Friday Freak-Out: The 5th Dimension's "Up, Up and Away" (1967)

[video link]

Friday Freak-Out: The 5th Dimension perform "Up, Up and Away" from their 1967 debut album of the same name, also available on the "Essential 5th Dimension" compilation.


    1. Same for me. It was the sound of my early childhood. Somehow this album broke through my parents’ regular diet of Percy Faith, Lawrence Welk, and Perry Como (with all due respect). I loved it. Thanks for the reminder!

  1. Hell yeah I’d like a ride in your beautiful balloon.

    I wonder how much this song gets overplayed at balloonist conventions? Balloon rock is a fairly limited genre, and I think it’s time for some new balloon-related pop hits.

    As an undergrad I had a student job as a stagehand at the UMASS Fine Arts Center, and got to meet the 5D (or a subset thereof) and see them play this live. It was a thrill, as this was one of my favorite songs from my childhood.

  2. OK, so in San Jose, CA, on Fridays, between 10 am and 2 pm, the college radio station KSJS broadcasts an “oldies” show of popular music from the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies. (For those that know what the acronyms mean, this boils down to AOR, MOR, Adult Contemporary, etc.)

    The thing that makes this more interesting than most is the host, Dennis Terry, who has been on the air for something like forty years, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of the music and a passion for unusual versions (foreign language, extended mixes, studio banter, etc), and alternate tracks (B-sides, “bubbling under”) and all the other stuff that never gets played on other oldies programs. He also does artist spotlights and chats about the music and SF Bay Area radio stations.

    Yes, they have streaming, hidden in the depths of

  3. Hey, remember when signing actually took talent?
    Now this would get auto-tuned to fucking shit in a heartbeat.

    1. Even today, Fifth Dimension wouldn’t get autotuned. They are all fantastic singers. I don’t care for the genre*, but I do appreciate their incredible talent.

      *I admit to having a pretty big soft spot for Age of Aquarius.

      1. I think you might have misinterpreted my post. I was trying to say that these guys are excellent singers but, in the world of shit-tastic music we’re bombarded with today, they probably wouldn’t make the cut because we have dipshits like Little Wayne singing through auto-tune etc.

  4. Groovy retro outfits, sure.

    Swingin’ Sixties vibe, yeah.

    But the real deal here is the songwriting of Jimmy Webb. That actually holds up, nostalgia aside.

    Check out his book, Tunesmith–it’s very interesting explanation of his songwriting.

    1. > But the real deal here is the songwriting of Jimmy Webb.
      > That actually holds up, nostalgia aside.

      Really? Because I’ve always thought that the only interesting thing about “Up, Up, and Away” is that by existing it disqualifies “Macarthur Park” from being the worst hit song Webb ever penned — a notable, if dubious, accomplishment.

      I guess tastes can differ (diametrically, apparently..)

      1. Sorry you don’t appreciate Webb but I still especially like “Wichita Lineman”, the romantic image of the men who keep our technological society going. I like songs with working class heroes.

  5. Made my skin crawl then, has the same effect now.

    Apparently the non-threatening, soporific qualities sought by white middle america in black folks during the 60’s still retain their special magic. What I remember about this period was the Detroit Riots, the Watts Riots, the Beyond Vietnam speech, Soul on Ice, and whole lot of black people thinking hard about what 100 years since the emancipation had meant. This fucking song was endlessly re-presented on every show, while Sly or James Brown or Aretha couldn’t get on air to save their lives, never mind Charles Mingus.

    The 5th Dimension were a manufactured response by media to reinforce notions of black obedience to status quo roles. No, massa, we happy, etc. etc. It’s just the minstrel show, updated.

    This isn’t trolling – I’ve long dreaded the day when the decontextualization of the past would make crap like this acceptable, and of course that happens every day. But this song was THE WORST – it was the one that made it clear to many people what was going on, that the media would go a million miles out of its way to misrepresent or ignore the incredible creativity and potential of afro-american culture, and find any kind of cynical shit to put up so they could cover their asses on it. So I had to say it, sorry.

