For six years, FOREVER 5th DIMENSION has had the honor & pleasure of presenting a “cavalcade” of special features on Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr., from exclusive interviews (carefully archived for re-issue including one today!), to rare video productions & special reviews. In turn, we’ve been blessed to have the lovely validation of “MarBill,” time & time again. In celebration of their 45th wedding anniversary on Sat., July 26th, we bring an excerpted, refreshed Q & A conducted 3 summers ago, that’s just as relevant today. We were having so much fun with this one, that “MarBill” called me back for a second day of chat, that’s how sweet they really are! Let’s all toast the duo’s enduring love, artistic excellence, and ever-inspiring essence! —Robert-Allan Arno
MARILYN McCOO & BILLY DAVIS, JR.: REFLECTIONS of GREATS
by Robert-Allan Arno
(previously issued, 2011)
Billy: You know Robert, when Marilyn and I are singing a tune, it’s really a mini movie to act in, that’s what songs are…yes, they give us a chance to act, to portray our vision.
Robert: Brilliant Billy! And I sincerely think you’re the King and Queen of doing mini movies in your songs.
Marilyn & Billy: (laughs) Thank you.
The 5th-MarBill: TV Trivia Time
Robert: Let’s have some pop cultural 5th-MarBill TV trivia fun!
There’s a bunch of “goodies,” for instance, the fans know The 5th Dimension is referenced on “The Brady Bunch” because one of the kids was trying to get someone popular to perform at a dance or the prom. You can make out a glossy of The original 5th on the wall of one of the kids in “Good Times.” I think it was the character, Carlton on “The Fresh Prince” who liked The 5th Dimension…even Jon Cryer’s character on “Two and a Half Men,” I’ve noticed his ringtone plays The 5th’s “Up-Up and Away!”
Marilyn: (laughs) Oh my, Robert, you’ve seen things we haven’t seen!
Billy: We have to check these out!
Robert: And then talk show host Wendy Williams modeled her jumpsuit asking the audience, “Do I look like one of The 5th Dimension, do I look like Marilyn McCoo?!”
Marilyn: (laughs) Now, we heard about that one!
Robert: She’s so much a part of today’s media scene, how does it feel to know you are still being referenced?
Billy: It’s nice, it’s recognition, it’s great to know our stuff still rates…
Marilyn: I mean we’re talking thirty or more years later…absolutely awesome!
On Creating & Collaborations
Robert: You’re always so enthusiastic and forthcoming about your recordings, you “take us there” in so many ways. It reminds me of the studio experience of The 5th Dimension “creating” with Burt Bacharach for “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” during that TV special of the ’70’s called “Burt Bacharach in Shangri-lah”…there’s a lot of footage of The 5th brainstorming with Burt that’s priceless.
Marilyn: Yes, what we did on the Burt Bacharach special was try to show in a brief way to the home audience what actually happened in putting that song together…we took little pieces and elements of it…we couldn’t really show everything because it took…
Billy: two or three hours to do it.
Marilyn: So we tried to show the concept and energy of what a brainstorming session would be like. Whenever you work with a giant like Burt Bacharach…
Billy: We worked with Mel Tomé once which was beautiful.
Robert: I remember that, for the PBS Christmas special of the late ’70’s…
Marilyn: Being in his dressing room and we’re working with Mel coming up with this 3 part harmony concept for the songs…you work with giants like that and it’s breathtaking…and it really keeps you on your toes!
Billy: It keeps you sharp because the thing is you don’t want to sit up there like you don’t know what you’re doing (laughs).
Marilyn: You know they’re thinking, “You were a member of The 5th Dimension, singing all those beautiful harmonies,” so let’s not go in there and blow it!
Billy: With Mel, of course we were arranging lots of Jazz parts in rehearsal…that’s my favorite Christmas show…
Rarities & More Rarities, by Request!
Robert: I’d love to hit the “Rarities Department” as we always do in our interviews. I always wait for the moment when Marilyn exclaims, “Oh, I loved that!” when talking about a favorite recording…
Marilyn & Billy: (laughs)
Robert: Let’s start with “Earthbound.” Top of the list, meaning fans keep waiting and waiting for this final album by The (original) 5th Dimension to be reissued on CD. (Note: “Earthbound” was re-issued in spring ’14 on Real Gone Music) Jimmy Webb who produced it told me he wanted it to be “The Magic Garden” album–Part 2 but he wasn’t exactly able to execute it as intended, that he was going through some personal stuff. I remember Billy sang me a snippet of “Be Here Now” when we were interviewing during The original 5th’s reunion tour. What are your feelings today about “Earthbound” and why do you think the fans are almost obsessed with it.
