Invoking the 5th
A “new” Dimension vs. Diana – and who took the blame?
A friend who was in high school with Diana Ross in Detroit once told me it was evident, even then, that she was going places. When the youngster joined the school swim team, for example, her ambition and determination were tangible.
No wonder she won the “Love Hangover” contest.
Writing recently about Marc Gordon and Hal Davis, who together opened Motown’s first West Coast office, I mentioned the battle between Diana and the 5th Dimension over that song, and how the rush-released single of her original version deflated the 5D cover. It’s a familiar tale, but less well-known is that Davis, who produced Diana’s 1976 smash, believed Berry Gordy held him personally responsible for the 5th Dimension’s opportunism.
The opening weeks of America’s bicentennial year were busy for everyone at Motown. They were scheduling Diana’s brand new LP for February, while she was prepping for a European tour to begin in March. The record company was also planning for the superstar’s new single, “I Thought It Took A Little Time (But Today I Fell In Love),” to come out in February, even as her previous hit, “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To),” was competing for an Academy Award in March. Nobody was getting much sleep.
The late Hal Davis recalled that Motown held a staff meeting about the album shortly after its release. “All the producers and writers were there,” he told me, “and the sales people. Berry asked the sales people, ‘What is our hottest record right now?’ They said that everybody’s calling for this ‘Love Hangover.’ He said, ‘That’s just a rhythm tune and I don’t think I want to come out with it right now.’”
One of the two writers of “Love Hangover,” Pam Sawyer, seemed distressed. “She was almost in tears,” explained Davis. “She said, ‘Berry, you’ve got to release it.’ Berry said, ‘I’m not releasing it right away, because we’ve got the other tune out.’ She got so upset, he had to put her out of the meeting. He asked me, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘Hey, you’re the head of the company, I’ll go with you.’”
Meanwhile, there was plenty of activity in the 5D camp. Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis had left the previous autumn; replacements Marjorie Barnes and Danny Beard were finding their feet. Moreover, the rebooted quintet was playing at the Las Vegas Hilton – their first time at the venue – while trying to determine with their label, ABC Records, what their next single should be.
Earlier this month, after writing about the 5th’s early attempts to get signed by Motown, I heard from group member LaMonte McLemore and his biographer, Robert-Allan Arno, explaining that it was “Mac” who was first attracted to “Love Hangover.” He heard the track on Diana’s album, and contacted the 5th Dimension’s manager, Marc Gordon. Everyone agreed it had the potential to be a hit single for the group. Gordon himself produced the record, ABC dispatched 100,000 copies to retail, and the 5th Dimension jumped onto the promotion trail.
Motown struck back. It had no choice. “I Thought It Took A Little Time (But Today I Fell In Love)” was stepping up the singles charts, but now one of the most exciting tracks on Diana Ross was grabbing the attention. “Stacking up as the hottest sound this week is the ‘Love Hangover’ cut on Diana Ross’ new album,” wrote influential club DJ Tom Moulton in his weekly column for Billboard. “This is the closest thing to heavy soul that the Motown songstress has ever done, and it seems that the track is deliberately laid back, so as not too make it too strong an r&b sound. When played in discos, with the volume up and the highs coming through, it should prove a natural winner.”
Less than a month after “I Thought It Took…” went to market, Motown shipped the “natural winner” as a single. LaMonte McLemore remembered getting a call from his friend Gil Askey, who was Diana’s conductor, accompanying her in Europe. Askey explained that Ross had heard the 5th Dimension’s version there, and immediately pressed Berry to rush-release hers.
Gordy seemed to believe that Hal Davis was complicit in the 5D’s cover, since it was produced by his former Motown colleague. “Berry thought I had done some finagling,” declared Davis. “He said, ‘You got with Marc.’ Which I did not do.”
Davis had produced the track for Ross at the Paramount studios in Los Angeles, using Joe Sample on keyboards, James Gadson on drums and Henry Davis on bass, among others, with the Waters singing background. The distinctive guitar which pumped the tune’s uptempo segment was played by Art Wright. For the 5th Dimension, Hal said, Marc Gordon used “all the musicians I had used to cut the thing with Diana.”
Further feeding Gordy’s suspicions was the fact that Davis and Gordon had failed to get the 5th Dimension signed to Motown many years earlier. “Berry put it all together that ‘Hal got revenge,’ but I really didn’t. But I went and hid in a hotel for that weekend. Next thing I know, Berry had sent for Barney Ales, who was over in Europe, brought him back here, and locked up all of the distributing things and the pressing plants [for the Ross single].”
Gordy tried to contact Davis, unsuccessfully. “That’s what made me look so guilty, but I was sulking, I was so hurt. Here I’ve got a smash record with Diana – I had no idea this [cover battle] was going on. I’m like a little kid, I’ll check into a hotel with my Remy Martin and I’ll hide.”
As Diana derailed the 5th Dimension, the mood at Motown improved, and Hal Davis was off the hook. By the end of May, Ross had soared to No. 1 on the Billboard charts, while ABC Records couldn’t lift 5D any higher than number 80. Motown – and Diana – was always fiercely competitive, of course: one year later, LaMonte McLemore told a newspaper journalist that “after both [versions] were out…her promoters started paying companies to push hers and block ours.” He added, “That’s the way the business is.” No hard feelings, apparently.
Songwriter Pam Sawyer must have savoured the final outcome, too. In fact, “Love Hangover” surely continues to pour royalties into her bank account. There have been any number of remakes and samples of Diana’s record, ranging from Jr. Walker and Jody Watley to Will Smith and Monica. And, just a couple of years ago, Diana’s original was used to promote the final season of TV’s revered Mad Men.
Perhaps that was the sweetest hangover of all.