- Written by Randal C. Hill Randal C. Hill
When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars
The Fifth Dimension would never have made their best-known record if not for a wallet inadvertently left behind in a taxicab.
The quintet started as a mid-1960s Los Angeles pop/soul outfit called the Versatiles. When they signed with Johnny Rivers’s nascent Soul City label, Rivers demanded that they update their name; thus was born the cooler-than-cool title of the Fifth Dimension.
Fast-forward to the fall of 1968. The outfit, by then hit-making headliners, was performing at New York’s Americana Hotel. Group member Billy Daniels Jr. took a cab to do some shopping one afternoon before the evening’s show and forgot his wallet on the taxi’s back seat.
The next person to enter the cab was one of the producers of the groundbreaking Broadway rock opera Hair, which had been playing to packed houses since April.
Before long, Daniels’s phone rang with the good news that his wallet had been found and that the caller wanted to return it. The relieved Daniels invited the producer and his wife to see the Fifth Dimension in concert; the producer, in turn, invited Daniels’s group to see Hair.
At the show, the Fifth Dimension members were so taken with the music that they declared “Aquarius,” the musical’s uplifting opening number, to be a work that they absolutely must record.
But their L.A.-based producer, “Bones” Howe, felt otherwise, as he was concerned about a possible overexposure of the song. The original Broadway cast album had been out for a while and had soared to the top of the Billboard LP charts, where it had stayed for 13 weeks.
Howe harbored another issue, as well.
“I said [that] it’s half a song,” he recalled. “It’s an introduction. It needs something on the back end.”
He jetted to New York to evaluate the 33-tune musical for himself and decided that the last three bars of the show’s closing (and decidedly antiwar) tune “The Flesh Failures” would make a perfect ending, especially after witnessing the audience joyfully singing along with the line “Let the sunshine in” over and over.
The single’s instrumental tracks were recorded in Los Angeles when the Fifth Dimension were opening shows for Frank Sinatra at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.
At a primitive Sin City recording studio where trains rumbling by would stop recording sessions mid-song, Howe cut the group’s soon-to-be-signature tune using two microphones for the five singers.
“Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” ran long, so Howe edited it to less than five minutes — a better fit for radio playlists of the time. As the Fifth Dimension’s eighth Top 40 single, it spent six weeks at No. 1 on the charts and sold 3 million copies.
In 1968, the Fifth Dimension had earned a Grammy for Record of the Year for their hit “Up, Up and Away”; “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” brought them that same coveted honor two years later.
Randal C. Hill is a rock ’n’ roll historian who lives at the Oregon coast. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.