Escape to The Fifth Dimension

I've not put fingertips to keyboard for several weeks because of a lack of inspiration.

Do I care that Fred Durst can't get over Britney Spears? He won't even remember her four girlfriends from now.

Do I care about reports of Michael Jackson's supposedly dire financial situation? He's still got oodles of fans who'd pay anything to see him in concert and they're ready to throw money at his various merchandising efforts. I myself am looking forward to the Michael Jackson Mr. Potato Head.

Of course, I care about the Oscars, but I've already published my picks (although I'd like to switch out my Nicholson pick for Day-Lewis), and now they just need TO happen.

The war is weighing heavily on the minds of the nominees, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, and the advertisers who've bought about $80 million worth of ads for the never-ending broadcast. Producer Gil Cates says the show will go on, as a much more somber event of course, but I was at the Emmys in 2001 when they said it would go on despite the Sept. 11 attacks, and it didn't.

So, I was sitting at my desk flipping through the new Us magazine "Whose are real and whose aren't?" cosmetic surgery cover story when I looked up to see Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. of Fifth Dimension fame walking into the studios here at ABC Radio.

Suddenly, I started to care again. Just one look at the pop duo brought me back to my childhood, when my mom cruised me around in her powder-blue Pontiac Bonneville convertible with The Fifth Dimension blaring from the eight-track tape player.

Naturally, I started thinking how great the group's music was, even though it was a little before my time. (It was!) The thing is, in the current state of the world right now, I think it's just the kind of music we need.

Musical Journeys Then and Now

"Up Up & Away" — remember that song, with the whimsical opening line, "Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?" That's music that transports you to a more beautiful place. The song won five Grammys, including song and record of the year. Today's musical journeys are more like a dictum: "It's gettin' hot in here so take off all your clothes." Geez, how about buying me dinner first!

The Fifth Dimension followed that great tune with "Stoned Soul Picnic." The song hit No. 3 on the Billboard charts in '68, stayed on the charts for three months, and sold over a million copies. I was just a toddler then, but I didn't need to crawl. I surried. Yes, the song makes mention of wine and moonshine at the picnic, but I'm sure there were alternative beverages, perhaps nonalcoholic sassafras.

(Who's trying to remember the lyrics right now?)

Most people recognize The Fifth Dimension for "Aquarius" (also called "Let the Sunshine In"), from the album Age of Aquarius and the show Hair. You see, back in the day, many people referred to a song's title as the first verse because they could actually understand the singer and repeat the first verse.

"Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" spent six weeks at No. 1 and 16 weeks in the Top 40 because it was, in a word, groovy. There, I said it.

The music was happy and, in the Vietnam era, we needed cheering up. "When the moon is in the Seventh House and Jupiter aligns with Mars, then peace will guide the planet and love will steer the stars." Nice lyrics and the rhymes worked too!

Unfortunately, we're jaded and our music is reflective of that. Instead of searching for sunshine, Good Charlotte has deemed us "The Young and the Hopeless."

The Eight Tracks of My Tears

What tune can you think of today that lifts people's spirits? Songs are either about sex, love disguised as sex, money, money and sex, angst and disappointment, angst disappointment and sex … you get the idea.

Step back from the world situation and look at the most common theme in music — human relationships. When The Fifth Dimension sang about love, there was a great story to go with it. Take "Wedding Bell Blues," written by Laura Nyro. Marilyn McCoo was dating Billy Davis Jr. and wanted to marry him, but he wasn't in a hurry. (Some things never change.)

Bones Howe, the group's producer, told McCoo about the song and she recorded it as a semi-joke. The lyrics say: "I was the one who came runnin' when you were lonely. I haven't lived one day not lovin' you only. But kisses and love won't carry me til you marry me Bill."

It was an understandable plea from a woman who loved a man and wanted him to come to his senses. The 2003 plea goes something like:

I'd like to get to know ya, so I can show ya Put the (BLANK) on ya, like I told ya Gimme all your numbers so I can phone ya Your girl acting stank than call me ov-ah Not on the bed, lay me on your sofa Call before you come, I need to shave my (BLANK) You do or you don't or you will or you won't cha.

This poetry in motion comes courtesy of the slimmed-down Missy Elliott, from her obviously titled single, "Work It." Sure, it rhymes, but "ov-ah" is not a word.

In all fairness, I could use Norah Jones' "Don't Know Why" as an example of a great love song that takes us back to the days of yore, but it doesn't serve my point. Her overwhelming success at this year's Grammys does show that we are eager to return to enjoyable music — music that says something we can comprehend without a Phat interpreter.

I could pick and choose other examples from The Fifth Dimension's entire music catalogue as well as those of Ms. McCoo and Mr. Davis as solo artists and duo, but you get the message.

It's just that seeing them really made me walk down memory lane and think about better times. And I thought we could all use a good dose of better times.

So, as we have no real control over what's going to happen in the days and weeks to come, may I suggest you pull out an old Fifth Dimension eight-track or LP (just ask granny if you can use her phonograph) and take a listen. It might just bring a smile to your face on a day when you think there's nothing to smile about.

By the way, Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoe are still making beautiful music together, both personally and professionally. They're currently apprearing at Feinstein's in NYC through the end of the month.

Heidi Oringer is director of entertainment programming at ABCNEWS Radio.