Marilyn: Are they?
Billy: Yes, I can understand that, it’s sentimental. At the time it was basically the end of an era. That was the last album the original group recorded together and we went “Up-Up and Away” in the beginning so now when we finished up, we’re coming back to earth. I think some of the songs, we were pushing them to be what they could be. I mean, I loved some of the songs from the project…
Marilyn: Baby, may I say a few words. (Speaks emotionally:) It was right after this album that Billy and I left The 5th Dimension and all of the things that went into that decision are there in that album. For that reason it was a very hard album.
Billy: Our hearts were in it when we were recording but now we can listen to it with our minds.
Marilyn: Yes, and fresh ears!
Billy: Time truly heals…
Robert: The fans all know “Love’s Lines, Angles and Rhymes” is one of Marilyn’s favorites of her solos. The author Dorothea Joyce, who unbelievably was my neighbor in the early ’90’s, gave me a nice interview about it. She not only said she thinks of Marilyn as carrying the torch of Lena Horne, in a contemporary vein, of course, but that she could hear “Love’s Lines” in a different incarnation one day, as a dance tune. And then she took a beat and said, “Well only if Marilyn, herself re-recorded it.”
Marilyn: I’m totally flattered and yes, I love “Love’s Lines, Angles and Rhymes,” but I can’t imagine it as a dance record. But as I always say, one has to stay open (laughs)!
Robert: I was pretty thrilled to produce the YouTube video of Marilyn’s “I’m On Your Side” from the sentimental movie, Neil Simon’s “Chapter Two,” starring Marsha Mason. The song was never formally released as a single, and I’ve never gotten such a deluge of comments from people talking about how they’ve searched for the tune and how much it personally means to them. May I share some examples with you?
Marilyn & Billy: Yes!
Robert: One woman wrote, “I have been singing ‘I’m On Your Side’ to my husband for years;” a man wrote, “This song holds so many incredible memories for my beautiful wife and I. We have looked high and low for it, thank you for giving it a new lease;” a fan from Australia commented, “I am eternally grateful for the magical and healing tones of the exquisite Marilyn McCoo on this oh so rare track.”
Marilyn: Oh wow, wow…I am very moved.
Robert: Do you remember anything about the recording of the song, Marilyn?
Marilyn: I just remember that I really liked the song, I was trying to decide how simple to keep it, or to try to do something bigger with it…but it just seemed like with the movie being what it was, that simplicity was what it required.
Billy: The movie dictated the approach.
Marilyn: Sometimes you’re a piece of the puzzle, and you want to take your part and fit it into the total piece…so you make a choice, a decision about what to do with it…
Robert: How ingenious that finesse is what gives this particular interpretation such grandeur and such a powerful, overwhelming listener response as a result.
Marilyn: Bones Howe (producer of The 5th Dimension) used to talk to me about that, sometimes we’d start working on a song and he’d say, “Keep the lines simple, keep it simple!” and he and I used to struggle with that in the studio because sometimes I’d want to do more with the melody. And when I was recording “I’m On Your Side,” I thought about Bones.
Robert: Here’s another question the fans are dying to know. You worked with Don Davis who so brightly produced your premier duet album, “I Hope We Get to Love in Time” (Note: To be re-issued July 28th on Big Break CD’s). But before you made the decision to go in a duo direction after leaving The 5th, Marilyn recorded some solo singles with Don that have never surfaced. The fans always are clamoring for them to be un-vaulted. Any recollection of them?
Marilyn: Those were great songs, they’d be in the ABC (Records) vaults. I really enjoyed working with Don and yes, before Billy and I did our duet recordings with him, I did 3 solos with him. And one of them was called, “Time is a Restless Old Man.”
Robert: What a title!
Marilyn: And I think that that song could have been a hit. “Time (pause) is a Restless (pause) Old Man!” (All laugh)
Billy: And I was doing solos, too with another producer, you may remember, “Three Steps From True Love.”
Robert: Yes, certainly! And I also remember Billy’s Gospel project of the 80’s with Rev. James Cleveland which has been recently re-released on your own label as “The Love of God” CD. Sometimes I think of Billy’s solo from The 5th Dimension’s “Individually & Collectively” album of ’72 as…well, inspirational…in fact fans will use the song’s title itself as a mantra to encourage someone who may be “going through.” And that song is “Leave a Little Room.”
Billy: That was a powerful song. It was one of my favorites. I think that song is a true statement of life. How we have to deal with situations that come up in our lives. We always have to “leave a little room to start again” because if we don’t…
Marilyn: Billy’s performance on that song was awesome, awesome!
