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McLemore was contacted by his childhood friend from St. Louis, Billy Davis, Jr. Davis said that he was offered a record deal with Motown. McLemore contacted another St. Louis native, Ron Townson, and he, along with Davis, McCoo, and school teacher/1963 Miss Bronze California winner Florence LaRue, started the Versatiles. The group was signed to Bob Keene's Bronco Records where their A&R director was future "Icon of Love" Barry White. After getting a contractual release from Bronco, the Versatiles signed to singer/producer Johnny Rivers' ("Secret Agent Man") Soul City label where the group became the 5th Dimension and was paired with producer Bones Howe. Howe used top L.A. session players the Wrecking Crew: bassist Joe Osborn, drummer Hal Blaine, keyboardist Larry Knechtel, and arranger Bob Alcivar on their sessions. Their first hit was a cover of the Mama and the Papas' "Go Where You Wanna Go," making it into Billboard's Top 20 pop charts in early 1967. "Up Up and Away," written by Jimmy Webb, went to number seven pop during the summer of 1967. The song won four 1968 Grammy Awards and was the title track to their first hit LP. In 1969, McCoo and Davis were married. That same year, the 5th Dimension enjoyed their greatest success. After being impressed by Ronnie Dyson's performance in the hit Broadway musical Hair, the group decided to cover one of the show's songs. "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" parked at number one pop for six weeks and number six R&B in spring 1969. The group performed the song in Milos Forman's 1979 movie version of Hair. The Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In LP, their best album, went gold, and included "Workin' on a Groovy Thing" written by Neil Sedaka.
The next album, Portrait, yielded the hits singles "Save the Country," the gold "One Less Bell to Answer" -- written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David -- and "Puppet Man."
Though the gold "(Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep at All" and "If I Could Reach You" were the group's last two singles to make it into the Top Ten, the 5th Dimension continued to have hits: "Living Together, Growing Together" -- another Bacharach/David song written for the Peter Finch movie Lost Horizon -- and "Ashes to Ashes."
In the mid-'70s, McCoo and Davis left the 5th Dimension and began performing as a duo. Landing a contract with ABC Records, they recorded their 1976 debut album, I Hope We Get to Love in Time, with Detroit producer Don Davis (Johnny Taylor, the Dramatics). The first single was the title track, which was a mid-chart hit. The second single, "You Don't Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)," went to number one on both the R&B and the pop charts during January 1977. Motown great James Jamerson is featured on bass. Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. were awarded a gold single and a gold album their first time out. The third single, "Your Love," went Top Ten R&B and Top 20 pop. In the summer of 1977, the couple had their own variety show, The Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. Show, on CBS.
Their next ABC album, 1977's The Two of Us, was produced by Motown alumni Frank Wilson (Eddie Kendricks, New Birth) and boasted the singles "Look What You've Done to My Heart," "Wonderful," the ballad "My Reason to Be Is You," and the tender title track. Switching to Columbia Records, their Marilyn & Billy album was released during the fall of in 1978. One charting single, a cover of "Shine on Silvery Moon," became a favorite in disco clubs. McCoo recorded her first solo LP for RCA Records, with the single "Heart Stop Beating in Time," written by the Bee Gees, being a small hit. Other solo albums by McCoo are White Christmas (Laserlight, 1996) and The Me Nobody Knows, produced by Chris Christian and Humberto Gatica (EMI Special Products, 1991). During the '80s, McCoo hosted the nationally syndicated pop music show Solid Gold and appeared on NBC shows Night Court and the soap opera Days of Our Lives. She also took to the stage, appearing in Dreamgirls, Showboat, and Man of La Mancha. McCoo co-hosted with Glynn Turman McDonald's Gospelfest Pt. 1 in 1990, available on home video.
The couple continues to perform around the country in concerts (some being 5th Dimension reunions) and musicals such as It Takes Two, Hit With a Hot Note!: The Duke Ellington Songbook, and celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary with a cover story in the August 9, 1999 issue of Jet Magazine. ~ Ed Hogan