Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. continue to let the sunshine in!

CBSNews
·4 min read

Half-a-century ago "One Less Bell to Answer" was a smash hit for The 5th Dimension. On lead vocal: Marilyn McCoo, touching a nerve with a timeless torch song:

She still does all these years later … and correspondent Nancy Giles couldn't resist singing along … especially with encouragement from Billy Davis Jr., a founding member of The 5th Dimension, and McCoo's husband.

"You guys have been married for 51 years? Is that right?" asked Giles.

"Where did the time go?" said Davis.

It flies by, but thankfully their music always brings us back.

The 5th Dimension charted 20 Top 40 singles. Selling millions of albums, they were fixtures on radio and TV variety shows

McCoo said, "When we do our performances and people get up and come dancing down the aisles, especially a lot of the people our age, they remember the times."

Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoo, two founding members of The 5th Dimension. / Credit: CBS News
Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoo, two founding members of The 5th Dimension. / Credit: CBS News

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Davis was raised on gospel and the blues. He was in several groups, and even ran a talent agency. Among his clients: an unknown young woman from Tennessee. "Well, she was Ann Bullock at the time; we didn't know her as Tina Turner yet, you know?" he said.

Marilyn McCoo was from New Jersey. The daughter of two physicians, she preferred music over medicine, and was an aspiring singer in California when she first met Davis.

"Billy came out to Los Angeles looking for a record career, and ran into Ron Townson and Lamonte McLemore, who he knew from St. Louis," McCoo said. "And they decided to put a group together. Florence LaRue and I ended up being the other two members."

They called themselves the Versatiles. The chemistry was there … but one thing had to go: the name. "We needed something that's more up-to-date," said Davis. "So, Ron Townson and his wife came up with The 5th Dimension."

"It was, like, five people, and dimension was about music," said McCoo. "And nobody had a name like that out there."

And no one had a sound like they did.

"Go Where You Wanna Go" was their first hit. Their second arrived thanks to writer Jimmy Webb, who had just returned from a hot air balloon festival.

McCoo recalled: He came back and he said, 'It was so beautiful.' And so he started playing 'Up, Up and Away.' And we all liked it so much. But we said, 'Oh, that's beautiful, but it'll never be a hit.'"

Giles asked, "You didn't think so? Really. Why didn't you think it would?"

"Well, we thought the song was too pretty," Davis replied.

Pretty – and popular! And in the tumultuous year of 1968, "Up, Up and Away" won 6 Grammy Awards.

Next, a classic: "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In," two numbers from the Broadway musical "Hair," merged together.

McCoo said, "We were in the studio and we had done all the 'Let the Sunshine In' over and over and over again. Our producer told Billy, he said, 'Okay, Billy, now it's your turn. You go into the studio and take it to church!' And he did!"

Other Top 10 songs followed: "Stone Soul Picnic," "I Didn't Get to Sleep at All," and "Wedding Bell Blues," recorded when McCoo and Davis were dating.

"Billy came to me and he begged me to marry him," McCoo said.

"So, you knew by that point, you were like, 'She's the one'?" asked Giles.

"Yeah, yeah,' said Davis.

"And Marilyn, you were a little more gun-shy?"

"I thought, 'We have such a great relationship. Do we wanna mess it up with marriage?'" McCoo laughed.

They tied the knot in 1969. But as they drew closer, The 5th Dimension drifted apart.

"We talked about it at length,' said McCoo, "and we said, 'If we don't try to see where it can go, we'll never know.'"

A big risk that paid off in 1976, when a producer brought them a song that would go all the way to #1.

Their history is still being written.

McCoo and Davis continue to perform, and this year will release "Blackbird," a collection of songs by John Lennon & Paul McCartney. It's their first studio album in nearly three decades.

McCoo said, "We think about the things that are happening in our country right now and we feel, like, as a country we have to stick together."

Sticking together, and singing together, then as now, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. wouldn't have it any other way.

Davis said, "Music is our passion. We've been wanting to do this ever since we were kids. To do it with your spouse? It doesn't get any better than that!"

Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: Ed Givnish.

U.S. hits grim COVID milestone amid new hope of third vaccine

Open: This is "Face the Nation," February 28

Jim Gaffigan marks one year of lockdown