Another year over and upon us, and like I’ve done before, highlighting a song that just felt right for this point in time. As has been my habit, and especially since we’re starting a whole new decade, selected a tune from the late ’60s to christen the new year of 2020. Stoned Soul Picnic a hit generated by one of the smoothest musical vocal groups of the era whose repertoire spanned Pop, R&B, Soul, Jazz, light opera, and Broadway — The Fifth Dimension.
Their distinct style coined then as “Champagne Soul”, and best described by Allmusic‘s Steve Huey, the groups…
“…unique sound lay somewhere between smooth, elegant soul and straightforward, adult-oriented pop, often with a distinct flower-power vibe. Although they appealed more to mainstream listeners than to a hip, hardcore R&B audience, they had a definite ear for contemporary trends; their selection of material helped kickstart the notable songwriting careers of Jimmy Webb and Laura Nyro, and their biggest hit was a medley from the hippie musical Hair, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.” The group’s soaring, seamless harmonies were given appropriately sweeping, orchestrated period production by Bones Howe, which often placed their records closer to California-style sunshine pop. That’s actually part of the reason why the best singles from the Fifth Dimension’s heyday of the late ’60s and early ’70s still evoke their era with uncanny precision.”
The fivesome, LaMonte McLemore, Marilyn McCoo, Billy Davis, Jr., Florence LaRue, and the late Ron Townson, formed in 1965 as the Versatiles. Then budding young songwriter, Jimmy Webb (“MacArthur Park,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” etc.) supplied the rechristened Fifth Dimension with their breakthrough hit, 1967’s “Up, Up and Away.”, which proved to be prophetic with what soon followed.
Something Robert-Allan Arno noted in his Culture Sonar’s piece for their jumbo hit that reached its 50th anniversary last year…
“… the quintet’s apex at the top of the Pop charts. At Number 1 for six straight weeks in the spring of 1969, their uplifting medley from Broadway’s Hair, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” became an anthem for an era.”
And as much as I enjoy all of their hits and album cuts over the years, and still play on the turntable, this one from 1968 to me exemplifies what this wonderful vocal group brought. Stoned Soul Picnic, the single from their third LP of the same name, was penned by another up-and-coming songwriter, Laura Nyro1. It’s simply and soulfully sublime; something I suspect we’ll need plenty of in 2020. One that completely showcased their rock-solid harmonies and group talent2.
And like last year’s January 1st song, it’s another song cover3 that ascended its original. Per Wikipedia, “The song was composed and recorded by Nyro for her album Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, released in March 1968.” The fact that the Fifth Dimension were backed in the studio by the now famed Wrecking Crew, which only distilled their sound to a loftier level and powered this number to its strong charting4. Stoned Soul Picnic unfailingly mellows and brings a smile to my face.
And as always, Happy New Year.
Can you surry, Can you picnic? Can you surry, Can you picnic? Surry down to a stoned soul picnic Surry down to a stoned soul picnic There'll be lots of time and wine Red yellow honey Sassafras and moonshine Stoned Soul Surry down to a stoned soul picnic Surry down to a stoned soul picnic Rain and sun come in akin And from the sky Come the lord and the lightning Stoned Soul There'll be trains of blossoms There'll be trains of music There'll be trains of trust Trains of gold and dust Sweet trains of thought Can you surry? Surry down to a stoned soul picnic Surry down to a stoned soul picnic There'll be lots of time and wine Red yellow honey Sassafras and moonshine Stoned soul
- “The group would go on to record several more hits with Nyro songs, including “Sweet Blindness“, “Wedding Bell Blues“, “Blowin’ Away“, and “Save the Country“.” ↩
- “In 1975, McCoo and Davis, who had married on 26 July 1969, left the group to do collective and individual projects. They went on to have success as a duo with “Your Love” and the chart topper “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)” which won them their seventh Grammy award.” ↩
- “An instrumental version was recorded by jazz vibraphonist Roy Ayers and became the title track to his 1968 album.” As well, Crystal Waters sampled the song on her single “Ghetto Day” from her 1994 album Storyteller. The British pop group Swing Out Sister included it on their 1997 album, Shapes and Patterns. Afro-Celtic artist Laura Love recorded the song in 2000 for her album ‘Fourteen Days.’ It was also recorded by Julie London on her 1969 album Yummy, Yummy, Yummy; and by the New York Voices on their 2007 album A Day Like This. It also appeared on the 2004 album Don’t Talk, recorded by British jazz singer Claire Teal. Singer-Songwriter Jill Sobule recorded it for release as a single in 2001. It also appears on the Billy Childs album Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro sung by Ledisi. ↩
- Charting as high as #3 in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and #2 for the U.S. Billboard R&B. ↩