Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Up, Up and Away

First recorded by The Sunshine Company (1967).
Hit versions by The 5th Dimension (US #7/MOR #9/CAN #1/AUS #1 1967), Johnny Mann Singers (UK #6 1967).

From the liner notes to The Best of the Sunshine Company:

“The Sunshine Company’s very name summons the spirit of the mini-genre of 1960s pop-rock that, long after its heyday, was named Sunshine Pop. So does their music, with the requisite exquisite multi-part male-female harmonies, buoyant optimism, and luxuriant late-1960s L.A. studio production … a brief career that whisked them through the orbits of the Carpenters, the 5th Dimension, Jackson Browne, the Jefferson Airplane, Mary McCaslin, and John Davidson, ending at the even unlikelier destination of a pre-stardom Gregg Allman.

“After a club gig in Tustin, [California,] Nitty Gritty Dirt Band manager Bill McEuen (brother of the Dirt Band’s John McEuen) went backstage and offered the future Sunshine Company members a chance to record a song he had in mind. Though they had no recording aspirations, they gave it a go, putting their vocals on top of a backing track that had already been recorded for the tune. The song was ‘Up, Up and Away’ [written by Jimmy Webb].

“The Sunshine Company’s version was recorded in early 1967 and put on their first LP, Happy Is the Sunshine. ‘Up, Up and Away’ might have been released as their first single had the Fifth Dimension not released their own version in May, just before ‘Happy’ was to hit the stores. Producer Joe Saraceno [called] them the ‘most talented group I’ve ever worked with or seen,’ [and] puts a lot of blame on their failure to go further on the record company politics that had kiboshed the release of ‘Up, Up and Away’ [as a promotional single] — ‘they really got screwed.'”

“In the early 1960s, Lamonte McLemore and Marilyn McCoo got together with three friends from Los Angeles — Harry Elston, Lawrence Summers. and Fritz Baskett — to form a group called ‘The Hi-Fis’ (which later became ‘The Vocals’). In 1963, they sang at local clubs while taking lessons from a vocal coach. In 1964, they came to the attention of Ray Charles, who took them on tour with him the following year. However, internal disagreements caused Elston to go his own way, eventually leading to his forming The Friends of Distinction, with latter day Hi-Fis member, Floyd Butler.

“McLemore sought to form another group and started looking for members to join him and McCoo. McLemore found Florence LaRue, who was approached to join the group. bout the same time LaRue was approached to join, McLemore recruited an old friend, Ronald Townson. Another of McLemore’s friends from St. Louis days, Billy Davis Jr., was also invited to join.

“The five members began rehearsing as The Versatiles in late 1965 and auditioned for Marc Gordon, who headed Motown’s Los Angeles office. Although Motown rejected the group’s demo tape, Gordon agreed to manage them and brought them to the attention of Johnny Rivers, who had just started his own label, Soul City Records. Their first Soul City single, released in November 1966 as The 5th Dimension, was ‘I’ll Be Lovin’ You Forever’ which failed to chart.

“In 1965 the Mamas & the Papas’ first single, lead member John Phillips’ ‘Go Where You Wanna Go’, failed to open the quartet’s chart career. At the suggestion of Rivers and their manager Marc Gordon, The 5th Dimension covered the same song virtually note-for-note, with the resulting promotional single peaking at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100, opening the quintet’s chart career. The budding songwriter Jimmy Webb then supplied the group with their breakthrough hit, ‘Up – Up and Away’ which not only charted Top-10 in the US but topped the music charts in Canada and Australia, and cleaned up at the 10th Annual Grammy Awards in 1968, winning for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, Best Performance by a Vocal Group, and Best Contemporary Song.

“In the United Kingdom, it was the Johnny Mann Singers’ cover version that became a UK Top-10 hit, peaking #6 in August 1967. This version picked up an additional Grammy Award for Best Performance by a Chorus in 1968, and was also recorded in French, becoming popular in Quebec.”

The 5th Dimension, “Up, Up and Away” (1967):

Johnny Mann Singers, “Up, Up and Away” (1967):