Billy: I haven’t heard it in quite a while…
Marilyn: I can still hear it in my head, even though we haven’t listened to it in a long time…
Robert: It’s almost an unheralded performance yet so spine-tingling, as Marilyn said, it stays, it stays with fans, it never seems to go away. The quietude that Billy starts with…the build of it, the feeling of unbridled freedom and hope as it soars…Billy spins the thought process with the notes, through contemplation to elation to resolution.
Marilyn: Mm hmm…
Billy: Your words are poetic, Robert.
Robert: Well deserved. Yes, “Leave a Little Room” is nearly a Gospel tune in its own right, that’s why I put it in the same sentence with “The Love of God” reissue, isn’t that interesting?
Marilyn: You know what’s interesting about “The Love of God,” the way that Billy sings that song, it’s always a very special moment wherever he does it. He had sung it one time in a church and this woman actually swooned (laughs), but I can understand it, Billy delivers it with such passion every time…and it’s always the high point of any performance that we do…
Billy: It’s singing about the Lord, so that is the high point…
Marilyn: That’s right.
Robert: Always a brilliant thought from you, Billy because that is indeed the ultimate. Bones was saying to me last time we spoke, “Billy just hits his note in the center, and it hits you right in the heart,” see there’s “the heart” again…
Marilyn: Beautiful and true.
Robert: And there’s something about “The Love of God” that’s so centered in its total delivery, I can see where, via the concept of “cause and effect,” it would make someone “fall out.”
Billy: That’s not me, that’s the Lord working through me. I give Him credit for that, I thank Him for the gift he gave me, so I have to use it.
Robert: How soul-stirring, it’s like we’re having prayer as we talk about these songs.
Marilyn: (laughs) Yes we always get back to that, don’t we?
Robert: There is such a Godly core about everything you’ve ever done and it’s all about uniting people, “seeing the face of God on every person we encounter,” as we were talking about pre-interview, during our fellowship. I’ve never known entertainers to have that type of effect on their fans, because of the unconditional love you give to them in your work and as people.
Billy: Well, thank you for what you do, Robert. Your work for The 5th Dimension and our duet legacy, for the fans is educational, keeps them current, it’s spiritual, uplifting, it’s what keeps our fans near.
Marilyn: We think the world of you.
Robert: And on behalf of the fans, as the song goes, “The world’s a nicer place” because of you two!
Marilyn: We’ve really enjoyed this!
Billy: God bless you.
(McCoo/Davis interview, copyright ’11, ’14 for The Soul of the Voice, Ltd. and Robert-Allan Arno, FOREVER 5th DIMENSION, not for re-print.)
Also enjoy an array of rare Marilyn & Billy productions at our FOREVER 5th YouTube “playlist,” including “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” “I’m On Your Side,” “I Hope We Get to Love in Time (LIVE),” ” “I’m So Glad I Found You,” “Praise Ye the Lord,” more at:
>>BONUS! Here are select wishes from special fans…
Gabriel Pellegrino 45 years, wow! Thanks for all your years of beautiful music! And the love, the beauty and joy that come from every performance from the both of you. God bless.
Susie Paige Time to celebrate! Happy 45th Anniversary Billy and Marilyn!!
Patricia Correa Robert …. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post and tribute. I am absolutely thrilled to congratulate Billy and Marilyn, on their blessed union of 45 years. May it continue to be ad-infinitum.
Loretta Sorensen I can still remember finding my mom watching the Ed Sullivan Show as the Fifth Dimension were singing Wedding Bell Blues and “one of the girls in the group” was wearing a cute wedding dress and “the guy” was trying to get away from her! Seems like yesterday! Little did I know that these two were married in real life! Happy 45th Anniversary Marilyn and Billy! So exciting!!! (And thanks Robert!)
Estes John Happy 45th Anniversary Marilyn & Billy and Congratulations on having such an Inspirational and Beautiful Marriage!!!!
Dale Kocik Happy 45th Anniversary Billy and Marilyn! I wish I could go back in time and see The 5th Dimension performing in Nero’s Nook!
Douglas C. Charles You lovebirds are amazing! Gosh, I remember reading articles about your marriage. How time has flown. Wishing you all the best for many more happy years together. God Bless you both.
Alain Baptiste Wonderful interview with the talented, anointed two who inspire my wife and I nearly every day. God bless you on your 45th anniversary, and always. Mariette and Alain Baptiste–KATHY BRETZ– Marilyn & Billy, Congratulations on your 45th Wedding Anniversary! Together with Robert, I have admired your loving relationship for decades! I will look at your photo at The 5th website and say out loud, “Happy Anniversary!” as I wish you a very special day with my best regards.