    1. I always just hated the song as saccharine drivel, without putting that much thought into it.

    2. Feel better?

      Not sure that the members of the 5th Dimension would agree with your assessment of them as an updated Steppin Fetchit. But then Steppin Fetchit wasn’t really “Steppin Fetchit” if you catch my meaning.

      The 5th Dimension started in the early 60s and were given their break by Ray Charles. So I’m really not buying that they were safe corporate black faces for middle America. They were a legitimate singing group who utilized top songwriters of the day. And Sly & the Family Stone, James Brown Aretha Franklin got plenty of face-time on TV as well. Maybe Sly was a bit freaky for white America and the 5th Dimension was more clean-cut but to disparage the latter as “no massa, we happy” is pretty shameful.

      1. Well, I stepped in to this not wanting to go down troll lane, so I’m not going to start the blowtorch up.

        What I will say is that Wikipedia (I’m not claiming expertise on the band’s background) contradicts your claim that Ray Charles discovered them. You can read the article, but that was the HiFis, a band I have not heard, who Wikipedia calls “jazz-type”. I don’t know what jazz-type (as opposed to jazz) is, but I’m prepared to say that the band Ray Charles heard was probably pretty different from the band in the video. But so what? Ray Charles is Ray Charles, the 5th Dimension are the 5th Dimension. Judge them on their own terms.

        What strikes me as shameful is that there ever was, or still is an expectation of black obedience, and that powerful media, using a public resource (the airwaves), would so clearly dogwhistle this. Calling it out isn’t what’s shameful. The examples of it are all over the place, but its muslims, particularly arabs, and latinos who are often the target now.

        And I don’t agree that the musicians you mention got “plenty of face-time” on TV. That’s clearly not true. In the first place, there really wasn’t enough airtime between the typical 3 channels in most markets. And when they were allowed on air, it was often on “race” oriented shows. These things are difficult to determine, but again checking wikipedia for examples of television appearances show many examples for prominent white musicians of the era, and very few for major black artists.

        1. omnivore, where did you get the idea that a black pop rock and roll group is something that must be some white-created articial construct that has all those “dogwhistle” connotations you’re talking about?

          Blacks were a huge part of the rock and roll music scene of the 50’s and 60’s – not just in the edgy areas James Brown and Sly covered, but also in the pop mainstream. The Shirelles, The Supremes, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Marcels, The Four Tops, The Drifters, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, (and I can keep going) all had songs on the Billboard pop charts. Blacks were clearly no strangers to the pop charts and surely you don’t think ALL these groups are carefully constructed “dogwhistle” bands? So why does the 5th Dimension have to be?

          As an aside, the 5th Dimension also released Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In, from the musical Hair, which was pretty counterculture at the time – not really the safe mainstream pablum you’re accusing them of.

          1. “which was pretty counterculture at the time -”

            You must be joking.

            And in a “You know nothing of my work” moment you may not accept as true, Galt McDermott was a family friend at the time Hair was being written and produced. I think he would disagree with you. Certainly, you’d have to restrict your world view to the pages of Time to get corroboration at the time.

            Which is perhaps illustrative of the point. These persisting artifacts of this charming age we look back on can be some deeply cynical shit. Somehow, the current tidal wave of accessibility via YouTube and so on has cleansed these artifacts and given the world license to take them deliberately out of context.

            If you really think that Hair was considered hip, or counterculture at the time, my friend, you are living in a dream world. If you think that the 5th Dimension weren’t patently cynical constructions at the time, and your fragile sense of the sophistication of your own time requires the suppression of historical realities, then make a meal of it. But I do think that barbarism is encapsulated in the belief that things can be taken at face value, and that’s hard to not see at work here.

          2. The fact that youtube is full of videos contradicting your point PROVES that the CONSPIRACY is WAY MORE PERVASIVE than we all think!

            Go protect your precious bodily fluids, man!

          3. I have no special knowledge of Hair, but from wikipedia :

            ‘Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical is a rock musical with a book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot. A product of the hippie counter-culture and sexual revolution of the 1960s, several of its songs became anthems of the anti-Vietnam War peace movement. The musical’s profanity, its depiction of the use of illegal drugs, its treatment of sexuality, its irreverence for the American flag, and its nude scene caused much comment and controversy. The musical broke new ground in musical theatre by defining the genre of “rock musical”, using a racially integrated cast, and inviting the audience onstage for a “Be-In” finale.’

