We will never know if the Versalites would have been a hit band. But as the 5th Dimension, they lit it up.
The Versalites were the graduated version of the jazz-pop group the HiFis, and later renamed 5th Dimension, led by famed pop-music couple Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. That couple, remarkably married for 49 years, is headlining 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Orleans Showroom.
The show’s title plucks from one of the 5th Dimension’s greatest hits, “Up, Up and Away.”
That song reached the top 10 of the Billboard charts in July 1967, just after the band took on the 5th Dimension name. As the song climbed the charts, the band was booked at Caesars Palace.
But this was not at Caesars Palace’s main venue, Circus Maximus. The band was brought into the small-but-rollicking Nero’s Nook, which had gained a reputation as a very cool hang.
“We had known of The Checkmates in those days, and they were just burning up the place,” McCoo says. “We knew Sonny Charles (the band’s still-performing front man) and we were warned not to follow them because they were so good.”
Davis interjects, “They were big, and they were going, ‘You’ll kill yourselves! They are so hot!’ I said, ‘Well, the 5th Dimension is pretty hot, too!’ Were we cocky or what?”
The 5th Dimension blew the place away, not surprisingly. Over the next eight-plus years, the band became a regular chart-topper with “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” “Worst That Could Happen,” “Stoned Soul Picnic,” “Sweet Blindness,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” and “One Less Bell to Answer.”
McCoo and Davis famously split from the band in 1975, cutting the No. 1 “You Don’t Have to be a Star (to Be in My Show),” which led to a variety series on CBS. McCoo later reached millions of TV viewers each week as the host of the syndicated 1980s music-countdown show “Solid Gold.”
The couple say they owe their longevity to their shared passion for music.
“We both love music, and performing, and when you have that, you have a lot of passion,” Davis says. “We are always looking to move forward, and continue to bring our passion to audiences.”
“Up Up and Away” is filled with the hits played over generations. For good measure, they are rolling through a tribute to The Beatles. As McCoo says, “You’ll be hearing the music you love, from people who love it.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts.Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.