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UPDATE: “The Essential 5th Dimension” Details Confirmed

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Back on March 1, we reported on Arista and Legacy’s The Essential 5th Dimension (88697 82702-2), compiling 36 of the group’s most delectable tracks in a format similar to 1997’s Up, Up and Away: The Definitive Collection (Arista/BMG Heritage 07822-18961-2). With The Essential’s release on Tuesday, we can finally confirm what’s different about this release: one different track, a new sequence and fresh remastering. Read on for a recap of the original post with newly updated information!

For a golden period in the late 1960s and early 1970s, few groups had as winning a streak as The 5th Dimension. Jimmy Webb wrote an entire album for the group, The Magic Garden, after having supplied them with their first hit, the five-time Grammy winner “Up, Up and Away.” The 5th Dimension appeared to be the muse of Laura Nyro, as well, turning Nyro’s brilliant and idiosyncratic material like “Wedding Bell Blues,” “Stoned Soul Picnic” and “Sweet Blindness” into hit gold. The group discovered Burt Bacharach and Hal David late in the game, yet recorded the definitive version of the team’s little-known song “One Less Bell to Answer,” which Keely Smith had debuted in 1967. Their 1970 recording hit No. 2 on the pop charts and is well-remembered today. They took a mini-medley from the Broadway musical Hair all the way to the top when “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” spent 16 weeks on the chart, six of them at No. 1. Neil Sedaka, Ashford and Simpson and Tony Macaulay all benefitted from the group’s “champagne soul” stylings. Even Frank Sinatra sought them out as an opening act and as guest stars on his well-regarded television special Francis Albert Sinatra Does His Thing. The original quintet disbanded in 1975 after the release of Earthbound, a reunion album with Jimmy Webb on the ABC label which unfortunately still remains unavailable on CD. There were a couple of Motown albums in 1978 from the group’s new lineup and another unsuccessful comeback effort in 1995. But it’s the classic 1967-1974 period that has been collected by Legacy on The Essential 5th Dimension, which was released on March 15.

The Essential 5th Dimension contains 36 of the group’s finest moments. These reflect a true embarrassment of songwriting riches, not to mention sophisticated arrangements, both vocally and musically. All of the above-mentioned songs are included, of course. But you’ll also hear tracks such as the hit cover of The Mamas and The Papas’ “Go Where You Wanna Go,” great Neil Sedaka songs (“Puppet Man,” also recorded by Tom Jones, and “Workin’ on a Groovy Thing”) and Jimmy Webb perennials (“The Worst That Could Happen,” recorded before Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge, plus “Carpet Man,” “Paper Cup,” “The Girls’ Song” and “Orange Air”). There’s of course, plenty of Laura Nyro, who’s represented by songs both ubiquitous (“Wedding Bell Blues,” “Stoned Soul Picnic”) and unfamiliar, though no less great (“Black Patch,” “Blowing Away”). The great Bones Howe, who went on to helm Tom Waits’ earliest LPs, was seated in the producer’s chair for every LP after the debut album, Up, Up and Away. (That LP was produced by Johnny Rivers and Marc Gordon.) Howe created a smooth and instantly recognizable sound for the group, aided by the stellar arrangements of Bob Alcivar and others. The Wrecking Crew lent able support as the house band. But the stars were the five individual singers whose distinctive blend was capable of both pure pop and impassioned soul: Marilyn McCoo, Billy Davis, Jr., Florence LaRue, Lamont McLemore and Ron Townson. How does The Essential differ from its 1997 counterpart? Hit the jump for the revised track listing and more!

Alas, there’s little new for longtime fans of the group on this two-CD anthology. The Essential 5th Dimension is basically a repackage of Arista/BMG Heritage’s Up, Up and Away: The Definitive Collection (07822-18961-2, 1997), containing 35 of the same 36 tracks as that compilation. Motown stalwart Willie Hutch’s “California My Way,” in a spiffy Jimmy Webb arrangement, replaces W.M. Hutchinson’s “I’ll Be Lovin’ You Forever,” which was the group’s first single on Soul City under the name The Versatiles. (Both songs can be found on the expanded, unfortunately out-of-print Buddha and Collectors’ Choice CD reissues of debut LP Up, Up and Away.) The Essential has also been sensibly resequenced from the 1997 compilation into chronological order.

