#20 The Fifth Dimension – California Soul
Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson rank among the best all time hit makers of the pop era. The husband and wife team began their careers writing for Ray Charles before joining the Motown stable, virtually creating the iconic partnership between Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Nick and Valerie wrote and or produced the duo’s biggest hits, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough“, “Your Precious Love“, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing“, and “You’re All I Need to Get By“. When Tammi fell ill with the brain tumor that ultimately claimed her life, some say that Valerie stepped in, recording some of the vocals on the pair’s final collaboration “Easy“.
Side One, Cut Two on that LP was an Ashford & Simpson tune originally issued as a “B-Side” on the Messengers‘ 1967 single “Window Shopping”. Listen to the Messengers’ version of “California Soul” and you’ll hear what producer Bones Howe heard, a slow, pulsating blues beat with syncopated lyrics paying tribute to the Left Coast’s brand of R&B.
By 1968, Dayton Burr Howe was at the top of his game, mixing his unique experience as a drummer with a degree in electronics to create more than 20 platinum albums for the likes of the Mamas & the Papas‘, Johnny Rivers‘, the Association, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Juice Newton.
The 5th Dimension were Johnny Rivers proteges, recording on his Soul City record label. They burst on the scene with a cover of Papa John Phillip’s “Go Where You Wanna Go” and their unique sound soon became it’s own genere: Champaign Soul. With Howe at the controls and the Wrecking Crew laying down the rich backing tracks, “California Soul” became the third single to be released from the LA quintet’s “Stoned Soul Picnic” LP.
Some don’t consider “California Soul” to be a major 5th Dimension hit. But it still hooks me, every time I hear it.
When Keener13.com co-creator, Steve Schram saw the Association in concert, many years after their stars had faded, he mentioned Bones to the group at the after-show meet and greet. “He had the magic touch. We never should have let him go,” was the band’s consensus. The Fifth Dimension would continue to have success, even after they moved on to other producers. But the Bones Howe touch created a string of great records which are still considered among the groups best work.
“California Soul” would have another iteration two years later. It became the last single release for Marvin and Tammi, prior to her death.