            So we got hippies, sex, drugs, nudity, anti-Vietnam War/peace movement, and a racially integrated cast, all 2-3 years before the Kent State shootings. Yeah, that’s not counterculture at all.

            As for Galt McDermott, from the same wiki article:

            ‘Rado and Ragni brought their drafts of the show to producer Eric Blau who, through common friend Nat Shapiro, connected the two with Canadian composer Galt MacDermot. MacDermot had won a Grammy Award in 1961 for his composition “African Waltz” (recorded by Cannonball Adderley). The composer’s lifestyle was in marked contrast to his co-creators: “I had short hair, a wife, and, at that point, four children, and I lived on Staten Island.” “I never even heard of a hippie when I met Rado and Ragni.” But he shared their enthusiasm to do a rock and roll show. “We work independently,” explained MacDermot in May 1968. “I prefer it that way. They hand me the material. I set it to music.”‘

            So Galt was an mainstream establishment-type guy who had no buy-in to the meaning/message from the creators of the lyrics and play. For HIM, it might have been a just a cynical job to set some oddball kids’ lyrics to music, but I’d argue the “conterculturalness” of Hair lies in the words, story and events of the musical itself, not in the music Galt set the lyrics to.

    3. I’m not going to say you don’t know what you’re talking about, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.

      One of my favorite clips of all time– Sly Stone on the Dick Cavett show:

      Or is that just whitey putting on a minstrel show?

      Aretha and James Brown were on many, many TV shows. And while Mingus wasn’t filmed a lot for American television, I’d argue it wasn’t because the man was stickin’ it to him, but because American TV ignored jazz period.

      If you want to pooh-pooh the song for being trite, go ahead. But the rest of your remarks are completely ignorant.

    4. omnivore… thanks for your perspective. i have to agree that the 5th D are about as vanilla as it gets, and what you’re saying rings true to me (my nostalgia for that song comes from my naive pre-socially-conscious childhood). But to say Aretha and James Brown were languishing in obscurity doesn’t seem quite right either.

      1. obeyken – definitely not languishing in obscurity, no. But the action at that time was radio, not TV. To get on TV was a big fucking deal, and its very hard to recover how limited a 3 channel universe was. The white artists who were on air were legion, the black ones not so much. One thing that distinguished the 5th dimension was how tailored for TV they were – I mean, just look at that video. So a black group on TV was something, and that level of insipidity was what was required to get in. You had to be blind not to know that. (Is that a Ray Charles joke? I apologize).

        scifijazznik – you mean I think. And Cavett had Hendrix, and Ray Charles on too. You might remember that in Randy Newman’s song, Rednecks, Cavett is referred to as “some smart-ass new york jew”. Cavett’s show can’t really be put forward as an example of what american media was about in that era – his whole schtick was to be the anti-populist intellectual, and he embodied liberal values of the time, often in deliberate opposition to mainstream media.

        1. You hate the song? Great, hate it. But why are you making a big deal about the performers in the 5th Dimension being black? Your argument that because the 5th Dimension was black meant that they took airtime from other black performers is silly!

          1. why is it silly? There were 3 networks. They weren’t even on all night. Choices were made. If you look at the schedule for the Ed Sullivan show, you can see that there are a lot more performances by black groups after about 1968 and the Kennedy and MLK assassinations. It was also driven by the escalation of the Vietnam War, with several shows at Walter Reed, and a *lot* of maimed black servicemen.

            But it was not uncommon for no black performers to appear, and rare for more than one to do so, though by 1970 it was more common. The Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, even Sly a couple of times: but think of the list of huge acts that weren’t on. Why is that?

            Before 1968, very few, and a lot of the same performers. Were there more black performers after 1968? Of course not. It shows clearly that a decision making process operated that made exactly the choice to exclude black faces, and when they included them, to make space for a very small group, hardly representative of afroamerican culture at that time.

            Fascinating if you were there :


          2. It really doesn’t mater what color the singer of this song is– if the 5th Dimension had been white, a lot of people would have still loved “Up, Up and Away.” But it seems that you don’t like it when black people perform songs that you don’t like them to perform.

