“Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In” is a medley of two songs from the stage musical “Hair” which stormed to the top of the Billboard charts in 1969 in the hands of The 5th Dimension.
1969 was a strange time…not, perhaps, by the standards of our current times, but by the standards of pretty much any other time before or since.
The US was embroiled in an unwinnable war in Vietnam. President Nixon was working hard to shore up his support at home…although Watergate wouldn’t be along for a couple of years, the cracks were starting to show. Civil Rights marches were de rigeur. And hardly a day went by without a peaceful occupation or a love-in led by long-haired hippies.
In the midst of all that turmoil, some wonderful songs were written to capture the essence of those times. Songs of hope and positivity, as well as songs chronicling the difficulties and challenges which swirled around as the 1960s drew to a close.
You’ll be glad to know that “Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In” is very definitely in the hope and positivity camp.
We start with some astrological reasoning, for which I make no warranty, but it helps set the scene as hippy-fuelled 1969 was about the only time in music history you’d get away with opening lines for a hit record like these…
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
But whatever you think about astrology, I’m sure we can all agree that in these challenging times a little bit more peace, love and understanding would be very welcome.
“Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In” was written by James Rado, Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot — Rado and Ragni were responsible for the lyrics, MacDermot composed the music.
Looking back the 50 years or so to 1969, “Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In” sounds very quaint nowadays. 1969 was a time of optimism, despite the challenges, whereas these days you don’t need to travel far to find more pessimists than you know what do to with.
I’m more of a “the darkest hour is just before dawn” sort of person…or so I keep telling myself. In a funny way, when there’s pessimism everywhere in the world, I see it as a time to sell pessimism short.
Just as everybody owning stocks is a sure sign of the top of the stock market, everybody being pessimistic is a sure sign that increasing optimism is just around the corner. I can’t tell you exactly when it will arrive, but I know in the bottom of my heart that the world is about to take a turn for the better.
And when it does, James Rado and Gerome Ragni’s lyrics for “Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In” provide a pretty good template for what I’d like to see…
Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of vision
(Mystic crystal revelation)
And the mind’s true liberation
I’d like a bit more harmony and understanding. As The Eagles memorably sang…although about something else entirely… “we haven’t had that spirit here since 1969”.
Maybe “Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In” captured a little of the spirit of those far-off, carefree times that we could welcome back 50 years later. Perhaps putting The 5th Dimension’s fine song onto our Spotify playlists might just nudge us in the direction of positivity when we need it.
The 5th Dimension gave a virtuoso performance of “Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In”, although they weren’t involved in the original musical performance of “Hair”.
They were a supremely polished vocal group, certainly on a par with the Mamas and Papas, for whom they were often mistaken in their early days…vocally if not visually. Amongst their number were Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr who would go on to have hits on their own as a duo in the late 1970s.
And the West Coast’s premier production team were behind this record too. Legendary producer Bones Howe, who had produced Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, and acted as the recording engineer for some of the Mamas and Papas greatest hits was in the producer’s chair for The 5th Dimension’s recording of “Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In”.
Musical accompaniment was by California’s best studio musicians, often called the Wrecking Crew, which wasn’t a fixed group in practice, but a frequently changing collection of amazing professional musicians who would provide the soundtrack for some of the biggest records of the 1960s and 70s.
Superstar drummer Hal Blaine was pretty much at the centre of this musical vortex and his 1990 memoir popularised the “Wrecking Crew” sobriquet, although not every member of that loose association took too kindly to Hal Blaine’s version of events.
Also playing on “Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In” alongside Hal Blaine were Joe Osborn on bass, Larry Knetchel on keyboards and Tommy Tedesco on guitar. No matter what you were recording, this classic Wrecking Crew line-up delivered the goods time and time again.
Their gift of being able to make a good record into a great one has stood the test of time. The only shame is that it took the music industry far too many years to give these wonderful musicians, and others who served alongside them inside the recording studios of LA during the 1960s and 70s, the public recognition they deserved.
As I write these words, though, there is another note of sadness to inject here. Legendary bass player Joe Osborn, and Wrecking Crew stalwart, passed away at the end of last week. He played bass on a huge number of iconic songs, including “California Dreamin’”, “Macarthur Park” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.
And just yesterday, Galt MacDermot passed away too.
I just hope the legacy of them both is encapsulated in this lovely record from The 5th Dimension. Wherever they’re headed, I hope they end up where harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust are abounding.
The lyrics to “Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In” might be 50 years old, but they remain an aspiration for us all, whether we remember the 1960s or not.
Here’s The 5th Dimension with “Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In”…and it’s perhaps appropriate that just about the first thing you hear at the beginning of the track is the late, great Joe Osborn on bass…
The video is below, but if you prefer you can listen to the track on Spotify here… https://open.spotify.com/track/3wu9uLjDQnqNiNPh7AxcDM
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