal “greatest transition from one song section to another” list contains is the masterful edit between “Aquarius” (a study in perfect harmony vocals itself) and “Let the Sunshine In.” Actually, I think the rest are on the Magic Garden album!

    • It was from a “live” album…but, as you know, lots of those had the applause overdubbed. I agree with you that it sounds authentic (and really pops on headphones) but I couldn’t find any verification one way or the other on the net so I went a-searchin’ on YouTube to see if they had ever done it live on TV….and that’s why I have a “Found in the Connection” category!

      I highly recommend the Up, Up and Away collection…of course they were so good for so long that even a long 2-discer can’t capture everything, but even I didn’t fully appreciate them until I sat down and let it all hit me at once….I’m still sorting it out!

      BTW–took me a long time to quite get “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” too. I always kind of liked it, but it’s only recently that I realized how utterly insane it is…straight harmonies to gospel scatting….that weird period intro to the jazzy bass (apparently by Joe Osborn) that’s plucking away like mad in the second half. It NEVER should have worked. And, after a thousand listens, it still does.

    • Ah, starts off with “Last Night I Didn’t Get to Sleep At All” the record that made me fall in love with them way back when! And I wouldn’t say the Hall is a sham. It’s flawed like all human institutions….They just need better advice. From people like you and me!

  2. As with the first few letters of “Shangri,” I’ll always be compelled to commence a major re-listening phase by merely reading the contraction “5th.” In other words, I’ve been listening to a lot of Dimension songs over the past week. A couple of things occurred to me:

    “Love’s Lines, Angles and Rhymes” might win the award for “Worst Lyrics in a Song That Happens to Have One of the Best Melodies Ever Composed, as Well as a Masterful Vocal Delivery.” (More efficient wording is forthcoming.)

    The lyrics sound like Spirograph instructions. Marilyn makes them irrelevant. Just listen to the singing and disregard the words, and you’ll hear an often overlooked 5D masterpiece. I probably don’t need to say that to anyone here, of course.

    Also, notwithstanding the fact that Laura Nyro wrote it, Marilyn wasn’t kidding when she sang “Wedding-Bell Blues.” As you’ve pointed out, she and Bill are still together. “I always will” indeed!

    Ah, the days when people stuck to their commitments……and when you didn’t have to be a star to be in a great woman’s show.

    • I confess I haven’t yet been able to keep up with the words to Angles and Rhymes…maybe in the NEXT hundred listens.

      But all you stay is true about the vocal. The only reason I can think for Marilyn McCoo not getting more love from critics is that she broke the easy narratives. Not just black woman singing “wrong” kind of music but anybody making things work that shouldn’t…and work beautifully, naturally, without a hint of strain. I got a long piece in me some day on the importance of Supper Club Soul in the rise of Rock and Roll America and the horrible cultural/political mistake of de-valuing it both then and now. (Which could be summed up as–Look what we got instead! I may have to name some names….)

      And Wedding Bell Blues? Good God. If that vocal didn’t exist, I wouldn’t believe it could.

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