          3. OK, actually now this is just bullshit. Ed Sullivan was known for being one of the first shows to feature black performers regularly in the 1950s. Sorry, but you’re getting your facts wrong. A quick search through youtube and it’s amazing just how many black performers were seen on television, compared to MTV in the 80s. No one is saying that it was even remotely equitable or that there weren’t score of serious issues around race, but the facts speak for themselves. There was a major black presence on TV in the 1960s, at least with musical performers. Things actually got worse in the late 70s and into the 80s.

            And I agree with Mark Frauenfelder: you don’t think that a group like the 5th Dimension was black enough. I’m guessing Dionne Warwick wasn’t either. Or the Supremes.

          4. Since you and I agree that the Ed Sullian Show was a more progressive venue for non-white acts than most if not any other major TV show, how can we interpret the fact that with 45+ shows a season, and maybe eight acts per show, over ten years there were probably 3600 individual performances in the decade that matters here (ie 1961 to 1971), and maybe a couple of dozen african american acts got more than a couple of performances each during that period? That was a pretty vital period for black culture. Of course there were lots of single performances, but even though I’m not going to go through the shows one at a time and count, the most liberal and accepting variety show on TV grossly underrepresented black american culture. That’s not in dispute.

            Your method of finding a single performance on YouTube by, say, Oscar Peterson or Sam and Dave doesn’t really stand up as a methodology. I don’t think black americans were thinking that Ed’s show was there show back then.

            I love Dionne Warwick, but that is entirely irrelevant to this discussion; and your and Mark’s assumptions are really below the level that should be responded to; although they have the obvious virtue for you of being nuance free, conveniently demonizing, and deeply self-flattering. The issue here is not who I think is black enough, but the obvious fact of who the decision makers on television thought was too black. Or, for the present, too, you know, moooslim. Or whatever.

            The 5th Dimension embodies in their every fibre exactly what a programming director in 1967 thought was black enough for our uses, thanks. They were and are a product created to fill a need, which is that everything’s fine, those riots are nothing to worry about. Your apparent belief that that wasn’t a very conscious, cynical calculation on the part of the 5th Dimension to tailor their image to precisely be “not too black” is endearingly naive. They just liked that kind of music! But it denies people of the time their consciousness that it was bullshit, and a way of deflecting the demands that not only black people were already making to be represented. Hence, history’s bunk.

        2. Blacks on mainstream TV in the 1960s? What of I Spy?

          What of Flip Wilson?

          But your point is generally well taken – US network TV of the sixties WAS pretty bad when it came to its depiction of black people.

          But then again, US network TV was pretty bad, period.

          I remember even fewer black faces on Canadian TV shows of the sixties – not that I spend much of my time thinking of the TV broadcasts of 50 years ago!

          PS: “De-contextualization”, as you call it, would seem to me to be the eventual fate of all works – given the passage of enough time.

          It’s nothing to dread – it’s as natural as the now living, taking the place of the now dead.

          We have ever had to find our own present meanings, in those artifacts and remnants of the past which come down to us from others no longer living.

    5. There are almost 40 million black people in America. The assumption in your article is that real black people don’t make music like this on their own. That sounds like “standardized and simplified conceptions of groups based on some prior assumptions.” Otherwise known as a stereotype. I’ve got three black women in my house and one of them has a secret obsession with Don Williams (, who’s actually huge in Africa. Another loves Mamma Mia. I haven’t the heart to tell them that they haven’t been emancipated because I like Charles Mingus and they don’t.

      Real diversity allows for the fact that some people make music like Dionne Warwick or the Fifth Dimension. We don’t question the variance between Michael Buble and the Sex Pistols….

      1. I think that’s called revisionism. 1968 is not 2011. Go down the list of african american firsts, and see what had not yet happened ath the time of this video. Obama is in the White House today – in 1966 no major American city had ever had a black mayor. No african american had ever been appointed to the Supreme Court. It wasn’t until 1966 that Bill Russell became the first black coach of an pro b-ball team. No interracial kiss had ever happened on TV. And that considers things from the positive of firsts. People were being lynched every month. MLK was shot by a white racist in ’68. You can’t impose current realities to understand past ones.

