SWEET MEMORIES OF “SWEETS”
by Robert-Allan Arno
As we honor his official birth date (it’s January 29 and not the 20th as so many sites state in inadvertent error) at “Forever 5th Dimension,” we reflect on the aura of the beloved Ronald “Sweets” Townson–the robust dignity of his classically-infused blend, “the visual image” of The Original 5th Dimension as Florence (LaRue) so warmly called him. She commented about her fellow Aquarian on REWOUND RADIO, “You never realize how much you care about someone until they’re gone.” LaMonte (McLemore) who grew up with Ron in St. Louis, recalls with a smile, “The Sweet Man’s” other nickname: “Danny Boy.” According to Mac in his popular memoir, FROM HOBO FLATS TO THE 5th DIMENSION, “It never failed, Ron would always croon that emotional standard at any special event and he’d blow the crowd away each and every time!”
His early mentoring by the renowned likes of Nat King Cole and Dorothy Dandridge provided Ron with confidence and panache plus a penchant for “giving back,” developing talent later on including managing the mid-late ’70’s singing group Creative Source and his own back-up trio of the time, Wild Honey, when he embarked on a solo career for a few years. W H member Freddie Pool, now with The Three Degrees, expresses, “Ron had an eye for the best…he always wanted perfection in our shows. His precious soul endures.” When Ron came back to The 5th Dimension, he re-joined Florence and LaMonte and got to work with new talents including Joyce Wright Pierce who states with emotion, “‘Sweets’ was indeed one of the sweetest, most generous and talented human beings I ever had the privilege to perform with…not only a music man but a gentleman.”
Ron Townson: his indelible recorded as well as spine-tingling in-concert legacy, from his heart to ours: “MacArthur Park,” “Sailboat Song,” “What Do I Need to Be Me,” “Love Story,” “One Hell of a Woman,” “Not Again,” “Band of Gold”…and who can’t still be charmed by his playfully mischievous turn on “Eli’s Coming” from the classic LIVE album? Ron’s son, Kyle Townson notes another fan favorite, the virtuosity of his father’s tour-de-force aria as Canio in”Pagliacci,” featured on the Vegas stage and as part of The 5th Dimension’s second TV special, “Traveling Sunshine Show.” Kyle reveals, “At first I think the audience thought my dad being in front of a mirror, in clown make-up was going to be a comedic performance. I could hear them laughing a bit…but then when Dad started singing, there was a hush. They certainly got it…and I’d hear them sobbing along with those tears of the clown from ‘Pagliacci!'”
Marilyn & Billy (McCoo & Davis, Jr.) recall Ron’s gentle smile. The duo declares, “Ron embodied the authentic sound of The 5th Dimension.” Producer Bones Howe adds, “Ron had this unique tenor that could go all over the place. He blended seamlessly with the guys, but could sing falsetto with Marilyn and Florence.” The fans get misty at the thought of this endearing, respected role model who soared like an eagle with The 5th Dimension. Think of his high notes on “Aquarius,” and “Workin’ on a Groovy Thing;” on the latter, listen for his rejoinder phrase, “Next to me!” Then there’s his flowing intro phrase to the obscure fave “On the Beach (In the Summertime).”
Personally, I’ll never forget the quality interview time Susan Aglio and I had with Ron the day after the debut of The Original 5th Dimension reunion tour, circa ’91. He was brought to tears when discussing his “MacArthur Park” moment: “My father always wanted me to record the song’s complete version; I’m so glad I got to perform the extended song onstage last night.” Ron was a humble man–this standing ovation garnering, literal stop-the-show solo turn with his group-mates in syncopated back-up is unforgettable. Ron also shared thoughtfully, “I’m proud that the ‘Earthbound’ album (one of his favorites) was sent up to space in a time capsule. And that school kids have learned to recite The Declaration of Independence because of our song, ‘The Declaration.'” LaMonte, in his memoir, concurs: “It was abundantly clear that Ron, along with being an exemplary family man, took the utmost pride in his contribution to The 5th Dimension, and to music history as a whole. Fans would flock to Ron because they’d recognize his authoritative yet adorable one-of-a-kind look more than the rest of us put together.”
We lost Ronald in 2001, but our Sweet Man’s light sings in the corners of our mind as he graces the angels’ celestial choir, eternally.
Kyle Townson, Ron’s son, kindly shares his thoughts in 2017:
“My dear brother Robert, thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. Every year you out-do yourself with the tributes for ‘Ron’/The 5th Dimension on his upcoming birthday, such a wonderful thing you do with keeping his spirit alive.”
Special thanks to Kyle, Marilyn & Billy, Florence, LaMonte, Joyce, Freddie and Bones for their contributions to this piece.
Biographer, The Original 5th Dimension & LaMonte McLemore
(copyright 2014-17, The Soul of the Voice, Ltd.)
HIS TOP 5: The Best of Ronald “Sweets” Townson
–“Band of Gold” From The 5th Dimension’s INDIVIDUALLY & COLLECTIVELY album…Ron’s falsetto brings a 50’s retro effect (shadowing some of his earlier Doo-Wop singles with The Intervals) to the romantic “Band of Gold.”
The fans say:
Susie Paige My favorite Ron solo!
Blake Morant His “Band of Gold” remains one of my favorite and harkens back to an era when falsetto was more de rigueur in pop music. At the risk of sounding old fashion, I hope this brand reemerges. One can only hope.
Brian Medoro Very timely when groups like The Stylistics all had falsetto singers during that 70’s era. Loved the 50’s throw back and of course the backgrounds added a warmth to the overall song.
