The five original members were Billy Davis, Jr., Florence LaRue, Marilyn McCoo, Lamonte McLemore, and Ron Townson. They have recorded for several different labels over their long careers. Their first work appeared on the Soul City label, which was started by Imperial Records/United Artists Records recording artist Johnny Rivers. The group would later record for Bell/Arista Records ABC Records and Motown Records.
Some of the songwriters popularized by The Fifth Dimension later went on to careers of their own, especially Ashford & Simpson, who wrote "California Soul". The group is also notable for having more success with the songs of Laura Nyro than Nyro did herself, particularly in the cases of "Wedding Bell Blues", "Stoned Soul Picnic", and "Save the Country". The group also covered music by well known songwriters such as the song "One Less Bell to Answer" written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
Lamonte sought to form another group and started looking for members to join him and McCoo. One was Florence LaRue, who had received training as a youngster in singing, dancing and violin, and who also won the talent portion, as McCoo had the year prior, at Miss Bronze California. About the same time she was approached to join the group, Lamonte recruited an old friend of his, Ron Townson, who at age six had started singing in choirs and gospel groups in his hometown of St. Louis. His grandmother fostered his career by arranging for private voice and acting lessons as he grew up. In his teens, he toured with Dorothy Dandridge and Nat "King" Cole, joined the Wings Over Jordan Gospel Singers for a while, and also played a small part in the film Porgy and Bess. He demonstrated his considerable skill as a classical artist by placing third in the Metropolitan Opera auditions held in St. Louis. After finishing high school, he worked his way through Lincoln University by conducting the school and church choir. After graduating, he organized his own 25-member gospel choir.
Lamonte's cousin, Billy Davis Jr., started singing in gospel choirs at an early age. He later saved enough money to buy a cocktail lounge in St. Louis, which he used as a base for experimenting with various musical groups. When he was asked to join his cousin's new group, he immediately said yes.
The members began rehearsing in early 1966 and took the name of the Versatiles. They auditioned for Marc Gordon, who headed Motown's Los Angeles office. Although their demo tape was rejected by Motown, he agreed to manage them and brought them to the attention of Johnny Rivers, who had just started his own label, Soul City Records. Their first Soul City single, "I'll Be Lovin' You Forever", was a flop, but a cover of the Mamas and the Papas' "Go Where You Wanna Go" climbed into the top 20 on both R & B and pop stations.
Budding young songwriter Jimmy Webb supplied the group with their breakthrough hit, "Up, Up and Away", a top 10 hit in mid-1967, which won five Grammy Awards. The following year, the group scored major hit singles with Laura Nyro's "Stoned Soul Picnic" (U.S. #3) and "Sweet Blindness" (U.S. #13) and received a gold record for their album Stoned Soul Picnic, which also included the Ashford & Simpson written "California Soul". In 1969, they had two number one singles: "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" from the musical Hair and the Nyro composition "Wedding Bell Blues." Later hits included "One Less Bell to Answer" (U.S. #2) (1970), "Love's Lines, Angles and Rhymes" (U.S. #19), "Never My Love" (U.S. #12) (1971), "If I Could Reach You" (U.S. #10), and "(Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep at All" (U.S. #8) (1972).
In 1975, McCoo and Davis, who married in 1969, left the group to do both collective and individual projects. They went on to have success singing as a duo after leaving the group in 1975, including "Your Love" and the chart topper "You Don't Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)." McCoo also served a stint as the host of the TV show Solid Gold. The remaining trio carried on with new members, and nearly had a hit in 1976 with the LaRue-sung "Love Hangover"; however, Motown issued Diana Ross' own version shortly after the Fifth Dimension's hit the charts, and hers soared to the top of the charts. Strangely enough, the group signed with Motown not long after, releasing two albums in 1978. R'n'B singer Lou Courtney was in the group briefly between 1978 and 1979, Joyce Wright joined in 1979 and Phyllis Battle joined in the mid-1980s. The original quintet reunited in 1990 for a tour. Townson briefly left the group to try a solo career, but soon returned, as the group resigned itself to the nostalgia circuit; In 1995, the quintet of LaRue, Townson, McLemore, Battle, and Greg Walker recorded a new album, In the House, for Click Records. In 1998, Willie Williams replaced Townson, who died in 2001 due to diabetes-related kidney failure. Battle departed in 2002, to be replaced by Van Jewell. McLemore retired from the group in March 2006.