        It’s a form of naiveté to think that when people in old video clips say “coloured people” or whatever that that suggests the same mindset that you would infer in a person using that phrase today. So be consistent and understand that the possibilities today and the aesthetic choices your friend is free to make mean nothing in the context of a past time.

        I’m sure there are plenty of black film scholars who can see that Birth of a Nation is a masterpiece from a technical point of view, and their ability to appreciate it is greater given the last century’s social progress. That doesn’t mean that we should completely dissociate the intentions and meaning of that film in its day from our appreciation of it today. And technical achievement aside, our reaction to that film is still, and should be still dominated by its original, vile intent.

        And, the entire 5th Dimension oeuvre is a steaming pile, as far as I’m concerned.

        1. I don’t think you can find any black film scholars saying that about “The Birth of A Nation”.

          In fact, when it comes to their depiction on the ‘silver screen’, I don’t see why black people would have any reason to enjoy any “classic American cinema” from prior to the fifties, either. IMHO, it’s pretty well all bad, when it comes to that specific point.

          FWIW, other ethnic groups did not fare much better, either, in their depiction in those years. Those were different times, I guess.

          1. Agreed. I didn’t want to get in to saying that “no black film scholar” etc., because I don’t know. But plenty of black architectural critics can probably appreciate the grand palaces and mansions that were built with profits from the sugar trade; Architecture doesn’t have a topic the way a film does, but it has a meaning the way a song does in its time, which we can look in to, or not.

            This point possibly evades Antinous, who is advocating for the idea that, as Henry Ford would have it, “history’s bunk”. And in this case, popular history, still alive among many millions of people who have very clear memories that he need not benefit from.

            My issue has not been the ‘race’ of the group, but the cynicism of the media of the time who used a soulless, insipid product of late capitalism to stand in for a broader, vital culture demanding it be heard. That requires historical perspective, and I have only respect for other historical perspectives that are based on memory, testimony and research. Willful historical ignorance and fatuous revisionism, not so much.

            But now we get very close to Antinous’ tolerance for dissent…

  • Props to you, freshacconci.

    First of all, omnivore, you’re misremembering things, as others have abundantly explained. YouTube will back them up. (Watching clips of James Brown on Ed Sullivan and Mike Douglas is one of my favorite wastes of time.)

    Second, you’re mis-explaining things. Fifth Dimension sold a ton of records because, first and foremost, they were an easy-listening, pop group.

    That’s what sold then — yes — because that’s what the radio played, then. Of course, the radio played it then, because that’s what sold then. (And, as Dennis Terry will also tell you, many pop songs from back then are no longer played on “oldies” radio now — thus, most oldies stations stick to the least challenging Top 40 hits of their era.)

    And yes, some of this is because of politics.

    Luckily, we live in the future, where anyone can have their own internet radio station.

    Me, I like the song, and it’s fun to see the video. But it certainly is not Mingus, or even James Brown.

  • Speaking of black performers of the sixties who had a large white fan base, I take this opportunity to plug….Sam Cooke!

    Man, that’s some sweet music.

  • What? Did you sleep during Motown’s “golden years”?

    The riots finished Motown off; prior to the riots, Motown was the biggest musical thing going outside the Beatles, for black or for white:

    “Smokey Robinson said of Motown’s cultural impact:

    Into the ’60s, I was still not of a frame of mind that we were not only making music, we were making history. But I did recognize the impact because acts were going all over the world at that time. I recognized the bridges that we crossed, the racial problems and the barriers that we broke down with music. I recognized that because I lived it. I would come to the South in the early days of Motown and the audiences would be segregated. Then they started to get the Motown music and we would go back and the audiences were integrated and the kids were dancing together and holding hands.”


    Music’s always been a bridge – never a wall. Unless you really work at making it so, I guess.

  • …except to say that my history’s bunk riposte should have been aimed at Mark F.’s comment.

    1. “History is bunk’ — What does that have to do with that fact that you are upset that some black people sang the same kind of music that was popular for white people to sing in those days?

  • The Fifth Dimension were just LA Sunshine Pop that happened to be performed by musicians of color.