The Essential 5th Dimension (much like its predecessor) remains one-stop shopping for those wishing to familiarize themselves with one of the greatest pop/soul vocal groups of all time. At 36 tracks, it’s the most comprehensive collection of the group’s material available, combining the hit singles with choice album cuts. The original Arista/BMG Heritage issue featured a lengthy and informative essay by Mike Ragogna which has been retained for the new release. Although newly formatted, full discographical information and chart positions have also been carried over.

Perhaps most excitingly, The Essential 5th Dimension has been remastered by Sony’s Vic Anesini. Back in 1997, the tracks were remastered in 20-bit “from the original master tapes” by Sundazed’s Bob Irwin and there have been subsequent remasters. Eliott Federman tackled the catalogue for Buddha’s 2000 reissues, while Anesini and Rob LoVerde remastered much of the group’s catalogue for Collectors’ Choice’s 2007 expanded reissue series. Anesini’s crisp remastering could very well make this worth an upgrade from the 1997 issue.

Feel like reacquainting yourself with The 5th Dimension?  The Essential 5th Dimension is in stores now.

The 5th Dimension, The Essential 5th Dimension (Arista/Legacy 88697 82702-2, 2011)

Disc 1

  1. Up, Up and Away
  2. Another Day, Another Heartache
  3. California My Way
  4. Go Where You Wanna Go
  5. Learn How to Fly
  6. Carpet Man
  7. The Girls Song
  8. The Worst That Could Happen
  9. Orange Air
  10. Paper Cup
  11. Stoned Soul Picnic
  12. Sweet Blindness
  13. California Soul
  14. Wedding Bell Blues
  15. Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)
  16. Blowing Away
  17. Wedding Bell Blues
  18. Workin’ on a Groovy Thing

Disc 2

  1. One Less Bell to Answer
  2. Puppet Man
  3. Save the Country
  4. Medley: The Declaration/A Change is Gonna Come/People Gotta Be Free
  5. Dimension 5ive
  6. On the Beach (In the Summertime)
  7. Time and Love
  8. Love’s Lines, Angles and Rhymes
  9. Light Sings
  10. Never My Love
  11. Together Let’s Find Love
  12. (Last Night) I Didn’t Get to Sleep At All
  13. If I Could Reach You
  14. Black Patch
  15. Living Together, Growing Together
  16. Everything’s Been Changed
  17. Ashes to Ashes
  18. Flashback
  19. No Love in the Room

Disc 1, Tracks 1-5 from Up, Up and Away, Soul City 91000, 1967
Disc 1, Tracks 6-10 from The Magic Garden, Soul City 92001, 1967
Disc 1, Tracks 11-13 from Stoned Soul Picnic, Soul City 92002, 1968
Disc 1, Track 14-17 from The Age of Aquarius, Soul City 92005, 1969
Disc 2, Tracks 1-5 from Portrait, Bell 6045, 1970
Disc 2, Track 6 from Bell single 913-A, 1970
Disc 2, Tracks 7-9 from Love’s Lines, Angles and Rhymes, Bell 6060, 1971
Disc 2, Tracks 10-11 from The 5th Dimension Live!!, Bell 9000, 1971
Disc 2, Tracks 12-14 from Individually and Collectively, Bell 6073, 1972
Disc 2, Tracks 15-17 from Living Together, Growing Together, Bell 1116, 1973
Disc 2, Track 18 from Bell single 45425-A, 1973
Disc 2, Track 19 from Soul and Inspiration, Bell 1315, 1974

Written by Joe Marchese

March 18, 2011 at 10:25

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