In his memoir, “From Hobo Flats to The 5th Dimension,” founder of The 5th Dimension and life-long friend, LaMonte McLemore earmarks Billy Davis, Jr.’s interpretation of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” as incomparable, bringing a tear to his eye. As biographer of both The original 5th and “Mac,” I was so proud to have it released (in medley with “People Gotta Be Free”) as a rarity selection on the current CD chart-topper, “Playlist: The Very Best of The 5th Dimension” on Sony-Legacy. Florence LaRue confided to a recent audience at her solo cabaret show, “My all-time favorite song by The 5th Dimension is ‘Misty Roses!’” That’s Billy’s “sweet-soul” side, way back-in-the-day from the very first “Up-Up and Away” album. Compare this to his “flip side,” as both the bluesy “When Something is Wrong with My Baby” and the gritty “Steppin’ In” stop the show “live in person,” and on the exemplary Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr.’s latest double volume Live CD!
Dubbed one of our greatest Soul singers by the renown of Maurice White (Earth, Wind and Fire), Eddie Levert (The O’Jays) and Jimmy “Up-Up and Away” Webb, Billy noted recently to Michael Feinstein on his “Song Travels” radio show, “Nat King Cole was a major early inspiration.” In a mini “Master Class” Marilyn & Billy provided at our Blog, FOREVER 5th DIMENSION, Billy’s reminder to artists was to “tell the story…and let your notes highlight the feeling.” “’What comes from the heart, goes to the heart’ is my husband’s motto,” smiled Marilyn. No wonder Ashford & Simpson picked up on this “heartfelt” quality in The 5th’s fan favorite version of their sizzling composition, “California Soul,” a group song, like “Ashes to Ashes” that is rather Billy-driven. Oh, and the socially-conscious “Ashes” is one of Billy’s personal faves, he shared on the radio a few years back!
REWOUND Radio’s Bob Radil in talking with me about the legacy of The 5th, cited Billy’s improv on “Let the Sunshine In” as a watershed moment in recording history. I responded, “Billy’s call to ‘Sing along with The 5th Dimension’ was irresistible…how could the nation not!” Marilyn continued in our “class,” noting her hubby’s directorial chops, too, “Billy guided my phrasing on ‘One Less Bell,’ in fact, he helped all the members with their solos.”
On Gospel tunes like “The Love of God,” from Billy’s project with Rev. James Cleveland and re-issued, “Billy has made women swoon at our church appearances,” observes Marilyn with a sympathetic giggle. “That’s not me, it’s God working through me,” Billy retorts humbly, and maybe most importantly of all. Famed 5th producer Bones Howe tells me, “On ‘The Magic Garden’ album alone, if you juxtapose ‘Requiem: 820 Latham’ (one of Marilyn’s personal faves) with ‘The Worst That Could Happen’ with ‘Summer’s Daughter’ (the latter, one of Bones’ sentimental likes), you’ll hear all the ‘dimensions’ of Billy.” Indeed, there are so many dimensions, so many more songs with that “Billy Davis, Jr. touch”–his stamp of artistic excellence.
It’s become a yearly tradition to tell us your favorite “Billy tune” while “speaking with your heart” to wish him a Happy Birthday. However, this year for 2015, we present a twist with the following question:
If and when Marilyn & Billy record their next CD of duets with select solos, which all-time classic Soul, Blues, Gospel or American Pop Standard tune would you love Billy to record…or perhaps what previously recorded “Billy solo” would you like him to re-visit?
We’ll send all your “trains of thought” and greetings over to “Sir Davis” and his proud wife of nearly 46 years, the lovely Ms. McCoo, on his special morning of June 26th…our cherished and respected “Gentleman of Soul.” —Robert-Allan Arno
(copyright 2014, 15, The Soul of the Voice, Ltd.)
Here are our 2015 fan “results”–
I can’t believe LaMonte feels the same as I do about “A Change is Gonna Come.” It brings tears to my eyes too! That is my favorite Billy song! Also, I’ve always loved the fact that Billy was named the Sunny Dimension when the group was together. I have truly loved getting to know him and Marilyn all through these years. Happy Birthday!