    You can see the range of the impact that they have had on popular culture by asking a young record dork the following questions:

    Q: Who is James Brown?

    YRD: The Godfather of Soul.

    Q: Who is Aretha Franklin?

    YRD: The Queen of Soul.

    Q: Who is Charles Mingus?

    YRD: A fricken’ genius.

    Q: Who are the Fifth Dimension?

    YRD: Huh? Um, an Andrew Lloyd Webber cover band? I give up. You gonna’ ask me about Sly Stone or what?

    1. Fully agree as to its (in)significance, but still, it’s good pop music.

      It’s silly, it’s emotionally manipulative, and the song a has a catchy tune.

      I think I’ll keep humming it while I go do my chores.

    2. Are you kidding? A record store dork who won’t articulate the brilliance of sunshine pop should be flogged with Burt Bacharach’s white belt.

      1. I’m certain that a record store dork (which is an entirely different beast) would simply point to the Non-Subjective Superiority of The Millenium or The Free Design or some other band that fans of the Fifth Dimension have never heard of.

  • But now we get very close to Antinous’ tolerance for dissent…

    I’m sure that would be the first thing that anyone would notice while reading this thread. Now, if you’ll pardon me, those puppies aren’t going to kick themselves.

  • The look: I like. The legs: I like :) But the sound. . .brrrrrr. . .too soft for my taste.

    omnivore hates it far more than I, and that’s ok: I think the argument can be made that ‘often times great music is ignored in favor of populist drivel’ for almost any genre during any time in musical history.

    But imho this is not really a great example of a ‘Friday Freak Out’: more like a Friday midday nap.

    (I will now listen to Ray Charles perform Sticks and Stones: now thats got some pep to it!)

  • My mom used sing this song when I was a kid. Along with other diddies like “Henry the 8th” and “Duke of Earl”. It was just a fun little song she could sing to her kids. It made her happy, it made me happy, and that’s where I choose to keep it in my memory.

  • Your critique would carry more weight if you did not refer to “the media of the time”, which is far far too broad a target.

    As to the American “big 3” TV networks of the time, you may have a valid point – I wouldn’t know, as i watched mostly Canadian TV, but I suspect that they were as lame as they ever were back then, when it came to the presentation of “young people’s music” of any sort, including those of the black performers of the day.

    The big 3 US TV networks just weren’t “with it” – to use an expression from that era.

  • “But I do think that barbarism is encapsulated in the belief that things can be taken at face value, and that’s hard to not see at work here.”

    I’m glad you are here to tell us barbarians what it all means below the surface.

  • David, Mark – Thank you so much for putting that on. I came out when I was, like, 12, so the fact that it’s pure silly saccharine was really *just* *fine*, and their vocal harmonies are still stunning (not sure how much of that is their arranging and how much is Jimmy Webb’s writing?) I later saw Up With People perform it in an concert in the park downtown.

    And yes, it’s lightweight commercial fluff, and Hair was commercial exploitation of the counterculture, and there’s a _reason_ that Spinal Tap had their “Listen to the Flower People” segment. But Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In was still one of the more memorable sets of vocals from those years, and Twyla Tharp’s folks danced it really well in the movie version.

    And was Sly Stone really that young? Wow. (And he probably set a record for how high you possibly can be on national television.)

  • The Sunshine Pop genre has been unfairly maligned. It serves a valid social function: Cheerful songs make people feel happy.

    Today, just as in the 1960s and ’70s, anger is the most appropriate response to the unfair socioeconomic realities of life. Still, can we fault people for seeking moments of joy from time to time? A constant state of anger is untenable.

  • (Really? Because I’ve always thought that the only interesting thing about “Up, Up, and Away” is that by existing it disqualifies “Macarthur Park” from being the worst hit song Webb ever penned — a notable, if dubious, accomplishment.

    I guess tastes can differ (diametrically, apparently..)

    Yeah. Really.

    Play this (it’ll even work with a ukelele!) as you hum the melody:

    F Fmaj7 Eb

    Ab Amaj7 Gb

    B D#m B7 E

    B D7…etc

    Just listen….Hear how cool and original that is?

    That’s songwriting.

  • Comments are closed.