The group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002.
McCoo and Davis left the group in November 1975. Since then, other members have included:
|Year||Song||US||US AC||US R&B||CAN||UK||B-side|
|1966||"Go Where You Wanna Go"||16||-||-||9||-||"Too Poor to Die"|
|1967||"Another Day, Another Heartache"||45||-||-||-||-||"Rosecrans Blvd."|
|1967||"Up, Up and Away"||7||9||-||18||-||"Which Way to Nowhere"|
|1967||"Paper Cup"||34||-||-||17||-||"Poor Side of Town"|
|1968||"Carpet Man"||29||-||-||3||-||"The Magic Garden"|
|1968||"Stoned Soul Picnic"||3||-||2||5||-||"The Sailboat Song"|
|1968||"Sweet Blindness"||13||-||45||15||-||"Bobbie's Blues (Who Do You Think Of?)"|
|1968||"California Soul"||25||-||49||-||-||"It'll Never Be the Same Again"|
|1969||"Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In"||1 (6 wks.)||1 (2 wks.)||6||1 (3 wks.)||11||"Don'tcha Hear Me Callin' to Ya?"|
|1969||"Workin' On a Groovy Thing"||20||9||15||17||-||"Broken Wing Bird"|
|1969||"Wedding Bell Blues"||1 (3 wks.)||1 (2 wks.)||23||3||16||"Lovin' Stew"|
|1969||"Blowing Away"||21||7||-||24||-||"Skinny Man"|
|1970||"A Change is Gonna Come/People Got to Be Free"||60||-||-||-||-||"The Declaration"|
|1970||"The Declaration"||64||35||-||-||-||B-side of above|
|1970||"The Girls' Song"||43||6||-||-||-||"It'll Never Be the Same Again"|
|1970||"Puppet Man"||24||31||-||-||-||"A Love Like Ours"|
|1970||"Save the Country"||27||10||-||24||-||"Dimension 5"|
|1970||"On the Beach (In the Summertime)"||54||12||-||-||-||"This Is Your Life"|
|1970||"One Less Bell to Answer"||2||1 (1 wk.)||4||3||-||"Feelin' Alright?"|
|1971||"Love's Lines, Angles and Rhymes"||19||6||-||28||-||"The Singer"|
|1971||"Light Sings"||44||12||-||-||-||"Viva! (Viva Tirado)"|
|1971||"Never My Love" (live)||12||1 (1 wk.)||45||21||-||"A Love Like Ours"|
|1971||"Together Let's Find Love" (live)||37||8||22||-||-||"I Just Wanta Be Your Friend"|
|1972||"(Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep at All"||8||2||28||5||-||"The River Witch"|
|1972||"If I Could Reach You"||10||1 (1 wk.)||-||13||-||"Tomorrow Belongs to the Children"|
|1973||"Living Together, Growing Together"||32||5||-||-||-||"What Do I Need to Be Me"|
|1973||"Everything's Been Changed"||70||18||-||-||-||"There Never Was a Day"|
|1973||"Ashes to Ashes"||52||7||54||-||-||"The Singer"|
|1973||"Flashback"||82||30||75||-||-||"Diggin' for a Livin'"|
|1975||"No Love In the Room"||105||11||-||-||-||"I Don't Know How to Look for Love"|
|1976||"Love Hangover"||80||-||39||-||-||"Will You Be There"|