Hear “Band of Gold” at:
—“The Sailboat Song” remains an enigma to this day, (if you peek in on YouTube) many still don’t know it’s Ron Townson’s gentle pop-croon in the lead…but we do! Ron told Susan Aglio & myself in a post-5th Reunion Tour opening night interview circa ‘90/91: “It’s one of my personal favorites, in fact, my son thinks it could be re-done…it could work today.” And it still does…with its meditative mood from the classic STONED SOUL PICNIC album…and who doesn’t love a tune that contains the term “phosphorescent light!”
The fans say…
Brian Medoro I loved this one. It was a unique cut from a new lead at the time. A sort of break from the group vocals. Echoey, dreamy, contemporary and very 60’s but could play in any era.
Joe Peltonovich And how about Joe Osborn’s amazing bass lines. Love this song!
Rich Wilson A beautiful song; I love Marilyn and Florence’s haunting background harmonies!
Susan Aglio Thank you, Robert, for a wonderful memory of talking to Ron… Yes, I do remember “where and when”!
Joel Jordan Thank You!! I haven’t heard the song in SO long…
Loretta Sorensen: “The Sailboat Song” was always one of my favorite songs, too.
Blake Morant The words, “smooth, subtle, and contemplative” come to mind as I hear this track… it’s “neo-champagne soul!”
Take that “Sailboat” ride at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqbd_b10R2o
—“Eli’s Coming” from “Live!!” Oh, that “mustache twirling,” delicious delivery by “Sweets” in the lead (not to mention his mischievous laugh) showcases his theatrical side and makes for another jewel in Ron’s versatile crown. Certainly worth a fresh 5th-listen for that “live” excitement!
The fans say…
Carlene Schultz Owen I love this one! Marilyn and Florence’s intro is absolutely haunting.
Michael John Kitner This is a great performance by Ron! Love Marilyn and Florence’s intro! Great song by Laura Nyro!
Blake Morant “Eli’s Coming” remains a 5D classic in my book. One of the few cover songs that rivals the original. Ron had the best sinister laugh in the business, save maybe the late great Vincent Price (remember “Thriller”?)
Experience “Eli’s Coming” at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRi7JPf3Iko
—“Where Do I Begin” Previously in the vaults for 3 decades, Ron’s version of “Where Do I Begin” (Theme from “Love Story”) was arranged for recording by Rene DeKnight to provide “Sweets” with an equally expansive platform to the one where he delivered the soaring, heart-tugging goods in-concert. Akin to other memorable Ron-lead “live” gems like “Not Again” (which was a prospective theme for “The Godfather,” by the way), “Love Story” stands as one of Ron’s very best “vocal solos” and I was never so proud in getting it released with the Collectors’ Choice expanded re-issue of SOUL & INSPIRATION (in conjunction with Bones Howe & Sony’s Rob Santos.)
The fans say…
Wilma L. Mott “Absotively posolutely” beautiful voice and song. Robert, thank you for honoring Ron with these memories.
Alain Baptiste Astounding.
Paulette Morant No one can sing it better than Ron! Beautiful harmonies and chords, especially at the end.
Estes John Beautiful and Stirring
Blake Morant Ron’s classical training comes through gloriously in this version of the song. One can understand why it didn’t make it on to the “Soul and Inspiration” LP. The company sought a more R&B feel for the group at that time. That said, I would have argued that “soul” means poignancy, which this song demonstrates admirably. Thank goodness it has been resurrected and we can enjoy it for many years to come. Here’s to the benched “Soul and Inspiration” track.
Renee T Armstead A very haunting song.
Kyle Townson I remember as a child going to see The 5th Dimension in Las Vegas, and after my father’s solo, I looked around and the ENTIRE audience was on their feet for an “extended” standing ovation. Thanks for posting this Robert
“Love Story,” our FOREVER 5th Tribute to Ron is here:
—“Pagliacci” Ron shows his stunning operatic virtuosity. “The show must go on…like the clown in Pagliacci,” Marilyn & Florence would wistfully sing, prefacing Ron’s tour-de-force during The Original 5th Dimension’s concerts of the early ‘70’s. Here, the breathtaking aria is staged for the group’s second network television special, “Traveling Sunshine Show.”
See “Pagliacci” (Recitar Vesti La Giubba) at this link:
–Honorable mention: “What Do I Need To Be Me” from the LIVING TOGETHER, GROWING TOGETHER album. A song of self-actualization, many fans like Martha Vink found Ron’s solo an important, empowering tune.
Hear “What Do I Need To Be Me” at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1YPoePzS1Q
More Thoughts from Special Fans…
Renee Armstead: I love so many of the Sweet Man’s solos. One friend of mine still remembers how clearly he hears him singing on “Good News” off of the “Stoned Soul Picnic” album. I think my faves would have to be “MacArthur Park” and “Eli’s Coming” from the “Live” album.
Dale Kocik: He was a major part of the 5th Dimension sound. Love his rendition of “MacArthur Park” on the “Live” album!
Alain Baptiste: Every “Ron solo” was different from the other, all too wonderful!
Douglas C. Charles: He was a gem. Helped me get all the group’s autographs one year. A wonderful man, gone too soon.
John Estes: Ron was not only an amazing song stylist, a one-of-a-kind singer like Nat King Cole, but he was an amazing person as well. I had the chance to meet him once and he was so welcoming and gracious to me. I will never forget his humbleness when I told him how it was such an honor to meet him.
Paulette Morant: Even after all of this time, I’m still adjusting to his being with us in spirit instead of in person. Thank you Robert, for reminding everyone of Ron’s incredible gifts. His performance of the aria from “Pagliacci” was stratospheric…who can top that
“From Hobo Flats to The 5th Dimension,” LaMonte McLemore’s memoir as told to Robert-Allan Arno features warm stories about “Sweets,” available at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0692307362